Washington Evening Journal

Fairfield Ledger   Mt. Pleasant News
Neighbors Growing Together | Aug 21, 2018

Rodeo life: a series of one-night gigs

Jul 18, 2018
Photo by: John Butters The first event of the evening was the ladies’ calf roping. It takes perfect coordination between horse and rider to win this event.

By John Butters. The JOURNAL


Every year, Grand River Rodeo owner Kevin Wookey thinks it might be his last year to rodeo. Every year he saddles up for another one.

Wookey brought his show to Washington on Tuesday night after resting two nights from the last rodeo in Geneva, Neb. “We took a few days to recirculate our stock and repair equipment. Then we loaded up and drove into Washington on Monday to set up for Tuesday night’s show,” he said.

It’s a tough schedule. Most of the shows he produces are one-nighters. During the Midwest’s fair season in July and August, he might set up two or three shows a week. It’s a lifestyle that takes a toll on him and his employees.

“It’s a hard life. There is a lot of travel. You have to love doing it. It’s about all I have ever done. It’s a family business. We also have a farm and a restaurant that we manage,” he said.

The Wookeys have been in the rodeo business for more than 30 years. Kevin’s late father started the business before Kevin was born. After his father passed away, he shouldered the load. It’s a family tradition; their heritage. “I get a lot of help from the family. We all have to work at this to keep it going,” he said.

Located in Grand River, the rodeo works a Midwest circuit, earning a stellar reputation in the business for putting on a good show. “We try to find out what the rodeo committees want us to bring to their towns. Then we go and find the acts they want to see,” he said.

In addition to the traditional comedy acts, Grand River offers nine competitive events; a lot for a small company. Grand River shows include everything the larger shows have. They just place it in a smaller package. “There are all sizes of rodeo companies. Large ones, smaller ones like ours. We want to please the crowd. That’s why we offer bull riding. A lot of smaller shows won’t,” he said.

He views the animals in his care as athletes. Experience has taught him which ranches produce the best livestock for his shows and he looks for them at auctions. “It’s in the bloodlines. Good quality stock produces better athletes,” he said.

Most of the cattle are Brahman-cross, he said, but the horses are a mix. “We have some wild horses, some that are semi-broke to ride and some that just want to buck. A lot of our stock comes out of South and North Dakota,” he said.

The stars of the show are the cowboys and cowgirls who trail his and other rodeos across the Midwest. Wookey gets to know them by name and feels a close kinship with them. He has known several generations of some families. “We love the rodeo people. We root for them. They’re like family to us,” he said.

Setup and teardown is a big part of his job. He trucks in his own gates, panels, riders’ chutes and the livestock. Then it all has to be trucked to the next job. “Finding enough help can be tough. Everyone is working two jobs now. It’s hard to find employees to come and work for a weekend or an evening shift,” he said.

Wednesday, Grand River Rodeo will be hitting the road for a one-night show in Mount Ayr. Following that, the rodeo will head to northwest Iowa for a show in Thompson and then back south again to Sabetha, Kan.

“We love it. That’s why we do it. Rodeo people are great. It’s a family,” he said.

Looking off into the livestock pens, Wookey is silent for a moment. He tugs at his hat.

“Every year we ask ‘are we going to do it again next year?’ Then every year we say, ‘maybe one more time’,” he said.

He’ll be back. It’s in his bloodline.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Glen Peiffer | Jul 18, 2018 13:07

Logan Lauderman, 13, of Pleasant Plain, is going into eighth grade at Pekin and just returned from Huron, South Dakota, where he qualified for the breakaway roping event at the National Jr. High Finals Rodeo.

When Brad Lauderman of Pleasant Plain was a senior in high school, he competed in the rodeo, but he got a late start and that was that.

When his sons, Logan, 13 and Reed, 9, were 6 and 2, respectively, he and his wife Mandi entered them into the youth rodeo in Bloomfield and they both loved it.

Logan, who will be an eighth grader this fall at Pekin, just returned from Huron, South Dakota after qualifying and competing in the National Junior High Finals Rodeo in the breakaway event.

Logan and his horse Lester have been preparing for this since they were born on the same day.

Brad’s father, Jan Poling, visited the Laudermans after Logan’s birth and upon returning home, found a newborn horse now named Lester.

Logan isn’t certain, but thinks he probably rode horses before he could ride a bike and for him just getting on a horse and riding feels nice.

Lester is a smooth riding horse according to Logan who feeds him hay each morning and night and sometimes rides him around lunch or in the evenings.

Although Logan loves other sports such as football, he encourages kids to try rodeo as well.

“It may seem difficult, but it’s fun once you learn how you do it,” explains Lauderman who suggests, “The hardest part is swinging a rope.”


Rodeo season

It runs from August to the state finals during Memorial weekend with around nine dates on the circuit and the participants responsible for travel and lodging.

The Laudermans are very thankful for the support they receive from Pekin who lets Logan out of school early on Fridays when needed and announces the results at school which both makes Logan proud and shows others what he likes to do. Unfortunately, Logan can’t just ride a team bus to the rodeos like other sports do, so the family leaves Friday night and travels as far away as Estherville with the closest competition in Fort Madison.

The competitors have events on both Saturday and Sunday and the biggest factor is the livestock.

“At Nationals I had a bad calf,” explained Lauderman. “Right when I nodded my head, it turned and got stuck in the shoot. Some will run hard and others just don’t.”

On Fridays, the Laudermans will go to the arena and watch the calves Logan might get the next day.

About 15 kids compete in the full circuit and they receive 10 points for first and 1 point for 10th with a rolling total and the top four qualifying for Nationals.

This year, Lauderman sat in fifth place going into the state rodeo and needed to make up a double-digit deficit to advance to Huron.

“I don’t really get nervous, it’s mostly my mom,” suggested Logan who explained. “You just go out there and do what you do and don’t worry about anyone else.”

Lauderman said it felt really good to finish fourth and when he walked into the Nationals he told himself, “Yes! I finally made it.”



Once you get there, you may go right away or you may wait for 3-4 days, so they have events for the cowboys to compete in and make money while they wait including dummy roping and mechanical bulls and horses to ride.

Run No. 1

“I’m thinking get my horse in position, nod your head, pull back on him and make sure the calf moves and then go. You want to start swinging in the box, I did and I roped him and when I turned around my grandpa was jumping up in the air and then I saw the flag on the ground which means I broke out too early. I caught at nationals, but I broke out which is basically a win and a loss.”


Run No. 2

“We had this NFR guy come, World Champion Calf Roper Joe Beaver, and he said whatever happens on the first day, leave it in the arena and don’t let it bother you which is what I tried to do. I went out and tried not to break the barrier, but the calves head got stuck in the shoot. Afterwards, I’m thinking I need to practice on the barrier and I need to wait and make sure the calf moves more than it did and just try not to do it again.”


Top Iowa finisher

“It felt nice because I was fourth of four to qualify,” said Logan who felt relatively lucky compared to his fellow Iowans. “My teammates had some bad calves, but you just have to do your thing and go out there and rope.”

The Laudermans stress kindness and modesty, which can be hard to harness when you’re 13 and excited.

“It’s kind of hard because if you get too wound up, people think you’re bragging. So, you just stay low until you get home and then you can celebrate,” suggested Logan.

About 30 kids qualified to represent Iowa in various events and the state finished eighth out of 50 plus several provinces.


Next year

Logan will be in eighth grade and in the final year of the junior high division and hopes to qualify for Nationals in the ribbon roping, team roping and the breakaway event again. Brad reminds Logan that if he wants to continue to improve and compete at a high level, he needs to practice everyday like he would any other sport. Some of that work can be done right there on the farm.

“I have to be strong and helping on the farm and lifting bails takes care of that and I also have to be smart and react to the horse instead of just sitting there,” said Logan.


Love of the game

“At school, if I have a bad day I just go home and practice on my dummy or sometimes I have friends over and show them how to rope,” explained Logan.

“It teaches life lessons, builds relationships and it’s good family fun,” suggests Brad, who also likes the Cowboy Church aspect that his family attends each Sunday morning at the rodeos.

“I’m OK with my babies being cowboys,” said a smiling Mandi Lauderman. “The ones we know are very humble and kind and have a lot of character and would do anything for anybody.”

Mandi also tries not to worry when her sons are in the ring.

“You can’t put them in a bubble and he loves to do it. I get more nervous for him to continue to do well, than getting hurt.”

With lots of parents removing their kids from contact sports, the Laudermans will let Logan play football, but have more faith in his experience in the ring.

“I’d rather have him in the rodeo because I know he’s worked with his horse and he’s prepared and has learned how to do things in a safe way.”


What’s next

Little brother Reed will enter the junior high division in the fall of 2019 when Logan jumps up to the high school level.

Although Logan has won eight buckles including his favorite for qualifying for the Nationals breakaway event, Reed started four years younger and has already accumulated 19.

Winnings go back into the pot to finance the operation and Logan wants to do roughstock which is bulls, but Mandi hasn’t signed off on that yet.

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