DODGE CITY, Kan. – As a youngster, Jerry Pegelow was shown the value of volunteerism and what it means to give back.
It’s one of the many reasons he has been a longtime volunteer with Dodge City Roundup, the volunteer group that organizes the annual rodeo. He became a member of Roundup 25 years ago and has served on the board for 23.
Over that time, he’s handled many tasks and labored for many hours to help produce Dodge City Roundup Rodeo, set for 7:45 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 2-Sunday, Aug. 6, at Roundup Arena; Dodge City Xtreme Bulls is set for 7:45 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 1. It all comes from those interactions many years ago in his hometown in northeastern Illinois.
“It stems back from my childhood years,” said Pegelow, the Ensign, Kansas, location manager for the Pride Ag. “My grandparents and parents were always volunteering at the county fair, and I was on the grounds crew for our county fair.
“I remember as a knee-high child, my grandfather would take his tractor and mower and mow everything and fix everything a week before the fair.”
Pegelow continues giving of his time and talents for one of the biggest events in southwest Kansas. It was a natural transition, he said, because he knew how important it is to give back.
“I was involved in the evolution of that county fair, to where there was something going on at that facility 45 weekends out of the year,” he said. “At one time, it was the third largest county fair as far as attendance in Illinois.
“When we moved down here in May of 1997, the Little Britches rodeo was the first thing that was going on. A gentleman I was working with was on the committee at the time.”
The rest is history. Now, Pegelow continues to work behind the scenes, helping organize the bucking horses and work the stripping chute to make sure that all saddles, riggings and flank straps are removed from the animals and set aside for their rightful owners. He’s also vice president of the Roundup board.
In all, there are 45 directors for Roundup, which has 14 honorary directors, mostly folks who have served Roundup for many years. In all, they make up the group of volunteers that help make everything happen for the rodeo, which takes place during the Dodge City Days celebration.
“Volunteers are important to us in order to put on a great show,” Pegelow said. “If it wasn’t for volunteers selling tickets, taking tickets, working the beer stands, working the concession stands, doing all the things that need to be done, we wouldn’t have a production like we do.
“In June and into July, there are a handful of people that are down at the rodeo grounds every night working. Come the week of the rodeo, there are dozens of volunteers that are there to help you out.”
It takes a village, or at least a good portion of it. There are many aspects that need to be covered. Volunteers handle much of the cosmetic things, like the upgrades to the south grandstands. The new ticket booth was handled by a construction company, but the inside work was all done by volunteers.
They’re also the ones who help sort cattle, whether it’s hours before the rodeo or while loading them in contest order. Roundup Rodeo features two full go-rounds in the men’s timed events and doesn’t limit the number of entries, all male ropers and steer wrestlers and most of the barrel racers and breakaway ropers will compete during the day in a section known as “slack.”
By the time the volunteers help with that, then get everything organized for the evenings’ paid performances, it’s a full day. It takes dedication, time and a willingness to put forth the effort so it all comes across as seamlessly as possible for the contestants, fans and sponsors.
“There are people sorting cattle on the back end,” Pegelow said. “My daughters and their friends and families run the north end. During slack, they’re doing all the sorting so the contractor doesn’t have to go back later and re-sort cattle at the end of the day. Everything is put in order. It takes a well-oiled cog to make it all come off like it does.”
It’s one of the reasons why Roundup was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 2012. Most volunteers already have full-time jobs, and they spend countless hours at the arena on top of it all. For Pegelow, it’s a passion he’s continued outside of Dodge City.
He helps with rodeos from smaller associations, like Kansas Professional Rodeo Association events, and rodeos for the sport’s rising stars; he also judges youth rodeos.
“It’s an honor to be a member of Dodge City Roundup,” he said. “We are the youngest rodeo inducted into the Hall of Fame, and we are always one of the top 25 rodeos in the country. It’s amazing what we can do out here in western Kansas. We have a good community, and we all work together.
“I think what makes Roundup special is the contestants that come to town. We’ve got world champions every night and (National Finals Rodeo) qualifiers. I’ve gotten to know some of the contestants, and then there are the contract personnel. They become like family. That means something.”
Roundup is also vital to Dodge City, Ford County and all of southwest Kansas. Thousands of people make their way to town each August to see rodeo’s greatest stars and witness the labor-intensive work that so many volunteers have produced over time.
“Our fan base on the spectator side of things has a lot of people that enjoy the sort of rodeo that come to Roundup,” Pegelow said. “With it being during Dodge City Days, a 10-day festival, it’s also a community affair. I think there are a lot of people around here that take pride in our rodeo.”
They do, and it shows in the world-class production that is Dodge City Roundup Rodeo.