Fair celebrates county’s history

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Jimmie Cooper, left, is a world champion and an inductee to rodeo halls of fame. Being from Monument, New Mexico, he understands the history of Lea County and the importance of its annual fair and rodeo.

LOVINGTON, N.M. – With a nod to the pioneers that made southeastern New Mexico their homes, the lifeblood for folks in this part of the world remains what it was decades ago: Ranching, oil and natural gas.

Many of the communities in Lea County were founded in the early 1900s. The epicenter is Hobbs, the largest community in the vertically driven plot of land that makes up about 4,400 square miles, boasting of a population of 40,000 souls. It became a boomtown with the discovery of oil and gas in 1927.

As an extension of that, the Lea County Fair and Rodeo is perfect experience for the communities. The exposition recognizes the wildcatters who made their way in search of “black gold” and the riches that come with it, but more it salutes the foundation of the county, the hard-working folks that built the platforms and toiled in the dirt and raised the cattle.

Along the way, those layers of excellence were showcased through the livestock shows and rodeos. It’s why decades after it was established, the county fair continues to strive for excellence. Jimmie Cooper was raised in Lea County and spent countless days at the fairgrounds in Lovington, home of the Lea County Fair and Rodeo, set for Friday, Aug. 4-Saturday, Aug. 12.

“My mom and dad always loved Lea County, so I naturally loved it,” said Cooper, a world champion cowboy from Monument, New Mexico. “I think the one thing Lea County has done is taught a lot of people how to work hard to try to make a living. It’s not a bad thing; it’s pretty nice to have a work ethic.”

Cooper competed in tie-down roping, team roping and steer wrestling and in 1981 was crowned the PRCA’s all-around champion. He is one of just a handful of men to have qualified for the National Finals Rodeo in three events. That’s why he has been inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame and the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum’s Rodeo Hall of Fame.

Before he was the standard in ProRodeo, Cooper had seen or heard about legends that came from Lea County. They were men like Jake McClure and Troy Fort, who are also enshrined with Cooper. Roy Cooper is also one of the sport’s legend; all joined with dozens of other greats to prove of the mettle that is born in the southeastern most territory in New Mexico.

“When I was growing up, Roy was outstanding,” Jimmie Cooper said of his cousin, who is a year older. “I was never really good as a youngster. I always looked up to Roy and looked up to him and followed him. When I was in college, I started stepping it up. By that time, Roy had already won a world’s championship in the calf roping. If you know somebody or are related to somebody that has success, you can follow in their path and work real hard like they did, and hopefully you can get it yourself.

“When you love something and aren’t that good at it, you almost want it worse. I loved roping and rodeo. When I finally had a little success, it motivated me more and more. I was fortunate enough that I was able to attain some of my dreams.”

He had seen it in others, and he was building something for himself and for his family. He and his wife, Shryl, made sure to pass that along to their three children, twin sons Jim Ross and Jake and daughter Jill. All have found success in rodeo.

“When my twin sons were 2 years old, my wife and I decided it would be a good time to come back to Lea County and try to raise them the way I was raised,” Jimmie Cooper said.

Much of the county was built on a dream of wealth or greatness, and many continue to find it in some fashion through a strong work ethic and a foundation laid in their communities. They are offered the chance to celebrate it once a year during the fair and rodeo.

“We used to go up there one Sunday a month for play days when I was a kid,” Cooper said. “I’ve been going to that arena since I was probably 10 years old. I have a lot of great memories there.”


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