DODGE CITY, Kan. – For most of his life, Rod Swafford has been part of Dodge City Roundup Rodeo.
He’s been a member of Roundup since 1978 and been a director for the past 42 years. He’s not just one of the dozens of people necessary to pull off an event like the rodeo; he’s a vital cog in the machine that is involved in everything from the planning stages to the finished product.
What he and others have done the last year will be on full display for this year’s event, set for 7:45 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 3-Sunday, Aug. 7, at Roundup Arena; Dodge City Xtreme Bulls is set for 7:45 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 2.
“There are hundreds of volunteers for this rodeo, and damn few of them get thanked for what they do,” said Swafford, 74, a retiree who still dedicates his time to the biggest event in western Kansas every year. “I was a member of the organization the first year they had the new grandstands here. This was on the west side of the arena; we didn’t have the stands on the north side or the south side back then.”
No, those came along later, thanks to the dedicated group of volunteers that have been involved in Roundup Rodeo over its 46 years in existence. In his time with the organization, Swafford has seen his share of changes. He’s worked with dozens of Roundup presidents and lent his talents and work ethic into building the rodeo into what it is today, an event that was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame a decade ago.
“Nowadays, the younger members and directors do all the heavy lifting,” he said. “But I feel blessed to still be part of Roundup.”
In fact, his work over the years has been recognized by the local organizers: He was inducted into the Roundup Hall of Fame in 2014.
“There are a lot of people from Dodge City and the PRCA that I have such respect for that are part of that group,” he said. “It’s an honor to be part of that group of people. There are people that are in that hall of fame that were part of this rodeo when we started, and I’m honored to be there alongside them.”
Now retired as the head of the livestock department at the High Plains Journal, Swafford has worked with people like Floyd Kirby, Bill Austen, Tom Shirley, Harry Vold, Clem McSpadden, Phil Gardenhire and several others that also have been honored by the Roundup hall. Why does he still do this, even eight years after being honored?
“I’ve asked myself that a few times,” he said with a laugh. “I still feel like I have something to offer with my rodeo knowledge as a former contestant and having been part of it most of my life. I feel like I would be letting down my predecessors if I left when I still have something left to offer the organization.”
He’s also very proud to be part of Roundup and what it brings to all of southwest Kansas. Yes, it’s part of the annual Dodge City Days celebration, but it’s even bigger than that. Each year, with hundreds of top-name contestants in the mix, Roundup has a multi-million-dollar economic impact to Dodge City and the surrounding communities.
“I think Dodge City acknowledges the rodeo about half as much as it should,” Swafford said. “Dodge City Roundup Rodeo is the biggest link to the second largest Western celebration in Kansas.
“When it started out, it was just the parade, the rodeo and a Friday night concert. Now, Dodge City Days is 10 days, and the rodeo makes it all fit into place.”
Of course, he would think that way. He’s a cowboy, after all. As a youngster, he competed in nearly every event in rodeo, and he was still involved as a competitor into his later life. He competed in the senior steer roping for several years and wants to make sure Dodge City is still home to the country’s best single steer ropers.
“I’ve done everything they’ve asked me to do except serve as an officer,” he said. “One of the biggest things I’ve undertaken is keeping the steer roping alive. If my memory serves me, Dodge City was the first rodeo in the state of Kansas to have steer roping. Steer roping is one of the founding events of rodeo, and I want to see it continue in Dodge City.”
He also loves the idea of Roundup featuring a championship round, where the top contestants from the previous days of competition all qualify to make another run in Sunday’s short go-round. The winners of Roundup’s prestigious trophy buckle will be honored at the conclusion of that performance on the final night.
“I’ve parked cars, I’ve sold programs, I’ve mowed and I’ve weed-eated,” Swafford said. “I want Dodge City to have a first-class rodeo, and I think we do. It’s a rodeo’s rodeo. It’s not a circus or a sideshow. It’s two hours of the best Western entertainment on the face of the Earth.”