The Heart Of Houston Livestock Show And Rodeo

The country's biggest rodeo kicks off this week at Reliant Stadium. An event that began in 1932 as a small livestock show has now become a huge farming and country music extravaganza. Something which takes a lot of organization is done by only 95 paid staff and nearly 26,000 volunteers.

Hundreds of trucks are pulling into the gates of Reliant Stadium this week. It’s a hub of activity as workers and volunteers prepare for the onslaught of over 2 million visitors to the 80th Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. This is no mean feat and that is why there are over a hundred committees of volunteers to keep this show running year after year says Chairman of the rodeo Steve Stevens.

"The committee that either brings the cattle in or the international committee that is responsible for our international visitors. To the horsepitality committee that welcomes the horse people. We have a committee for just about you know everything you can think of that’s necessary to have a big time rodeo like we are here. The largest in the country."

But these aren’t just any old volunteers.

"We have people that travel from other parts of the state. We have people that take their vacation, so that they can come out here and be a part of this and I think the driving factor behind all that is what we do with the money. It’s for youth and education."

Youth and education or better known as the kids. You’ll hear nearly every rodeo volunteer say that: "It’s for the kids."

They give their time free of charge so the rodeo can raise money. This money goes to Texas teens to get scholarships to go to college. Something which was introduced in 1957 when one Bellaire high school student got a $1,000 scholarship. Now that number has grown considerably.

"This past year we gave away five hundred and ninety nine $16,000 scholarships for kids to attend college here in Texas. Right now we have 2,000 students on Houston Livestock Show scholarships at 100 universities in Texas."

But that’s not the only thing that keeps rodeo volunteers coming back year after year.

"It’s fun."

That’s Karn Flowers, pet-sitter by day. But by night during rodeo she can be found at the Corral Club in the east wing of Reliant Stadium taking care of VIP’s. Flowers is one of many volunteers to find love at the rodeo with her now fiancé Ron Koerner.

"Well it was so sweet. I had given up dating completely and I was volunteering that year and he kept coming to the different bars each night and would hang out for a while and visit with me, and he just struck my fancy.  I’ve been attached to him ever since."

All sorts of relationships are born from working on committees at the rodeo. Doug Rieth is in his 6th year of volunteering. He’s made a large group of friends he wouldn’t normally have met if it weren’t for rodeo. It’s a really important part of his life.

"I feel proud whenever I say, 'Oh yeah I’m not gonna be in tomorrow I’m gonna be working the rodeo.' Often people say, What’s that?' If they’re not familiar with it or they’re like 'Oh are you working a concert." [I reply], No, no, no. What we do is make sure the system runs do out little part to make it run."     

And those are the kind of people you’ll be seeing at this year’s rodeo — all 26,000 of them.

 

Bio photo of Edel Howlin

Edel Howlin

Producer, Houston Matters

Edel is a producer on Houston Matters and reporter for PBS’s Newshour Weekend...