An integral part of the annual festivities is the publication of the official program for the rodeo. This year’s edition is more like a high end magazine or glossy catalog as it runs for a stunning 216 pages and is replete with current and historical stories of the Reno Rodeo. Editor for the program this year is Terri Basso, wife of excellent photographer and writer Louis Basso who is well represented this year in both categories. In fact it is Louis’ striking photo that adorns the cover of the program.
This year’s version of the rodeo also marks the 25th anniversary of the Reno Rodeo Foundation, the charitable arm of the organization that is managed by executive director Marie Baxter. The foundation has contributed to numerous local charities and is active on a year ‘round basis that stages other fundraising events such as its Denim Drive.
As well as giving facts and figures on the cowboy sport itself the current program features a number of special stories on rodeo sidelights. One of the most fascinating is the piece on the famed Western artist Will James, who designed the cover for the very first Reno Rodeo program. As a matter of fact, Bill Price the major domo at Dynagraphic Printing, which produces the annual piece, has a copy of that program in his possession.
Mike Lucke is the president of the Reno Rodeo board this year while executive director Alan Kingsley is in his 15th year as the Executive Director. Both individuals are well profiled in the pages of the program. Another feature story that is worth perusing is the one on Melinda Cowan, 2011 Miss Reno Rodeo.
Despite the condition of the current economy the advertisers in the program are still hot and heavy and the abundance of national Western oriented firms is mute tribute to the longevity and the high regard in which the Reno Rodeo is still held.
For the price of only five dollars this year’s edition of the Reno Rodeo program is well worth buying and keeping as a handy reference as well as a snapshot of the way of life that founded much of this area and one that is still alive and well.
The well attended evening performances of the Reno Rodeo as it is now presented is in sharp contrast to some of the early growing pains that the event once had to endure. One of the turning points to fiscal health and ever-growing popularity occurred in the mid-’60s when hotelier Charles Mapes was the president and the ebullient George Solari was the vice president. The rodeo was suffering some serious bleeding and the red ink threatened its existence. Mapes, whose father had been a moving force in the establishment of the rodeo, conceived the idea that if the local merchants and other businesses and professional men could be induced into “underwriting” the event it might have a chance to succeed. Accordingly the 40 or so directors were split up into two-man teams and given a list of contacts. Fortunately I drew Solari as my partner and most of our calls were in the downtown core of Reno. The experiment was able to raise enough funding to guarantee that the rodeo would go on and take care of all its bills and pay out the important prize money. Underwriters were given a payback out of the proceeds of the event and while initially it was not 100 percent, over the years it got to that point until the rodeo was in comfortable financial straits.
In those days of a half century ago the rodeo was a city and areawide celebration. Everyone in town was encouraged to “go Western” and if you didn’t and were spotted on the streets, you were packed into a rolling Black Marina stage by members of the Reno’s Junior Chamber of Commerce. You stayed there until you paid a fine that was immediately shipped to the rodeo coffers.
Newspaperwise the rodeo was a big event and the Sunday Nevada State Journal published a special rodeo section under the direction of editor Ty Cobb. For a half dozen years I had the good fortune to assemble the sections along with Cobb.
Currently the rodeo grounds are the subject of ongoing improvements with the old, splintery grandstands being converted to long-lasting metal installations. Rodeo volunteers and directors give unselfishly of their time and their devotion pays off when you attend one of the jam-packed night performances.
Prior to opening day some 300 head of cattle are driven from the north plains above Reno by a host of city slickers and rodeo committeemen. The annual parade through downtown Reno still draws the biggest crowds to Virginia Street for the year.
As a tribute to the individuals most responsible for the longevity of the rodeo there is a picture gallery starting on page 38 of this year’s program. Longtime residents will recall most of this impressive honor roll that includes; Charles Mapes Sr., Ray Sadlier, Ray Peterson, Howard Doyle, George Southworth, Harry Frost, Charles Mapes Jr., George Solari, Harry Drackert, Ben Zimmerman, Jack Horgan, Robert Peterson, Jim Halley, Ernie Martinelli, Frank Groves, Don Azevedo, Frank Knaflc, Bill Elwell, Jack Walther, Jack T. Walther, Jack Utter, Paul Richards, Clint Wells, Vince Swinney, Lee McKenzie, Tim Grinsell, Chuck Ewoldt, Bob Beach, Bob Britton, Bob Lyle, Jon Key, Dan Warren, David Cox, Joe Martin, John Solari, Bill Price, Mike Mentaberry, Steve Walther, Frank Cassas, Bob Martini, Steve Hunter, Garry Jackson, Tom Cates, Wayne Lund, Jerry David, Kevin McKnee, Mark Elston, Ray Callahan, Jim Carpenter and Gordie Cowan.
It was a privilage to have worked with a number of them. In their memory remember to “Cowboy Up!” for the next week.
Harry Spencer is a Reno freelance writer.