Support Local Journalism


Subscribe


Amid all the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 will still go down as one of the most memorable years for the Ellensburg Rodeo.

It was a year in which the rodeo received the ultimate honor of induction into the ProRodeo Hall and Fame and the history of the rodeo was enshrined for all to see and enjoy with the opening of the Ellensburg Rodeo Hall of Fame on Pearl Street.

LONG ROAD TO PEARL STREET

The coronavirus pandemic disrupted its grand opening, but after 23 years in the making, the Ellensburg Rodeo Hall of Fame made its grand entry onto Pearl Street.

Here in the midst of one of the most deadly pandemics in the history of America, the Ellensburg Rodeo Hall of Fame is finally ready to give Ellensburg and rodeo fans a glimpse of its efforts — a gathering of historic photographs and artifacts, showcasing the best cowboys and cowgirls in history, finding a permanent home, and shaping the legend that is the Ellensburg Rodeo.

“It’s amazing that after almost 23 years, the public is finally going to get to see all the stuff we’ve been collecting,” said Joel Smith, who along with Mike Allen, is a charter member of the original board of directors. “It’s pretty special for us, especially in this new space.

“Having the Rodeo Hall of Fame here in Pearl Street, along with the Clymer Gallery and Gallery One and the other downtown establishments is just the place to be.”

The Ellensburg Rodeo was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs and the local hall of fame worked hard to provide the national facility with Ellensburg décor for its display. But here in Central Washington, on Pearl Street in the historic downtown, they were able to give one of the top 10 rodeos in America its due.

As people enter the Western Culture and Art Center, they are greeted by a central information station, directing them to the various attractions in the John Ramsay Building. As they make their way through to the brick entrance way to the hall of fame, they are immersed in the first of 14 story displays — the story of rodeo and the four-foot tall Harry L. Anderson trophy, featuring the names of all-around winners from 1949 and all the way to Trevor Brazil, who won back-to-back all-around titles at Ellensburg in 2006-07.

“We used professional designers to design colors and composition of the room and how each object would be displayed,” charter board member Mike Allen said of the 2,200-square foot space in what used to be the Downtown Pharmacy. “We’ve all walked into those funky old local museums where stuff is stacked up and it’s a little dusty and the same display you saw five years ago.

“Our displays are mobile and we’ll be able to have shows and special showings. This is one of what I would call professional caliber halls of fame in the country. I would say this is one of the top 10 halls of fame in the country. It’s visual, not virtual and I think that sets us apart.”

They didn’t just drag décor and photos from the upstairs storage space and randomly set it up. The room flows in a counter-clockwise direction through each of the 14 display showcases. It begins with the story of rodeo, then shifts to the historic story of the Ellensburg Rodeo. The room features Cowgirl Rodeo Riders and their long history.

“I am so excited to give back to the people that have donated so much to us over the years to make this happen,” board member Marie Smith said. “This is something we can all be proud of; I think it turned better than I thought.

“To have it here on Pearl Street huge. We’re in the center of the community and we feel connected to our community, which is what it’s all about.”

IN THE HALL

The Ellensburg Rodeo, in all its glory, became part of the ProRodeo Hall of Fame 2020 Class.

Since it began in 1923, the Ellensburg Rodeo has grown into one of the largest PRCA events of the regular season.

The timing of the announcement was perfect, with the rodeo’s board of directors having reconfigured their mission statement to read, “The mission of the Ellensburg Rodeo is to celebrate our community through hosting a world-class rodeo by investing in our future while preserving the tradition of our valley’s western heritage.”

“This is great news and we feel very honored,” said Ellensburg Rodeo board member Dan Morgan. “With everything going on lately, you know there’s been a lot of not-so-happy news out there right now, and it felt really good to get a call like this and brighten the day.”

The core values of community, teamwork, leadership and ownership basically echo what the enshrinement is all about.

“It’s a great honor to be recognized as a world-class rodeo being enshrined into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame,” Rodeo board president Jerry Doolin said. “It shows the heart and soul and all of the work the boards have put in over the years.

“It’s not just about the guys of today, but everybody that’s been there. There’s been a lot of great board members and directors that have put everything into it. We’re excited, very excited.”

CLASS OF 2020

The 2020 class included the Ellensburg Rodeo, along with six-time world tie-down roping champion Cody Ohl (1997-1998, 2001, 2003, 2006 and one all-around in, 2001); world champion bull rider Butch Kirby (1978); stock contractor Jim Sutton Jr.; contract personnel Suni Deb Backstrom; notable Randy Witte; world champion barrel racer Martha Josey (1980); and of course Grated Coconut, who bucked many a cowboy in Ellensburg back in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

“It’s an honor for the community. It’s one of our country’s largest, oldest, and most important rodeos. It’s important to a community that’s supported this event for so many years,” arena director Rick Cole said. “It’s pretty neat to go in in the same class as Grated Coconut.

“He was one of the greatest bareback buckin’ horses ever. He was always at the Ellensburg Rodeo and we have a very, very strong relationship with the Calgary Stampede. It’s neat to have one of our animal competitors going in at the same time. Grated Coconut and the Ellensburg Rodeo are linked forever.”

BIG MONEY

The Ellensburg Rodeo payout was just over $500,000 combined in 2019, with an estimated $400,00 payout in the rodeo and an added $101,520 in prize money for the Xtreme Bulls Tour Finale. That’s a staggering amount for a rodeo in a town with a population of approximately 21,000.

With its centennial year on the horizon, the Ellensburg Rodeo has another cause for celebration as a 2020 ProRodeo Hall of Fame inductee.

“Our rodeo is 100% put on by volunteers, and our volunteers are more important than anything to us,” Morgan said. “I’ve seen the same people volunteer for as long as I can remember, and I’ve been here my whole life.”

Comments

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.