After covering rodeos for over 30 years, I’ve seen a lot of change and loss in the rodeo world. I was at Cheyenne Frontier Days when Lane Frost took his last ride and in the Thomas and Mack Center when Brent Thurman did the same.
I watched with agony as my dear friend and Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (NFR) bull rider Shane Drury fought and lost his battle with cancer. The rodeo grapevine was quick to let me know when Shawn McMullen was killed in an auto accident. There is no doubt in my mind that he would have become a world champion but fate saw a different opportunity for the four-time NFR qualifier. Shawn qualified for his first NFR in 1992 and finished in third place the next three years.
Our world was turned upside down in 1990 when four tie-down ropers, Dave Smith, David Bowen, Randy Dierlam and Mike Curran lost their lives in a plane crash over the Fourth-of-July. But nothing has been like the first half of March of 2017, for the rodeo world or for me personally.
On March 2, rodeo announcer Hadley Barrett passed away. Ten days later, we lost NFR barrel racer Nancy Hunter. March 13th saw legendary stock contractor Harry Vold make his last ride as well as long-time Caldwell Night Rodeo committeeman Bill Bailey. On the 15th, Casper (Wyo.) full-time rodeo coach and part time PRCA official Tom Parker lost his battle with cancer. It’s been a tough two weeks.
Hadley Barrett announced his last rodeo in San Antonio, Texas, on Feb. 26th. It happened to be the ranch rodeo which included Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association sanctioned steer roping. That was the end of the 18-day San Antonio Stock Show Rodeo. In addition to the ranch rodeo, Hadley had announced 20 rodeo and one Xtreme Bulls performances. I loved listening to Hadley talk, on and off the microphone. His knowledge of the sport and interest in each contestant came through every time he put that microphone to his lips. However, my favorite times with him were behind the scenes, talking about our families, telling old ranch stories and sharing our love for everything western.
Hadley died at the hospital in his home state of Colorado, just four days after announcing his last rodeo in San Antonio. His voice was one of the most recognizable in the industry and one that was involved with the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (NFR) as an announcer or television commentator for decades. The last time he was chosen to call the action there was in 2008 where he worked alongside one of his most trusted friends, and co-workers, Randy Corley who was also his son-in-law. They have been side-by-side for many years at San Antonio as well as other rodeos across the country. Hadley loved working with others and had a big influence on many careers, not just the announcers, but everyone he encountered.
“Forty-one years ago, Hadley Barrett took me under his wing. He said ‘Cowboy, welcome and hang on for the ride.’ He gave me confidence. He was one of those people that gave you confidence just by shaking your hand,” said Bob Tallman who spent many hours working with Hadley. “He was brilliant. He constantly gave all of himself to everyone.”
Hadley was so amazing in and out of the arena. I’ve been very blessed by his friendship and will continue to be blessed by memories and the friendships I have with his family members.
Nancy Hunter made two appearances at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, in 2014 and 2015 riding her great horse Flit N Fizz that we all knew as Fuzz. Nancy’s journey into the rodeo arena started as a young girl that loved horses. Her parents didn’t have any, but her grandfather did. So she spent as much time as she could with him, riding and learning. She started competing in high school where she met Fred Hunter who became her life partner. They had four boys (who are all members of the PRCA) and even though her family was her priority, Nancy went back to nursing school and graduated in 1990. She loved being an emergency room nurse almost as much as running barrels.
Nancy and Fred planned their rodeo schedule carefully and took a business approach to every run they made, and even though Nancy was the one in the arena they did it all together. They only went to rodeos that Fuzz liked and where they knew they had a good opportunity to win money. That paid off as they won RodeoHouston on three occasions. They made history at the Caldwell Night Rodeo winning it four out of five years and finishing second in their sixth and final appearance.
In Nancy’s second NFR appearance, she started the “Glitter Like Gold” campaign to raise funds and awareness for childhood cancer. This was personal for her as their youngest son, Kolton, was a cancer survivor. They raised $13,000 for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and more money for the Huntsman Cancer Institute.
Little did she know at the time that she would be making her own trip to Salt Lake City to Huntsman’s for treatment. Nancy was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in August of 2016. Shortly thereafter, she lost Fuzz to colic. In honor of Nancy and her quest to see an end to childhood cancer, the barrel racers at the 2016 NFR kept the Glitter Like Gold campaign going. This time, not only were they wearing gold, they were also sporting purple ribbons in support of their friend.
Each year the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association has a luncheon at the beginning of the NFR to honor their qualifiers. Last December all 15 of them had gold and purple balloons that they released at the luncheon for Nancy and her cause.
Even in Nancy’s final days, she was taking time to think of others. Fellow barrel racer Kim Schulze was kicked and had a lacerated liver on Feb. 16th this year. One of the first text messages she got was from Nancy with words of encouragement and prayer. Always giving, humble and a champion for what she believed in, Nancy left a lasting impression on the barrel racing and rodeo world.
I guess I always expected Hadley Barrett and Harry Vold to live forever because the shock I felt at the news of both of their passing’s was huge. Hadley was 87-years young when he announced his last rodeo and I was fortunate to be there. Harry celebrated his 93rd birthday on Jan. 24th. Five days later, Harry and Karen celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary.
Harry’s memorial s service was very fittingly held at the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame & Museum of the American Cowboy in Colorado Springs. He was not only an inductee, he was passionate about rodeo’s history and helped with many fundraising efforts for the hall.
Harry’s rodeo accolades go on and on. There are as many stories about him as there are bucking horses in the world and that is another thing he was passionate about. He is one of only two stock contractors to provide animals for the NFR every year they have had it since it began in Dallas, Texas, in 1959.
Harry’s rodeo company won the stock contractor of the year award 11 times and he had animals in every category that won bucking stock of the year. It would take pages and pages of a book just to list them and each award was important to him.
What was important to everyone involved in rodeo was Harry Vold the man. Born and raised in Canada, he learned to work hard at a very early age. When he was in eighth grade, his parents sent him to a youth training school that included etiquette along with their regular curriculum. That likely contributed to his charm.
He started auctioneering at 15 years old and that led to horse trading, which led to his career of providing bucking horses to rodeos. He moved to Colorado in 1968 to be more centrally located for the rodeo business and that was the beginning of the Bar HV. .
The influence that Harry has had on rodeo goes far beyond the animals. He was instrumental in moving the NFR to Las Vegas, helped the PRCA stay solvent in the 1980’s and weathered many a storm outside of the arena to help build the sport to what it is today.
Harry was known far and wide as the “Duke of the Chutes,” or sometimes quite simply as The Duke. You could be at nearly any rodeo arena in the United States, be behind the scenes and say something about The Duke and most people would know exactly who you were talking about.
Bob Tallman started calling him “The Duke,” at the Colorado State Fair in Pueblo many years ago. They were both horseback in the arena, after Bob would announce a ride in the bareback or saddle bronc riding he would ride over to Harry and ask him about the next horse. He told him that he reminded him of another man known as the Duke, John Wayne.
“That turned into the Duke of the Chutes,” Tallman said. “That’s the way we all saw him in our lives and in the rodeo business.”
I will miss his firm handshake, the twinkle in his eye, compassion and wit. And I’ll especially miss seeing him watching every performance at the College National Finals Rodeo, encouraging the next generation of rodeo athletes to do their absolute best.
Harry’s legacy will also live on through the breeding programs of great bucking horses across the country. I’m going to talk to stock contractors that have horses influenced by Bar HV genetics in an upcoming and new blog – “Top Stock.”
These three had more in common than their love of our sport and their contribution to the NFR. They were all passionate about living life to the fullest, always improving and making the world a better place for others. They left our world a better place, but there is a void here that will never be filled. Empty saddles are a part of life. The saddest thing about the loss of these incredible people is for future generations that will never hear Hadley call their name, get to shake Harry’s hand or experience Nancy’s zest for life and rodeo first hand.
Their memories will live on because of the trails that they have blazed and because we in the rodeo family will continue to use them as examples of the kind of people we want to be.