GUYMON, Okla. – When Earl Helm first signed up on the Guymon Pioneer Days Rodeo committee, he thought he was just doing a little favor.
In the eight years since, Helm has learned a lot more about it.
“At first, they were asking for someone to help finding hay,” said Helm, in his first year as chairman of the volunteer committee. “The further I got into it, I saw how important it was for the community, for what the community was getting out of this rodeo.
“Now it’s trying to get it to be the best show it can be. Every dollar that comes in to town for the rodeo gets turned over seven times approximately. That’s important for Guymon, for our community. That’s why I do this.”
This is the 80th year for the annual celebration, with performances scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 4; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 5; and 2 p.m. Sunday, May 6. The competition begins with non-performance competition – known as slack in rodeo terms – taking place each day beginning Monday, April 30.
Helm is just one of many community members who donate their time and talent to produce the annual event. A core group of directors works year-round, from raising money to produce one of the top ProRodeo events in the country. It’s all a reflection of what makes the rodeo such a special event in the community.
“This year we were invited to Denver, because Guymon, Oklahoma, was picked to be one of the rodeos that was part of a new event called Colorado vs. The World,” Helm said of the competition held during the National Western Stock Show and Rodeo that featured winners from Colorado rodeos pitted in a competition with winners from other prestigious events, including Guymon, Cheyenne (Wyo.) Frontier Days, Dodge City (Kan.) Round-Up, etc.
“I felt like that was very honorable, and I’m thankful we were chosen to represent our community at an event like that.”
The key ingredient is producing a high quality event, which is what happens in the Oklahoma Panhandle every May. But the week of rodeo is just the end result of a year of preparation.
“Our work starts for the next year about a month after the rodeo is over,” Helm said. “It’s about 11 months of work, and that’s something I’ve seen over the years. When you first start out volunteering, it’s just that week of the rodeo. You help with get everything set up or help with slack, but that’s pretty much all you see.
“The longer you’re in it and the more involved you get, the more you learn about what it takes. There’s a lot going on in the background that people don’t know about. When it gets closer to the end, then you’re meeting once a week to make sure everything is getting done.”
It’s that kind of work ethic that helps make the Pioneer Days Rodeo one of the most successful annual events in the Oklahoma Panhandle.
“You’re always looking for ways to improve, to find ways to make it better, the things you can change to do that,” he said. “This year we’re going to have a special deal on Wednesday night where we’ll serve calf fries and hamburgers to say thank you to our sponsors and to the timed-event contestants who will be here. This will take place after slack we have for all the calf ropers, steer wrestlers and team ropers.
“We’ve been pretty blessed to have so many great sponsors who help us bring this to town. This doesn’t happen without them on our side.”
Gathering sponsorships is one of the most important aspects of being a volunteer, primarily because it takes money to hire the contractors, pay bills and put up a big portion of the purse to draw the top contestants in the game. But all committee roles come into play by the time the first animal bucks on opening night, whether it’s handing concessions, sorting livestock or any of the other hundreds of tasks that come along.
“Everybody’s got their own little thing they excel in and that they like to do, so that’s what makes it good for all of us, and, hopefully for the fans that come to the rodeo,” Helm said.
Now it’s Helms turn to oversee all the activities involved.
“It’s definitely an honor to be the chairman,” he said. “I think the honor of it is how much you grow personally through this time. You get humbled pretty quick, and there’s never anything wrong with that.
“Through the years, we’ve had some great chairmen, and I believe I’m the one that’s blessed by that deal because of them. Through the years, we’ve had a fantastic group of people involved.”