CLAREMORE, Okla. – Greek Ellick Sr. lives here, just like many members of his family.
Originally from Verdigris, this part of Oklahoma is home. Before retiring to the Claremore Nursing Home, he was a rodeo clown and a spur maker, recognized as one of the best in the country.
Now his son, Greek Ellick Jr., carries on that family tradition, donning greasepaint for rodeo arenas across the country when he’s not tooling with metal. On Memorial Day weekend, the younger generation returns to his Claremore roots to fight bulls and entertain the crowds at the Will Rogers Stampede PRCA Rodeo.
“I love what I do,” said Ellick Jr., who will fight bulls with Josh Rivinius of Elgin, N.D., during the three performances that start at 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 27-Sunday, May 29. “I’m going to clown rodeos and fight bulls. That’s what I was born and bred to do. I realized the love for the sport and what I enjoy doing, so I’m doing it.
“I was fortunate enough to be good enough to do it for a living. I’ve had a really neat career. The future is really wide open.”
The younger Ellick was born in Claremore in 1964 and graduated high school in Dexter, Kan. He attended Butler County Community College in El Dorado, Kan., chasing his dreams and living the life he’d seen for so many years.
“I went to college on a rodeo scholarship, working all three roughstock events,” he said. “Then I picked up my (bullfighting) baggies and pursued my career in rodeo as fast and hard as I could run. My dad was a rodeo clown, so I’m a second-generation rodeo clown and bullfighter. I’m from the old school, where you put on the makeup to make ’em laugh, then at the end of the rodeo you scare ’em.”
Rivinius first came to Claremore in 2003 and has shown so much ability in so many aspects of the job that he’s still part of the show.
“They keep having me back, so I keep coming back,” said Rivinius, 33. “It’s a good rodeo to come back to with all the history there. It’s got a lot of good people on the committee.”
The Dakotan got his start in the rodeo business as a lad, competing through high school-level competitions.
“I grew up in a rodeo, ranchy family,” he said. “After I graduated high school, I decided I wanted to fight bulls. I went to a three-day school, and it just took off from there.”
Over his career, he’s been named the North Dakota bullfighter of the year six times and has fought at the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association tour finale in Omaha, Neb., twice. He’s also worked the Badlands Circuit Finals Rodeo five times.
“I think to be a good bullfighter, it’s just being able to read animals and playing it out in your head before it all happens, then reacting when it happens,” Rivinius said, referring to the turmoil that is involved in bull riding, especially the undecided nature of when or how the bull rider gets off the animal. “Watching everything as it unfolds, and you just pick your shot where you need to go. If you just go back to the basics, it all kind of takes care of itself.”
This year marks the third straight that Ellick returns to work his hometown rodeo. It’s not only a family reunion, but also a working reunion, because Ellick will reconnect with Rivinius the event’s stock provider, Dell Hall and the Rafter H Rodeo Livestock Co.
“We actually work a lot of Dell Hall rodeos together, so I get to see all those folks again,” Ellick said. “Josh is great. There are those certain guys you don’t click with in the arena, but Josh is not one of those. You look forward to seeing him, and you look forward to fighting bulls with him.
“He’s probably one of the most on-time bullfighters out there in terms of being in the right position when he needs to be.”
That’s an important aspect in bullfighting, where the contestants try to gain control of the nearly two tons of bucking beast to help keep the bull riders and others in the arena out of harm’s way. The bullfighters use tremendous athleticism and have no problem using their hands to get the bull’s attention away from a fallen cowboy.
“It definitely makes it easier when you’re working with somebody you get along with or you know is going to be holding up his end of the deal,” Rivinius said. “Greek and I have worked tog ether a good handful of times, and when you’re with him, everybody knows what they’re doing.”
Ellick feels the same way.
“If I ever get knocked down, I don’t have to worry about it because I know Josh will be there,” Ellick said. “As a bullfighter, you know you can take that extra step and get in a little deeper because you know you’ve got someone in the arena who’s got your back.”
Over his career, Ellick said, he’s been tremendously blessed. By following in his father’s footsteps, he’s seen nearly everything before in some fashion or another.
“Most guys don’t’ get the opportunity to work with their dad and just enjoy them for the professionals that they are,” he said. “I respected my dad very highly I the arena. He was extremely good at what he did, and I took all the good points I could and applied it to what I do. I try to learn something from everybody I work with and apply it to what I’m doing.”
And like Ellick, Rivinius’ return to Rogers County is like old-home week.
“I’ve been there long enough that I know a lot of people in Claremore,” Rivinius said. “The hospitality there is second to none. It’s just like coming home for the family reunion.”