For more than 25 years, Jim Call, 79, Orville Hefley, 84, and Bob Kennedy, 82, have been working together at the Clovis Rodeo and helping run the west end of the rodeo — sorting cattle, running the chutes and experiencing some very close calls with horses running out of the gates. To recognize their many years of service, the Clovis Rodeo Association has named all three the 2015 Clovis Rodeo Grand Marshals. The three will lead the annual Clovis Rodeo Parade in a vintage fire truck at 9:30 a.m., Saturday, April 25 in Old Town Clovis.
“The Clovis Rodeo is a big part of our community and it is the volunteers who work tirelessly behind the scenes year after year that make it happen; guys like Jim, Bob and Orville are here for all the right reasons,” said Dan Rigsbee, Clovis Rodeo Association board member. “They were chosen as grand marshals because they love their community, the sport of rodeo and work hard so that the Clovis Rodeo is something that will be continued for another century.”
All three were roped into the rodeo by association members, and it’s apparent that all three now share a strong friendship. Sitting in the Clovis Rodeo Association hall, the jokes were flying and laughter filled the room. When asked what has kept them coming back year after year, Call replied, “We’re too dumb to get up and leave, I guess,” he said, laughing, Kennedy and Hefley joining in on the fun.
All jokes aside, Hefley pointed out what makes the work worthwhile.
“Working together keeps us going,” he said. “I couldn’t have gone with three different people any better than these guys.”
With the stories they have to tell, a story could be written about each one individually.
Hefley was born in Salisaw, Okla., in 1930 and moved to Dinuba in 1943 with his family. He is a U.S. Air Force veteran and married his Dinuba High School sweetheart, Ruby. He spent 39 years working for Pacific Bell Telephone Company, which later became known as AT&T. He worked in Clovis and sometimes in the mountains, which is where he ran into Emmett Rigsbee. Hefley remembers having coffee with Rigsbee and being asked, “Why don’t you belong to the Clovis Rodeo Association?”
“I said, ‘They wouldn’t take me,’” Hefley said, laughing. “A couple months later I got a phone call late at night, and he (Rigsbee) said ‘You’re in.’ ”
“My dad would not have taken no for an answer,” said Dan Rigsbee.
Call has been the longest rodeo member out of all three grand marshals. He joined the association in 1962 and has been helping out ever since. He has memories even further back than that, though. He remembers competing on the race track that used to surround the rodeo arena. He even placed in the races a few times. He worked as a heavy equipment operator for 30 years for Fresno County.
Kennedy became involved in Clovis Rodeo in the 1980s, but the Clovis Rodeo was not his first rodeo. He was born in Kansas in 1932 and was raised on a cattle and grain farm. His father and uncle also had a rodeo string in Kansas. Kennedy competed in his first rodeo on Labor Day of 1947.
“I tried to ride bulls, and I do mean ‘tried,’ ” Kennedy said.
He continued to compete until 1951 when he went into the U.S. Military. When he had completed his service to his country, he began team roping in Nevada in 1957 and was involved in the Nevada Cowboy Association. Skip a few years forward to 1983, and Kennedy found himself moving to Clovis with his job. Soon he was also helping out at the Clovis Rodeo.
One of the most important jobs the three do is sorting cows — 70 of them for each event. Each cow is given a number and when the numbers are drawn, the cows have to be separated and lined up in number order of how they’re going to come out of the chute for each competition — calf roping, team roping, and bulldogging.
“It’s very important that they are in the correct order,” Rigsbee said. “We like to be kind of unknown back there at the roping chutes and keep everything calm.”
Sometimes they also work the gates — letting contestants out of the gate onto the arena — and say that can be a dangerous job. They’ve been stepped on, slammed against chutes — but never seriously injured. Because of that, Call said he prefers spending his time in the back where it’s the most peaceful — with the cows.
Even with all the hard work and close calls, Call, Hefley and Kennedy are not quite ready to give their retirement notice and will do everything they can to keep the rodeo running smoothly.
“I just enjoy being around the people,” Hefley said.
“I think the rodeo is really a wonderful deal,” Kennedy said. “It brings lots of people into town, and it’s a wonderful set up. It’s good, clean family fun.”
The three honorees will be presented with the traditional cowboy hat and belt buckle during the Rodeo Banquet Saturday, April 19 at the Clovis Rodeo Hall.
The Clovis Rodeo will be held April 23 to 26.