Gilbert’s pandemic loss: No parade, no rodeo The Mesa Tribune | The Hometown Newspaper for the city of Mesa, AZ

Gilbert’s pandemic loss: No parade, no rodeo

Gilbert’s pandemic loss: No parade, no rodeo
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By Srianthi Perera
Tribune Contributor

For the first time in more than four decades, Gilbert Days Rodeo, the traditional celebration of Gilbert’s Western heritage, won’t be held in its original form.

The pandemic has robbed the town of the entertaining three-day spectacle of handsome cowboys bucking bulls and nattily dressed young women executing drills on stately horses.

Maricopa County did not issue organizers Gilbert Promotional Corporation the necessary permits on time, and there was a question as to whether the permits would be issued at all.

Hence, this week, the group called it off.

The event, which last year drew about 1,200 people a day and had spectators sitting elbow-to-elbow on crowded bleachers, planned to halve those numbers to distance socially, mandate masks and provide hand-washing stations around the venue.

A record number of cowboys had registered to participate because most of the other rodeos in the state had been cancelled.

Paige Nelson, GPC vice president, said that the group had “not spent too much money so far.”

“Luckily, we were able to avoid having to sign up all of the cowboys and having to refund them,” she said.

This is the first time in 42 years that the town will not harken back to its equestrian roots and provide new residents a glimpse of their adopted community’s Old West past.

“I’m not very happy about it, kind of sad. I’ve been a part of it for almost 30 some years myself. It means a lot to me,” said Ed Musgraves, a board member of GPC. “Hopefully, next year we can have it.”

After cancelling the rodeo, which had been scheduled next weekend at Welcome Home Ranch, GPC was to have held the Bull Run yesterday, Nov. 14. No tickets were sold and few spectators were allowed.

Bull riders mount a bucking bull and attempt to avoid being thrown off by the animal.

Toward the end of the event, the best five riders will compete against each other.

“We have 30 cowboys and 30 bulls; the bull who has the best rider is the overall winner,” said Musgraves.

The rodeo-related Gilbert Days Parade, a popular event with much community participation, will be virtual because of the pandemic.

The community is invited to create a float from a shoebox and submit it to the town of Gilbert. Entries may be submitted until 5 p.m. on Nov. 22. The top 20 submissions, five from each category, will be chosen and the community will select category winners with a public vote.

The Pony Express also was to take place earlier this weekend as scheduled.

The ride, which begins at the Gilbert Post Office, normally is watched by school children but they weren’t allowed to attend this year because of virus concerns.

Participants emulate the historic Pony Express, a mail service using horse riders in the 1860s, and ride to Queen Creek and Casa Grande on the first day.

They camp in Casa Grande and head to Coolidge and then to Florence for a short parade through its downtown and end with a ceremony at the Florence Town Hall.

The riders return to Welcome Home Ranch for a barbecue on Saturday evening.

Another special presentation planned this year was a tribute to Julee Brady, a long-time volunteer with GPC and the founder of The Cowgirls Historical Foundation who passed away from cancer in September.

Brady was the producer of the Pony Express, chaired by Chantal Annis. Brady also used to coordinate the young women of the Rodeo Royalty Court.

Her daughters felt that the tribute should take place during the rodeo and have postponed it to next year.

The other colorful part of Gilbert Days is its Rodeo Royalty Court.

This year’s members are Jessica Wolfe, Rodeo Queen; Amber Michne, Rodeo Teen Queen; and Makenzie Craven, Rodeo Princess.

Wolfe, who has been riding for 23 years, will bring her Palomino mare, Lulu, the most beautiful horse from the six she owns, to the rodeo.

The Mesa resident works as a medical scribe at an emergency department in Mesa and has a goal of pursuing a career as a medical provider.

The court’s usual duties, such as visiting schools and rodeos across the state to educate people about their lifestyle, have been curtailed because of the pandemic.

“All of the responsibilities and opportunities associated with a rodeo queen title are an honor, but my favorite component would have to be the community outreach,” Wolfe said. 

Despite the restrictions, Wolfe has continued to represent the Gilbert Days Rodeo Royalty platform of “Kicking up Kindness.”

“In a world full of so much turmoil, I strive to seek out kind deeds and try to pass them on to others. We lovingly refer to these kind deeds as ‘Jul-deeds’ in honor of the late Julee Brady,” she said.

“She was a driving force behind the Gilbert Days Rodeo for many years, and was truly a light in the darkness to anyone who had the pleasure of knowing her.”

The Pony Express riders also missed the prospect of Brady’s presence.

“It’s been very challenging and very sad not having her,” said Nelson,. “She was such an integral part of the production of it.

“She was a very good speaker; she was able to stop at all these places and really share with people what Pony Express was about and explain the history of it.”

The group planned to divide the tasks among each other, with chairperson, the GPC president and even the royalty queens speaking “just to try and fill Julee’s shoes a little bit,” Nelson said. “They are really big shoes to fill.”

“Losing Julee is devastating to all of us,” volunteer Pattie Williams said. “She was an inspiration to everyone she met. She was always so kind, generous, loving and always had a smile on her face. If you ever had the pleasure of meeting her, you would never forget her.”

While organizers continue to mourn Brady, they also find heartbreak in not being able to gather for their signature event.

“It’s heartbreaking, but you have to do the right thing as far as protecting ourselves, as far as the permits go, and be respectful of the situation right now,” Nelson said. “It was very heartbreaking and very difficult to do.”

They hope to organize a large event next year.

“Next year, we’re going to be bigger and better than ever. We’ve got some extra time now to really focus on making next year amazing. I look forward to having everybody coming back and supporting us next year,” Nelson said.

Details: gilbertdays.org

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