GERRY – This Chautauqua County community will come alive July 30 to Aug. 2 during the 70th annual Gerry Rodeo on the grounds of the Gerry Fire Department, off Route 60 north of Jamestown.
Allen Peterson, 77, has never missed a rodeo. Peterson owns a farm in Fluvanna, where he raises vegetables and beef cattle. He vowed to attend this year’s rodeo at least once – and more than that – if he can get away from his duties at the farm.
“I really appreciate the events that show off the good horses and all their training,” said Peterson, who promised not to miss the traditional roast beef dinner, either.
“The dinner is just fabulous and gives me a chance to socialize with folks from the area and enjoy a really good meal,” Peterson said.
Fire department members, with Tom Atwell chairing the rodeo effort, depend on community residents for both help and attendance. The rodeo requires about 300 volunteers for preparations. For many families, the rodeo is an occasion for children, grandchildren and friends to return to the community.
“My children and grandchildren will be here,” said Paul Cooley, who manages publicity and information for the rodeo committee. He said many families plan vacations to be home in Gerry for the rodeo.
The efforts of the local fire department have been noticed by many of the event’s sponsors. This year’s rodeo brought in more major sponsors than ever before.
The rodeo started in 1945, when a working cowboy named Jack Cox moved to Gerry and suggested that the new fire department could raise funds with a rodeo.
Ward Tolman, 94, is the last surviving member of the charter committee that started the first rodeo. He remembers that there were many naysayers at the suggestion, but the community came together, borrowed bleachers from nearby schools and in just 70 days planned the very first Gerry Rodeo.
“Putting up the bleachers and building fences was a lot of work,” said Tolman, who recalled that Cox persuaded everyone the task could be done.
“We had to take the bleachers down and put them back up at the schools when the whole thing was over,” he said.
The livestock, provided for the first rodeo by Col. Jim Eskew, arrived by train. Local traffic came to a halt when the bulls and horses were brought to the arena from the center of town along Route 60.
The fire department has always contracted with a rodeo sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. Participants pay an entry fee and points earned in Gerry count toward qualification to the annual National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, Nev., in December. The contractor for this year’s event is Painted Pony Championship Rodeo of Lake Luzerne. The husband and wife team of Shawn and Shana Graham have been producing rodeos for more than 10 years.
Over the years, constant improvements have been made to the rodeo facilities. Additional land has been acquired, permanent bleachers have been installed in an arena capable of seating 4,000.
The new lighting makes nighttime shows easy to watch and the old dining hall has just been enlarged, refurbished and air-conditioned to accommodate the hundreds who come each year to enjoy the world-famous beef barbecue dinners.
More than 1,000 pounds of beef is cooked daily in pits over wood fires outside the dining hall. Throughout its long history, the rodeo also has remained an alcohol-free event.
“I don’t ever recall a fight or big problem here,” Cooley said.
Discount, advance-sale tickets are available on the rodeo’s website at www.gerryrodeo.org. The free children’s events are scheduled for 11 a.m. Aug. 2. Also, the “calf scramble” for children is held before the main events each day of the rodeo.
Proceeds from the rodeo are used to purchase equipment for the community fire department.