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Rodeo buck starts, stops with Cowpokes
￼Group is one of many that make Kitsap Stampede
When the Kitsap County Stampede Cowpokes formed some 11 years ago, meetings were at local bars. Notes, if taken at all, were jotted down on coasters.
Now, with approximately 25 members and a budget of more than $250,000, the Cowpokes are one of the driving forces behind the Kitsap County Fair & Stampede rodeo.
“I can’t say enough about the Cowpokes,” rodeo director Joe Drouin said. “They see the need, go out and take care of it.”
Founded by Minder Meats’ JC Carlson, Ron Robison of Robison Plumbing, local developer Jeff Coomb, then-area beverage distributor Jon Jennings and then-area business owner Roger Paschell, all of whom were friends and fans of rodeo, it seemed natural to start up the Cowpokes, supporting a sport they locally loved.
“We were all rodeo fans,” Carlson said. “We were at the Cloverleaf and we just started talking about it.”
Pretty soon, they got in touch with Silverdale resident and renowned rodeo announcer Randy Corley, who gave them some tips.
“The more we got into it, we started thinking, ‘We should start asking our friends for money,’” Carlson said. “(It grew) faster than we ever dreamed.”
The result of that work can be seen on the floor of the Thunderbird Arena beginning Wednesday, as the Kitsap County Fair & Stampede rodeo rumbles back into town for another year. While the event, which wraps up on Sunday with Xtreme Bulls, is only in the forefront for its week, everyone said the efforts that make it happen take far, far longer.
“The way I like to look at it is as a business,” Cowpokes president John Rosebeary said. “I don’t run my business for a week or two out of the year. It’s a 12-month commitment.”
But unlike a business, the Cowpokes, like the Wranglers and rodeo hospitality groups, are all volunteers.
“It’s huge,” Rosebeary said. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s the Kitsap Stampede or the Cheyenne (Wyo.) Frontier Days. The volunteers behind the scenes are what makes it happen. Without that passion for the sport, we couldn’t do it.”
Rosebeary, who co-owns Viking Fence Co., himself does enough volunteering that he often gets a light ribbing from friends and business associates.
“People joke with me,” he said. “’Oh, you’re actually doing fence work today.’”
Cowpokes secretary and Tough Enough To Wear Pink coordinator Julie Johnson is another avid rodeo fan and volunteer.
“I came from a rodeo family,” Johnson said. “I just love rodeo. I just wanted to volunteer my time.”
Like Johnson, it’s a labor of love, as the Cowpokes are the primary fundraisers for the event, while also rounding up sponsors, hosting monthly meetings, issuing a quarterly newsletter and hosting a variety of other functions and events throughout the calendar year. In fact, Johnson estimates roughly 90 percent of the work to put on the annual event takes place outside the actual week the rodeo takes place.
“Busy,” Johnson said. “It has been a huge learning opportunity for me. I really enjoy it. I’m passionate about rodeo. Any time I can talk rodeo with people, I will.”
In addition to pounding the pavement looking for sponsors, the group has helped the Kitsap Stampede Buckle Club grow to 103 members. For a membership fee of $285, members get a variety of rodeo-related benefits. In fact, the group’s membership has grown so much Drouin said it’s become one of the rodeo’s largest sponsors.
“I don’t know how to explain what they do (for us),” Drouin said. “I don’t have to do a thing. We’ve got the backing of the Cowpokes.”
The feeling is not alone. Frank Abbott, fair manager for the Kitsap County Fair & Stampede, said having groups like the Cowpokes has made his job exponentially easier.
“I’m grateful to have organizations like the Wranglers, the Cowpokes and the Fair Board,” Abbott said. “They all play an integral part of not only the rodeo, but the whole event. I’m grateful to have all of them. (The Cowpokes) take a lot of responsibility on fundraising, which frees up my time for other things.”
The sponsors the Cowpokes corral are a big — if not the biggest — part of the rodeo. A complete list of rodeo sponsors is available online at www.kitsaprodeo.com.
“The thing about it is without our sponsors, none of this would be possible,” Rosebeary said. “In the economic times we’re in, everyone is nervous. But we’ve picked up new sponsors. They’re still writing that check. To me, that’s as much passion as it is to volunteer and do the work.”
That passion is where it all stems from. Just take Rosebeary.
A former high school rodeo competitor, Rosebeary drifted away from the sport over time.
But about five years ago, a friend of his daughter’s was running for Miss Kitsap Stampede. Rosebeary helped sponsor her run before eventually finding more ways to volunteer his time and services. That’s how it starts for many sponsors, Johnson said.
“People that talk to potential sponsors about rodeo have to show passion, excitement, fun,” she said. “Then (the sponsors) get that feeling. They’re hooked, totally hooked. Then they come back and want to help more.”
The work of the Cowpokes can be seen from the competition on the floor to the floor itself.
“The Cowpokes have provided us money to make a lot of improvements back here,” Drouin said. “It looks class-A back here now.”
Four years ago, the rodeo was a $5,000 added purse. Now, it’s $8,500, making the trip more worthwhile for cowboys.
“The Cowpokes stepped up and said, ‘We’re gonna go to $8,500 added,’” Drouin said. “’We’re gonna do what’s needed to add more money.’”
Then, when Winnercomm approached the rodeo about becoming an official Xtreme Bulls tour stop, bringing in ESPN to televise the event in the process, Drouin said they again rose to the occasion.
“They stepped up again,” he said. “They said, ‘OK, we can do this.’ They’re giving the backing and support we need to put on a class rodeo. It just gets better and better.”
But for the cowboys involved, showing up is about more than money. While a handful of cowboys will leave with a nice check, dozens more will leave Kitsap with nothing.
“It starts with money,” Carlson said of the initial advice the Cowpokes founders received from Corley. “But he also said hospitality is something the cowboys (look at). They’re still old-fashioned. They appreciate home-cooked meals. They appreciate fresh laundry.”
No one knows that better than Lori Johnson, a mother of three sons who organizes the Stampede’s hospitality efforts.
“For five days, these guys are my boys,” she said. “I love taking care of them. And they’re so grateful and so sweet.”
Lori Johnson estimates more than 2,000 meals will be served during the rodeo’s five days.
“I don’t know much about rodeo,” she said. “But you find out how hungry they are. I want them to have a little bit of home when they’re in Kitsap County.”
From fully prepared meals delivered by sponsors to desserts donated by volunteer bakers, she, too, said hospitality couldn’t happen alone.
“My job is absolutely flat-out impossible without the local people who sponsor hospitality,” Lori Johnson said. “The spreads we’re able to put out, it’s unbelievable.”
Carlson said while it started as a group of five friends simply wanting to give back to the sport, it’s grown into a whole lot more.
“We did it strictly for fun,” Carlson said. “Not that John Rosebeary and everybody doesn’t. But as it gets bigger, it needs to be more organized.
“Now its just snowballed.”
In fact, Carlson said he remembers people dismissing the idea of a televised Stampede rodeo.
“That was one of our original ideas,” he said. “’Wouldn’t that be cool if it could be on TV?’ People laughed at us.”
But as the rodeo’s grown, it’s validity as one of the top in the nation has grown with it, as for the past three years its been nominated by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s Rodeo of the Year honors.
But as everyone pointed out, it’s not the Cowpokes alone who make it all come together.
“It’s a combination of those phenomenal Wranglers, the phenomenal Cowpokes and the unbelievable sponsors,” Lori Johnson said. “If we didn’t have Frank Abbott and (former Fair co-manager) Lauran Erickson, because they care so deeply about it. It’s a real collaborative effort. We all have to work together well. If you’re not a well-oiled machine, it doesn’t get done.”
“It doesn’t get put together overnight,” Rosebeary added. “It’s a year-long thing and everybody has a part of it. It’s everybody who puts in a lot of time and effort. And it’s paying off.”
Even the Web site has benefitted, as Randy Chaffe of shoplocalbiz.com volunteered his time to rework the Stampede’s site, www.kitsaprodeo.com. The Wranglers too have logged more than 700 hours of time this year, Rosebeary added.
All that passion translates to the rodeo itself, and that isn’t an accident.
“We want people to leave here and say, ‘Wow. That little town of Bremerton, Washington, really knows how to throw a rodeo,’” Lori Johnson said.
For more information about times and tickets, visit the rodeo’s Web site.