Graues honored with banner

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Jeff and Linda Graue pose with the banner that will hang during next week’s Guymon Pioneer Days Rodeo in appreciation for their support of rodeo in the Oklahoma Panhandle for nearly 40 years.

GUYMON, Okla. – It wasn’t long after Jeff and Linda Graue opened L&J Auto Parts that they began celebrating their new community.

It started by supporting the Oklahoma Panhandle State University rodeo, now called the Doc Gardner Memorial Rodeo, which takes place the final weekend of April. Shortly thereafter, the Graues began sponsoring the Guymon Pioneer Days Rodeo.

“We just set out to contribute to the rodeo as a community thing,” Jeff Graue said. “We both love rodeo, and we were businesspeople, so it was just something we took on. That’s what we wanted to do. We sponsored some other stuff in the community, but we wanted something major to do, and that’s why we sponsored both the rodeos.”

The Graues closed their shop in February after nearly four decades in business because of circumstances they couldn’t control. Their supplier was no longer supporting many of the small firms it once did, so the couple opted to retire. Because of their many years of dedication to Pioneer Days Rodeo, the volunteer committee that produces the annual event showed the couple its gratitude by creating an arena banner for them that is similar to the one L&J Auto Parts had for so long.

It will be on display for the rodeo, which begins competition Monday, April 29, and continues for seven days, ending with a crescendo of four performances, set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 3; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 4; and 2 p.m. Sunday, May 5, at Henry C. Hitch Pioneer Arena.

“It’s probably one of the greatest honors we’ve ever had,” Jeff Graue said of the banner and the meaning behind it. “We sure didn’t set out that way in the beginning. We never could have imagined this would turn into an honor like that.”

Originally from Kansas, the Graues set up shop in Guymon in 1987 and began supporting the college rodeo and the ProRodeo a few years later. It was around that time that Jeff Graue began working with the Point Rock Trail Riders, who annually make the trek from Elkhart, Kansas, for Pioneer Days. For most of that time, he was the Guymon connection.

Over the years, the Graues haven’t missed many performances; rodeo holds a special place in their hearts. They’ve seen it all, from the muley team roping to years the rodeo conducted a short round for the ProRodeo Tour, from the bronc matches to the countless gold buckles that battle inside Hitch Arena. This is “Where the Champions Come to Play the First Weekend in May,” and the titlists read like a who’s who of rodeo’s superstars.

“Jeff and Linda have been amazing supporters of our rodeo and the college rodeo for so many years that we decided this was a little something we could do to show how much we appreciate them,” said Carson Kane, the rodeo committee’s sponsorship director. “We appreciate our sponsors, our partners. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to put on such a big-time rodeo.”

Guymon’s rodeo had 1,118 contestants enter to compete in the Oklahoma Panhandle. It takes a hard-working volunteer base and a thriving support system to produce a world-class contest that also features four highly entertaining performances. There’s a reason why Pioneer Days Rodeo was nominated as one of the best events during the 2023 season and why it is enshrined in the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs.

Freedom, Oklahoma-based Frontier Rodeo Co. is the livestock producer. Frontier rodeo manager Heath Stewart is also bringing in another Oklahoma firm, Championship Pro Rodeo of Leedey, and Colorado-based Vold Rodeo Co. to ensure every roughstock cowboy has a chance to take home the prestigious trophy belt.

Pioneer Days Rodeo is also unique in its format, where team ropers compete on hornless (muley) cattle; it is one of the handful of rodeos across North America that features such. Contestants in team roping, tie-down roping and steer wrestling will all make two runs, and the cowboys with the top 40 two-run cumulative times will return for a third run during the weekend performances.

This year’s festivities also feature a change in the pre-performance competitions known as slack. Barrel racers will make their initial runs beginning at 5 p.m. Thursday, May 2. Breakaway ropers will begin their contest at 9 a.m. Friday, May 3.

“The committee agreed to drag after every six runs in barrel racing, which will lengthen the duration of slack, so we decided to trade the slack times with breakaway roping,” said Ken Stonecipher, the rodeo committee’s president who also will announce the rodeo with Louisianan Andy Stewart. “We hope it enhances the competition.”

Making things better has been a defining characteristic of Pioneer Days Rodeo. It’s why more than 1,000 cowboys and cowgirls will make their way to the Oklahoma Panhandle next week and why Guymon and the surrounding communities support the rodeo.


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