You’ve heard the saying “Behind every good man is a good woman.” Well, in this case one might say “Behind every good rodeo, stands several good men.” Gary Cussner, Jim Lauerman, Pat O’Kelley and Cody Shenold are Cushing Community Rodeo’s “good men” – the ones responsible for getting the arena ready to rodeo.
“What is it we do to get ready?” said Gary Cussner – chosen spokesman for the group. “For one thing, we go over all the gates and corrals to make sure there’s nothing broken.” Cussner has been involved in the rodeo business for “around 25 years” – give or take a few. “Me and John [Bryant] have been doing this for a long time,” he said. “I kinda got roped into doing it, you could say – guess we all did.” All the guys are jackpot ropers as well. As Cussner put it – “We just do that for fun.”
Not only do the men ensure the gates and corrals are in tip top shape – (“We don’t want anything to cause injury to an animal or a man,” Cussner said.) they paint bleachers, keep the wiring and air conditioning working properly in the announcers stand, check the bucking chutes, see to it the signs and banners get ordered and hung, and maybe most important of all – they make sure the arena looks “the prettiest it can.”
“We want it to look professional,” Cussner said, “you know we’ve been voted the best rodeo of our size nearly every year – we’ve taken first or second – isn’t that right, Jim?”
Jim Lauerman – seemingly a man of few words – has been volunteering to work the rodeo grounds for approximately 10 years now.
“Yeah, we’ve taken first a few times,” Lauerman concurred smiling.
As for the arena work, they all agreed that a little bit of maintenance every year is better than a whole lot every few years.
“We’ve learned how to do things to make things easier on us,” Lauerman said. “For example, all the lights have been replaced with halogen bulbs – and we’ve changed the speaker system. Joe Kennedy’s doing the sound.”
“Yeah, now we make sure we keep things pretty well maintained,” Cussner continued, “and the community is great when we need something. We just go in and say – ‘We’re with the rodeo board and we need some paint’ and we get some paint. We buy everything we can right here in Cushing. The City is great, too – if we need something, Jim just has to give them a call and they’re out here doing it.”
In the background, Pat O’Kelley nodded and smiled. O’Kelley, perhaps the newest of the volunteers, brings special equipment to the table as part of his contribution – something known as a TR3.
“When we’re getting the dirt ready, Pat brings in his TR3 and breaks it up,” Cussner tried to explain. “Probably the hardest thing about this job is trying to figure out the weather. We have to make sure the dirt is watered – but not too much – it’s gotta be just right.”
And as everyone knows – Oklahoma weather can be a blessing or a curse.
Cussner then related one of his favorite Cushing Rodeo stories.
“I remember back a few years ago when we got rain on Friday night,” Cussner began his tale. “I’m not talking about a little sprinkle when it started – it poured. We had a pond out here. It rained ‘til morning. The next day we came out and tried the best we could to dry out the arena – but the parking lot was a lake. We thought the rodeo was going to be a bust.” His grin broadened as he continued, “But you know what? It was the best rodeo we ever had! Everyone came out. Men were carrying their wives on their backs through the mud. It was great!”
As rodeo time draws nearer Cussner, Lauerman, O’Kelley and Shenold no doubt will be painting, mending and making sure it’s the best looking arena around.
Perhaps Cussner summed it up best, “When I look up in those stands packed full of people having fun – kids running around – I like it. That’s the big pay off.”
*The KUSH girls would like to thank the guys for taking time out of their schedules to do this interview. Unfortunately, Cody Shenold was unable to attend due to a previous engagement. Maybe next time, Cody!