Posted 6/16/15 (Tue)
By Nicky Ouellet
When Ronnie Lund leaves his station manning the gates, it seems that no one at the White Earth Valley Saddle Club’s Rodeo knows quite what to do.
Royalty has just carried in the colors, the flags streaming behind the girls’ galloping charges.
Nathan Dean of the Damn Band had already belted out the National Anthem, and announcer Shannon Dean was urging the crowd into a continuous roar.
Cowboys and their ponies pranced around the gate, eager to erupt into the arena amid a cloud of fine dust and cheers to rope their calves.
But the gates didn’t open. Where was Ronnie?
A rodeo staple
Ronnie Lund has been gate manager at the WEVSC rodeo for nearly 40 years. The Tioga man never rides but he is considered a staple behind the scenes of one of the area’s most popular summer events.
“There’s always something to do,” Lund said earlier in the day while hosing down the dusty arena.
Lund moved to the area as a young boy and started volunteering at WEVSC events when he was 19. For work he joined his father’s business digging water and sewers. He later joined Tioga’s fire department, where he has volunteered for the past 35 years.
But for the past few decades, Lund, with his signature round-topped hat and back pocket handkerchief, has been at the heart of the rodeo.
As gate manager, it’s Lund who keeps the rodeo moving.
“He does stuff people don’t even realize has to be done,” said Julie Woodbury, WEVSC member.
In the days leading up to the rodeo, Lund placed flags, repainted fences, set up the new dance floor and helped organize sponsors. He called up buddies at the fire station to secure a truck for spraying.
The morning of the rodeo saw Lund tearing down more than 40 bird’s nests from under the roof of the grandstand. He sprayed the arena three times. He and a gaggle of kids chased down a loose horse. All this before his real work of manning the gate began.
A changing tradition
Lund may be the face behind the scenes, but John Woodbury, WEVSC president, is the official front man.
For Woodbury, whose father was one of the founding members of the WEVSC, rodeo is about consistency and tradition.
“We have to remember where our roots came from,” he said. “We don’t want to let down the previous generation.”
That goal has become a challenge in recent years as more modern pastimes, like school sports and video games, steal the attention of would-be young riders.
But newcomers do find their way in once in a while.
“There are new groups coming up, but primarily it’s generational,” said Woodbury. “Buddy’s got a buddy, and next thing you know they’re hooked.”
That’s how it worked for this year’s bullfighters, who spent the hours leading up to the final event stretching behind the grandstand.
This is Raymond Ansotegui’s third year making the trek from Livingston, Mont., to herd the one-and-a-half-ton bulls. He convinced buddy Brandon Padilla of Devils Lake to participate last year, and together they roped in Garret McGowan to help out this year.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Padilla said as he stretches.
“You use the fear to channel your energy,” said Ansotegui, who likes the family-oriented feel of the White Earth rodeo.
For families like the Sterns, rodeo is in their blood. Two-year-old Paisley sits atop Frosty, surrounded by family after the barrel race.
Paisley will be the third generation in her family to ride the barrel races. Her mom, Lexi, is a previous reserve champion, and her grandmother, Cheryl, won the event two years ago.
Cheryl realizes that new blood is necessary to keep the event alive, but worries that the influx brought by the oil boom could change the traditional feel of the rodeo.
“Seems like our country life has gotten so busy,” she said. “It’s hard to get used to that way of life.”
Some changes are evident, like the camera crew that posts up in the arena to snap videos for the YouTube channel LetUmBuck or the switch from tents to campers.
But Woodbury insists that at its heart, it’s the same old rodeo.
“I don’t know any other way to say it. It’s tradition.”
Some things stay the same
Back at the gate, Ronnie Lund is still missing. A group of men huddle around the arena entrance, unsure whether to swing wide the barrier or wait for the man in the floppy hat.
Announcer Shannon Dean makes a call for Lund, and a moment of happy expectation settles over the crowd, the riders and even the stock.
Out of sight behind the corrals, Lund steps out of his red truck. He helps Makenzie Vogel, 4, down from the tailgate.
Lund has just driven the Rodeo Sweetheart in a slow lap around the arena, a job no one else thought of.
Finally, Ronnie shuffles up to his post. He swings the gate open and the rodeo begins.