Virtually everyone who is anyone in the world of rodeo could be found at one place on Friday afternoon in Las Vegas.
ProRodeo legends, Hall of Famers, world champions and dignitaries gathered at the Palms Hotel & Casino’s grand ballroom Friday for the Gold Card Roundup, a celebration of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo’s 30 years in Las Vegas and a great chance for old friends to reunite in fun and fellowship. The more than 400 attendees included a Who’s Who of the rodeo world, from ProRodeo Hall of Famers like Harry Vold, Larry Mahan, Roy Cooper and Deb Copenhaver to world champions Chad Ferley, Jeff Copenhaver and Jimmie Munroe.
The group shared handshakes, smiles, stories, food and fun at the festive event, and the collection of stars and history in the room was simply staggering. I also ran into the likes of Charles Sampson, Dean Oliver, Cotton Rosser, Bob Tallman, Don Gay and Shawn Davis, and there was great history and accomplished cowboys everywhere you turned.
Pro announcer Brent Jordan served as the master of ceremonies for the event, which was organized by Rodeo Historical Society Board member Larry Jordan and supported by PRCA Commissioner Karl Stressman and Davis, among others. Wrangler NFR specialty act Rider Kiesner performed and helped hand out a trio of $250 cash prizes, and the lunch also featured silent and live auctions.
Las Vegas Events President Pat Christenson, Stressman, Rooster Reynolds – the son of the late Benny Reynolds – Davis, famed cowboy poet and music artist Red Steagall and Women’s Professional Rodeo Association President Carolyn Vietor all spoke at the reunion.
“It is a great honor for my name to be on the Gold Cards as the PRCA Commissioner,” Stressman told the room that included dozens of PRCA Gold Card members. “There’s nowhere else in the world for the Wrangler NFR to be than Las Vegas.”
Five men – Vold, Bennie Beutler, Jim Sutton, Neal Gay and Rosser – received the inaugural Benny Reynolds Gold Card Awards, and Michael Gaughan, Christenson, Stressman, Mahan and Steagall were given Benny Binion Gold Card Awards as well.
Davis thanked everyone for coming and spoke about the rodeo’s presence in Las Vegas.
“This is something I thought was very important to have,” Davis said of the Gold Card Roundup. “The reason for this event is to get people together, and you always have to look at your history before you can move forward. We can entertain ourselves and think about how it used to be, but also talk about the future and how to make it better.
“After I made the decision to bring the rodeo here, I was a little nervous when I saw those empty seats, but it’s my understanding that we have the longest-lasting sold-out event in Las Vegas.”
Mahan interviewed Deb Copenhaver, Vold, Bob Ragsdale and Chuck Henson on stage and kept the crowd laughing and thinking about the special world of rodeo at the same time.
“Rodeo is the event that showcases our Western heritage and culture to the world,” said Mahan, a 1979 ProRodeo Hall of Fame inductee. “It requires self-reliance, discipline, sacrifice, mental strength and courage. It’s the ultimate opportunity to see if you have what it takes and to go for it.
“Our Western heritage and culture is such a precious part of this country, and it’s something we need to keep alive.”
Vold, who attended his first rodeo in 1936, talked about the way the sport has changed through the years, as well as Las Vegas’ influence on the Wrangler NFR.
“This thing has changed drastically,” said Vold, who has provided stock for every Wrangler NFR. “Guys used to ride for next to nothing, but now the money really amounts to something. I think the changes are wonderful.”
Steagall received a standing ovation after sharing his admiration for the group before him and giving thanks to rodeo for changing his life.
“I can’t begin to tell you how emotional this is for me to stand up in front of all of you, look across this crowd and see the people who created a lifestyle for me that I treasure more than I can explain to you in words” Steagall said. “It took all of us to get rodeo to this point, where it’s the most celebrated sport in the history of our country, and it will take all of us working together to keep it safe, healthy and productive for the next generation.”
Deb Copenhaver, 89, summed up the sentiment of the entire group with some heartfelt remarks while on stage chatting with Mahan.
“If I could go back and retrace my steps, I wouldn’t change a thing,” said Copenhaver, a 1992 ProRodeo Hall of Fame inductee. “To be a part of this family and to be a part of this group of people is the most precious thing. This is the most precious moment of my life.
“I can take this to glory.”