The idea of a college rodeo team was first conceived during the winter of 1962-63. Organizational meetings were held that winter and the River Falls Collegiate Rodeo Association emerged as part of college life. From the start, the association realized that it had much to do and only a short time to do it. A faculty adviser had to be found, and the idea of a college rodeo team had to be sold to the student council and to the school’s administration. A rodeo arena had to be built and a stock contractor hired. Advertising and promotion needed intense effort. David Stafford, who was instrumental in starting rodeo at River Falls later reflected on these efforts. “Looking back, it now seems amazing what a group of college kids could accomplish with the backing of the administration and our dedicated faculty advisor Dr. Gerhardt “Doc” Bohn. Doc Bohn was interested in horses at the time, sporting a stylish carriage and a driving horse. His highest qualification, however, was his sense of humor, something that is required of anyone that you partner up with in life. He didn’t jump for joy when first asked, but he finally gave in when we told him he wouldn’t have to do anything. Of course he knew that was a fabrication, but he came on board anyway. All of this was accomplished over a two-year period.” Bohn’s comments on this later on were a little different. “You might say Dave literally roped me into the job,” he quipped.
According to the River Falls Journal, Ron Purvis, Vice President of the newly founded River Falls Collegiate Rodeo Association, announced that the first annual college rodeo would be held on May 16-17, 1964. The contest would include the standard five rodeo events, saddle bronc riding, bull riding, bareback bronc riding, bull dogging and calf roping. Horse events would constitute the remainder of the rodeo. These events were western pleasure, Jr. western pleasure, open barrel race, ladies barrel race, pole bending race and the stock horse class. As anticipated, the first rodeo was held at the college farm in the newly built arena with its newly constructed, chutes, and pens. Ken Schock, a sophomore from Madison was the rodeo manager and Garry Olson, a freshman from Shell Lake was the assistant manager. A dance and a parade held on Saturday, May 16 preceded the rodeo itself. The rodeo was open to all competitors having amateur status. Stock for the competitions was supplied by Fred Cochran’s Circle C Ranch of Solon, Iowa. This founding event was heralded as the first college rodeo held east of the Mississippi.
The event winners in the first rodeo.
Bareback Bronc riding…..Jim Davis (La Port City, IA)
Bull riding……………………Hal Sharp (Stillwater, MN)
Saddle Bronc………………..Larry Branian (Brooklyn, IA)
Calf Roping…………………..Johnny Walters (Waterloo, IA)
Bull Dogging…………………Russ Sawyer (Denver, CO)
All-Around Cowboy………Dave Stafford (Grinnell, IA)
The officers elected at the start up organizational meeting.
David Stafford (Grinnell, IA)……President
Ron Purvis (Knapp, WI)…………..Vice President
Kay Simmons (Stillwater, MN)….Secretary
Jerry Smith (Downing, WI)………Treasurer
The members of first UWRF intercollegiate rodeo team.
Ted Fetting (Greenwood, WI)
Chuck Overbeck (Sturgeon Bay, WI)
Jim Baier (Tomah, WI)
Gary Olson (Shell Lake, WI)
Dave Stafford (Grinnell, IA)
Janet Griffy (River Falls, WI)
Laurel Kadlec (Tomah, WI)
That same year (1964) the association became part of the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association (NIRA). The UW-River Falls club was included in the Great Plains Regional Association of NIRA along with Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Later these states welcomed Minnesota into the same regional association, which eventually saw its membership grow to include 26 schools.
Doc Bohn helped the students build the arena, which is still being used today. He continued on as advisor until 1991 when he retired from the university. Bohn served in many positions with the team and was selected as the Great Plains Regional Director during the 60’s and 70’s. He took several women’s teams as well as numerous individuals to the college finals. One of his students, Shelly Haskins Mueller became a national champion. Doc was succeeded as advisor by Steve Watters who was assisted by several other faculty members. Steve served for five years. In 1997, Dr. Anthony (Tony) Jilek was selected as the new advisor and in 1998 Todd Kirschbaum, an electrician from Prescott, offered his assistance to the rodeo and shortly after was selected as a co-advisor.
Developing Tradition and Reputation
An article in the Eau Claire Leader Telegram reported that the WSU-RF women’s rodeo contestants enjoyed considerable success during the 1969 season. Linda Wolterstorff of Knapp was a member of the team that finished second in the Great Plains regional competition. Wolterstorff won the regional goat tying competition. Sally Cannon of New Berlin and Sandy Gilbert of St Paul were the second and third place finishers. The Wisconsin women competed in nine rodeos during the 1969 season, and captured the team trophy at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln; at South Dakota State, Brookings; and at Black Hills State College in Deadwood. They were the runner-up team at five of the six remaining rodeos. Miss Wolterstorff won the All-Around Cowgirl title at Vermillion S.D. Miss Cannon won the All-Around at Manhattan, KS and at Brookings, S.D. Miss Gilbert was the top cowgirl at Deadwood.
In 1973 Dr. Bohn commented on the increasing popularity of rodeo in the River Falls community, noting that at one time there was very little interest, but that now businessmen and other community groups routinely approached his office with offers to sponsor awards and events. Spectator attendance is also up, and that the rodeo had actually paid for itself with gate receipts from the previous year. Also membership in the “Caballeros” rodeo club and tryouts for the teams was also increasing. Team members typically provided their own horses and gear, while the university supported travel expenses and provided practice stock.
In 1975 the River Falls Journal reported that the RF men’s rodeo team won the all men’s team trophy and the All-Around Cowboy honor at the rodeo hosted by Michigan State University in East Lansing. The Falcon cowgirls placed second in the women’s team competition. Jon Mueller, a sophomore from Livingston, placed first in roping and steer wrestling to earn the honor of All-Around Cowboy of the Michigan rodeo. Joe Peabody, a freshman from Roberts placed first in the saddle bronc contest and second in roping. Peabody had previously won the all-around cowboy award at the North Dakota State College rodeo in Fargo in November. Dennis Welch of Darien placed third in bull riding. Shelly Haskins of River Falls placed first in goat tying and third in breakaway roping. According to Gerhardt Bohn, team advisor, the Michigan rodeo drew around 100 college student contestants from the seven state Great Plains Region of the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association.
An article from the Milwaukee Journal dated July 24, 1977 reported that Shelly Haskins Mueller had won top honors in June among women riders from all over the U.S. at the rodeo in Bozeman, MT. Haskins Mueller was quoted as saying that “some of the riders think it is odd that someone from Wisconsin loves to ride so much. To them Wisconsin is out east.” Haskins-Mueller also indicated that she had come to college in her hometown of River Falls to participate in this intercollegiate sport. Unlike most other sports, rodeo team members must buy their own horse, trailers, trucks and riding equipment.
As the Wisconsin State Journal reported, “When Shelly hits the road, she is carrying several thousand dollars worth of her own equipment.” The university pays for the gas to get to competitions, the closest being Fargo, SD, some 250 miles away. Competing requires Shelly and the rest of the team to be away Thursday through Monday, and often involves sleeping in the truck.
By being selected as the top cowgirl, Ms Haskins Mueller won a $1000 scholarship to use in her last two quarters at River Falls where she is a Food Science major.