As the Rodeo continues to grow and attract more fans, it is becoming obvious that the landlocked Washoe County fairgrounds area is not long going to be the best venue for this event. In the past years there were several stories circulated that the new rodeo grounds would be built somewhere in the Double Diamond/Damonte Ranch areas in far southeast Reno. Looking at those two venues today it is pretty obvious that will not occur since the once pristine ranchland is now covered by vast residential and commercial developments.
Not too long ago, when former University of Nevada, Reno President John Lilley was presenting his extensive plan for the expansion of the campus (which would have gobbled up the fairgrounds) the pitch was that the university would swap adequate land on its University Farm area on east McCarran Boulevard. Apparently, that plan has also been put to rest.
Talking to some current and former directors of the rodeo, it is obvious they would like a shot at picking up the vast acreage on the west side of Wells Avenue that the university Agriculture Department still controls. Short of that, if the rodeo has to maintain its current location, then some sort of multi-level parking structure seems to be the only answer.
A good example of how critical the parking issue is this: On Wednesday of this week, the security people at the county complex on Wells Avenue were out in force, making sure that anyone entering their area had legitimate county business to transact.
As the 2009 Reno Rodeo marks the 90th birthday of Reno’s first and longest-running special event, it brings to mind some of the halcyon rodeos of the past. One such memory was highlighted in this week’s June 24 issue of the Reno Gazette-Journal. It referred mostly to the visit of Miss Rodeo Arizona to the local event. Her name is Taryn Brady and what made the article most interesting to this writer was the fact that the Arizona Rodeo Queen is the granddaughter of localite Odile Frost Brady. I recall grandma Odile winning the title of Miss Reno Rodeo in 1950. At that time she was best known as the daughter of Harry and Ethel Frost, proprietors of the Reno Printing Co. in downtown Reno. Long after her rodeo days, Odile married former Nevada and Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Pat Brady — hence the last name of her granddaughter.
The Frost/Brady story is an interesting one in that Harry Frost was one of the first people I ran across in Reno. In addition to his own dedication to the Rodeo, he was the chairman of the Board of Athletic Control for the University of Nevada. As such he helped determine which funding would go to the coaches at the university in order to help them pay for scholarships for football and basketball. Since I was one such recipient, I always felt a debt of gratitude to Frost, so much so that when I got into the advertising and publishing business I did all of my printing at Reno Print. It was during those latter days that I first met Pat Brady, who went to work at the shop following his professional football career. For many years he was my “contract” man at the business.
As for Harry Frost himself, in addition to operating a horse ranch in southwest suburban Reno, he had been an outstanding football player in the 1920s. A rather slightly built, dynamic man, he had all the energy of the famous Energizer Bunny. He was omnipresent at university and rodeo events and since he had the only press capable of turning out keno tickets in northern Nevada, he enjoyed a lucrative connection with the state’s casino and hotel bosses. Fortunately for those who never heard of him, his picture accompanied the article in the paper’s Wednesday edition regarding his daughter and his great-granddaughter.
RGJ reporter Guy Clifton, an excellent writer on all subjects, has produced an excellent book on the history of the Reno Rodeo and the men, such as Harry Frost, who were the driving force behind the success of the rodeo are well profiled.
In Clifton’s book, one such individual was Charles Mapes, Jr., whose father was one of the founders of the event. When Mapes took the reins as president of the rodeo in 1966, I was fortunate to begin a seven-year stint as advertising and publicity director for the horse event. In Mapes terms, the Rodeo was in dire financial straits so he and the directors opted for an underwriting campaign that saw local merchants solicited for funding to cover the entire rodeo budget and then receive a portion of the money back, depending how well the rodeo did at the box office and concessions.
Hustling the merchants in Reno were two-man teams of rodeo directors and officers. I was fortunate to be paired with George Solari, who was the vice president at the time. The underwriting continued for a few years, through Solari’s presidency and that of his successor, Harry Drackert (a former professional rodeo champion on the national stage). Drackert was a legitimate cowboy who had segued into managing divorcee guest ranches that proliferated throughout the Truckee Meadows at that time. He was a natural for TV and radio interviews since he could “talk rodeo” with anyone on the circuit. His wife, Joan, whom he had met when she was an easterner divorcee at one of the ranches Harry managed, was a very sophisticated lady who fell in love with the Western culture and eventually opened her own store in downtown Reno, featuring mostly turquoise and Indian arrowheads and other artifacts.
In the decade of the 1960s, there were approximately two dozen rodeo directors and their pictures (in cowboy hats) always gracing the front page of the Sunday Nevada State Journal Rodeo Special Section. At the time, I was involved the Journal’s sports section. The editor, the iconic Ty Cobb, and I were a two-man team that produced the special section. Working with Cobb was like learning at the feet of the master, since he would have new and innovative story ideas for every issue we created.
Of all the other rodeo directors of that bygone era one stands out in memory because of his ongoing work. His name is Ken Dennis and not only did he create the artwork and slogan for the “Wildest, Richest,” he has been a faithful historian and has presented a scrapbook to each president of the rodeo, of the latter’s term in office.
Now, if the present Board of Directors can solve the parking problem, there is no limit as to how large Reno’s premiere event can become.
Harry Spencer is a freelance writer in Reno. His column about the past and present of northern Nevada appears weekly in the Tribune.
Editor’s note: Harry Spencer’s column is sometimes a mix of reporting and opinion. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Tribune.