Paul Cooley, a 58-year volunteer for the Gerry Rodeo, was the guest presenter at the Feb. 20 meeting of the Rotary Club of Westfield-Mayville. During the session, which was held at The Parkview in Westfield, Cooley was welcomed by Club President Janese Berkhouse and introduced by Club President-Elect Mary Swanson.
His “History of the Gerry Rodeo” program featured interesting facts about how this rodeo started, its purpose, anecdotes, and highlights of the event throughout the years. Cooley showed numerous historical photos and displayed an award given to the Gerry Rodeo by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA).
This rodeo got its start in the small town of Gerry in 1945 when Jack Cox, a former working cowboy, moved from the West to Gerry. He suggested establishing a rodeo as a fundraiser for the town’s newly formed fire department. Though his idea was met with skepticism, in 70 days members of the fire department and other volunteers worked hard to have the Gerry Rodeo become a reality.
Cooley said, “They transformed four acres of swampland six miles north of Jamestown into an arena and parking lot in time for the arrival of the renowned Colonel Jim Eskew and the livestock that year. Bleachers were borrowed from area schools and portable lights were rented. In those early days the stock arrived by train in the middle of the hamlet, traffic was stopped, and the animals were herded down the middle of Route 60 to the rodeo grounds by volunteers, making for some exciting moments.”
He continued, “Today the stock arrives by modern semi-trucks, but the excitement of rodeo time still fills the air. Several hundred volunteers of all ages pitch in to make the annual event possible. Having small town kids involved makes a big difference. I’m proud of our youth. It really does take a village to raise kids. If we never make any money, we are grateful for how this rodeo has brought our town together, like a family. No one can ever take that away.”
Cooley, a lifelong member of the Gerry Volunteer Fire Department, noted that from the beginning, the Gerry VFD wanted its rodeo to be “top-notch,” so it has always contracted for a rodeo sanctioned by the PRCA. Participants pay an entry fee, and all of the entrants compete for cash and qualifying points toward the annual National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas in December. Today the rodeo has the same competitive events as it did 74 years ago. They are bareback bronc riding, tie-down roping, saddle bronc riding, bull riding, steer wrestling, team roping and cowgirls’ barrel racing.
Also, there are specialty acts, such as trick riding, animal acts and clowns. Cooley said, “A recently added feature allows young spectators to enter the arena to compete for prizes as they chase ribbons tied to calves’ tails. There will be a return of the free kids’ rodeo on Sat., Aug. 4 at 4 p.m., where children ages 3 though 8 can compete in the arena in rodeo related games supervised by pro rodeo cowboys and cowgirls.”
Cooley said that the Gerry Rodeo is “one of the first ever to bring this type of Wild West show across the Mississippi River. It is now the oldest consecutively running PRCA rodeo east of the Mississippi. For four days, Gerry becomes “The Rodeo Capital of the East,” with about 200 professional cowboys and cowgirls competing for over $45,000 in prize money in five performances. The PRCA selects only 10 rodeos in the nation to receive awards, and the Gerry Rodeo was the only one selected East of the Mississippi for two consecutive years.”
Through the years, the profits from the rodeos have provided modern fire and rescue equipment for the Gerry VFD. Also, the rodeo supports charities. Aug. 4 this year will be “Stompin’ Out Breast Cancer Saturday,” and everyone is invited to wear pink to support the fight against breast cancer. Donations will be accepted for the Roswell Park Breast Cancer Research Fund.
The 74th annual PRCS Gerry Rodeo will run Aug. 1-4 at the Gerry Rodeo Grounds, 4351 Rt. 60, Gerry, NY 14740. The contractor for this year’s event will again be Painted Pony Championship Rodeo of Lake Luzerne, NY. The rodeo’s famous Western Beef BBQ Dinners will be available for purchase. For more information about this rain or shine show, its schedule and ticket prices, visit the rodeo’s web site of www.gerryrodeo.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Tickets may be purchased online at gerryrodeo.org or call the GVFD at 888-985-4847. Presale tickets with discounted prices are available through July 30.
The Rotary Club of Westfield-Mayville commends Paul Cooley, the Gerry VFD members, and the many community volunteers for their numerous years of providing a unique and exciting family event to Chautauqua County. Hats off to the Gerry VFD and all of our area first responders for their dedicated service to our local communities. See you at the Gerry Rodeo, Aug. 1-4, for some action-packed fun!