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Lake City rodeo celebrates 50 years

By Staff | Jun 26, 2009

The annual rodeo in Lake City is known for offering affordable, family fun and exciting, live entertainment, from barrel racing to bull riding.

LAKE CITY – For the Top Rail Saddle Club, America’s original extreme sport is more than an 8-second ride – it’s a milestone 50 years in the making.

“I had no doubts our rodeo would last all these years,” said Marj Richardson, 85, of rural Lake City, a charter saddle club member who hasn’t missed a year of this rodeo since 1960. “We didn’t have much when we started, but we’ve built it up through the years.”

2009’s extravaganza, which will be held in Lake City at 7 p.m., on June 27 and June 28, promises to offer everything from barrel racing to bull riding, said Ted Janssen, a 50-year member who joined the Top Rail Saddle Club when he was six years old and helps coordinate the annual event. “It takes a strong core of people to keep a rodeo like this going, and we’re proud that we are still putting on a good show after all these years.”

The annual rodeo attracts hundreds of spectators and features a roster of cowboys and cowgirls from across Iowa and the Midwest. Stock contractor John Steenhoek, from Downing, Mo., with Heartland Rodeo, said he always enjoys coming to Lake City.

“This is one of my favorite rodeos,” said Steenhoek, who noted that attendance has been up at all the rodeos he’s worked this year in Wisconsin, Missouri and Iowa. “This isn’t all that small of a rodeo, they have excellent facilities and they offer good prize money. Also, the Top Rail Saddle Club members are good to work with, so I feel right at home here.”

Starting from simple beginnings

Members of the saddle club have long supported ambitious plans for the rodeo. The club, which was formed in Lake City in December 1959, had barely gotten started when some members proposed a plan in late August of 1960 to host a rodeo on Sept. 18 of that year. By a vote of 15 to 14, the members approved the motion.

Volunteers had only a few weeks to transform a bare piece of ground on the northwest side of Lake City into a rodeo arena. They gathered woven wire fence from a ravine at club member Jim True’s property, and wire posts were salvaged from the site where the Stewart Memorial Community Hospital now stands in Lake City.

Bleachers were borrowed from the local high school. The “rodeo office” was run from the back of Marj Richardson’s pickup truck, which was also used to haul a heavy, upright piano from Auburn so pianist Katheryn Flemings could provide music at the arena during the rodeo.

Admission for the first rodeo cost 75 cents for adults and 25 cents for children from ages 6 to 12. The event attracted 27 entries and about 750 spectators. “We didn’t have much money, but we did the best we could,” said Richardson, who served as the saddle club’s first secretary and treasurer and noted that the early rodeos in Lake City were held during the afternoon, since the arena didn’t have electricity until 1963.

Kay (Spencer) Streeter, of Lake City, who was a junior in high school when the first rodeo was held, participated in the first rodeo queen contest.

“We had to compete in a pleasure class, where you had to walk, trot and lope your horse,” recalled Streeter, who had grown up with horses and competed with a quarter horse named Trader.

For Streeter, whose family belonged to the saddle club, being named rodeo queen was a memorable event. She rode in the local parade as well as the grand entry at the rodeo, where she carried the flag. She later competed in Perry for the state fair rodeo queen contest.

“Being the Top Rail Saddle Club’s first rodeo queen was a fun experience, and I’m glad I had that opportunity,” Streeter said.

Contact Darcy Dougherty Maulsby by e-mail at yettergirl@yahoo.com.

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