By Ruthanne Johnson
MONTE VISTA— It literally takes a village to pull off Monte Vista’s Ski Hi Stampede, some 150 volunteers and a year-round committee of almost 20 people, said Stampede committee president Karla Willschau.
This year’s Stampede was held July 26-29, with highlights including everything from parades and concerts to dances, a carnival, benefit meals and a cowboy Christian service on Sunday.
And, of course, three back-to-back days of rough-and-tumble rodeo that included bronc and bull riding, steer wrestling and mutton busting. There was also the electrifying play-by-plays of the nationally-renowned horseback rodeo announcer, Boyd Polhamus.
This year marks the 97th annual Ski Hi Stampede, making it the oldest pro rodeo in Colorado and one of the oldest in the nation. The first Stampede was held in August 1919; two years were deducted because of World War II, when no events were held.
Like many people who live in the San Luis Valley, Willschau has been going to Stampede since she was a little girl. She grew up on a working ranch outside of Del Norte and said she has always felt drawn to horses. She began volunteering for Stampede about 20 years ago and joined the planning committee in 2007.
Though Willschau works full-time as a CPA for Wall Smith and Bateman, in addition to taking care of her family, she logs some 600 hours in Stampede hours. It’s like that for most of our volunteers, she said. “This community has so many great people who spend tireless hours helping to put this event together, and we appreciate their hard work and dedication so much.”
Willschau’s son John also works on the planning committee. He took a week off his job as a general farmhand at McCullough Farms to help with the event.
“My favorite event is Friday night’s rodeo,” he said, “and the steer wrestling because I’d like to do it someday.”
But the event symbolizes more than the Valley’s heritage of horse, bull, steer and sheep competitions. “For me, Stampede is the celebration of our city and all of our friends and families gathering together to celebrate our community and the heritage of rodeo,” Willschau said.
One particular Stampede highlight for Willschau is Alamosa youngster Peyton Sanchez, who has been her guest three years running. People may remember Sanchez from a Valley Courier story about three years ago, when the Make-A-Wish foundation sent him and his family to the Country Music Awards. Turns out the young boy’s passion for country music has yet to be stifled by a brain disease and brain stem tumor that have caused partial blindness, speech impairment and trouble walking. “He knows every single country music artist and every single song,” Willschau said.
Sanchez gets to meet the bands and musicians backstage. “He has so much fun at our concerts,” Willschau said, “and these entertainers make him over like you wouldn’t believe.” Last year, Runaway June sang him their signature song, “Be My Cowboy.”
“It was one of the most moving moments in my life,” Willschau remembered.
Another highlight this year was the appearance of RFD-TV, which was there to film Ski Hi Stampede as part of a docuseries spotlighting 20th Century rodeo legends, up-and-coming rodeo athletes, fourth generation ranchers and connoisseurs of western history. The new series “Special Cowboy Moments” can be viewed on rfdtv.com. The Ski Hi Stampede will be included in one of the upcoming 52 episodes.
Other highlights included Thursday night’s Rotary Chuckwagon dinner, which served more than 200 guests and a canned food drive benefiting Monte Vista’s Food Bank that brought in 10 large boxes of canned goods. Saturday’s pancake breakfast at Kid’s Connection garnered nearly $550 for the city’s nonprofit youth organization, and the Monte Vista Band Booster’s hamburger fry boasted a continual line that likely brought a hefty cha-ching.
The parades on Friday and Saturday at 10 a.m. were to the theme “A Blaze of Glory” in honor of the Valley’s area firefighters, which kicked off the parade with a long line of spit-shined fire trucks. Chief Blaine Witherspoon from the Mosca-Hooper Fire Department was there with his six-year-old dog, Panda, whom his son rescued as a puppy while working as an SLV REC lineman. Panda, who now works hard as the firehouse dog, rode alongside Witherspoon in his firetruck.
The parade had nearly 1,000 spectators and more than 70 entries representing a variety of Valley businesses and organizations— everything from the Lucky Shoe Riding Club to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Conour Animal Shelter, Beaver Creek Youth Camp and Monte Vista’s newest restaurant, Tequila Star.
Some folks came to visit with friends and watch the parade. Some came to see the horses. Others wanted the candy thrown by parade participants.
Seventy-six-year-old Monte Vista resident Dorothy Enriquez came with a friend to celebrate Stampede and see her two granddaughters perform with the Monte Vista high and middle school marching bands. Anyone watching the middle school performers wouldn’t have been able to tell her youngest granddaughter has rheumatoid arthritis. “She did so well,” said Enriquez. “She kept up with everyone, and I’m so proud of her.”
But what would Stampede be without a few complaints? One post on the Monte Vista Chamber of Commerce Facebook page expressed disappointment at how some parade cars did nothing more than hang signs off the sides. “Granted, there was a nice group of vintage tractors to kind of remind us of the roots of this whole thing. But there really needs to be more effort in general by the parade participants,” he wrote. “[And] I think I only actually saw horses at five or maybe six points in the parade.”
Willschau said the parade committee might be able to do better at soliciting horse entries. “But these days, there aren’t a lot of people who have horses who will tolerate going through town with hundreds of people and all the activity,” she explained. “I’m afraid our society has gotten too busy. Horses take time and effort and energy to prepare for something like this.”
Another issue, which was addressed by the Stampede committee, was the number of rides at the carnival. Wright’s Amusement had split rides between Monte Vista and another location; however, more rides were added by the weekend. The committee guarantees it’s an issue that will not be repeated next year.
Improvements since last year include a land purchase on Stampede grounds that expanded public parking and better social media. “We’ve worked on our website and Facebook page to get everything current and user-friendly,” Willschau said.
Another success was the number of restaurants that donated food for Stampede’s hospitality tent. “We feed lunch every day to probably 150 people— the cowboys, bands, volunteers, crew pit, contractors and more,” Willschau said. “It was so nice that these restaurants and the community pulled together to help out.”
Restaurants that donated food were Sunflour Café, Valley Meat, Ninos, Pizza Hut, Dos Rios and Two Sister’s Cakes.
Note that next year’s stampede will precede the event’s 100th anniversary. “We’ll be working really hard on what we’re going to do for our 100th anniversary,” Willschau said. “We want it to be a big celebration.”
Senior division floats
Stampede Award- Sunflower Bank
Pride of the Valley- Rainbow’s End
Sweepstakes Award- Kiwanis Club of Monte Vista
Judges Award- V&V True Value Hardware
Honorable Mention- Sunflour Bakery
Bikes, walking, go-carts, three or four-wheelers and misc.
Judges Award- Monte Vista High School Band (flag girls coordinated their flags with the theme)
1st Place-Upper Rio Grande Animal Society- Conour Animal Shelter (no number)
Youth division floats
1st Place-Rio Grande Savings & Loan/Monte Vista Volleyball Team
2nd Place-Colton’s Heroes-Support Child Cancer
3rd Place-Valley Church of the Nazarene
Honorable Mention-Beaver Creek Youth Camp
Judges Award-Southern Colorado Computer Services
1st Place-SLV Antique Iron Club
Honorable Mention-Center’s Antique Fire Truck
Horse and rider
All Around Award- Lucky Shoe Riding Club
1st Place- Brenda Rippe
2nd Place- Denton’s Farmers Insurance
Juniors, 13-18 years old
1st Place- Savona Thomson
Juvenile: 1-12 years old
1st Place- Garret Thomson
1st Place- Claunch Family
2nd Place- Russell Surveyors