By Mitchell Willetts
The Nyssa Rodeo grounds were surrounded Saturday. Hundreds of fans filled the blue and white bleachers to watch cowboys make themselves a name or just a little money.
Outside the center ring, a dozen other shows were taking place, where the action is more intimate and harder to follow. Kim Speelman is one such show.
The Nyssa Nite Rodeo Board president had been readying the event for months, securing sponsors, bringing in cowboys, tidying the grounds, doing whatever necessary to make the 72nd Nyssa rodeo happen.
All that preparation buys a little breathing room, but when Nyssa Nite finally arrives, there isn’t much time for her to enjoy it.
She bounces around from one hiccup to the next, attending each little crisis as it comes or tasking it to another crewmember. She runs a circuit of her own from the announcer crow’s nest to the beer garden, and everywhere between, feeding the stock, cracking down on underage drinkers, and helping set the stage for barrel racing and queen coronation. In between, she trades words with board members tasked with overseeing the stock, payouts and more.
There’s always someone trying to find her, looking to deliver time-sensitive news or ask for help. She is constantly answering the phone, often preempting these calls with a deep breath or the Lord’s name.
She regroups periodically with family, most fellow board members, before racing off to the next task. The volunteer duty work seems endless.
Without the efforts of Speelman and her family, the Nyssa rodeo would have ended years ago.
“They were talking about being done,” Speelman said. “They owed the Idaho Cowboys Association some money and they were in the red. They had no money.”
It takes as much knowhow as dedication to run a rodeo, and there seemed to be a lack of both, she said.
She began sitting in on rodeo board meetings when her daughter ran for, and won, the 2014 Nyssa rodeo queen title. It didn’t take long for Speelman to gauge the situation the Nyssa rodeo was in, and she wasn’t about to let her daughter’s hard-earned title go to waste.
“So we stepped in and said let’s figure out how we can do this,” Speelman said. “Some people left, and some people stayed, and we got ourselves together and just worked harder.”
The rodeo is a business, Speelman says, and the board runs it like one. Since the start they have worked toward restoring faith in the rodeo, both among local businesses and the public. Less expected was earning the Nyssa Chamber of Commerce’s support.
The chamber worked alongside the board this year for the first time, adding two events to the rodeo roster — a cowboy breakfast at the Nyssa Senior Citizen Center and a family fun day along the parade route, aiming to bring more people into town and earlier.
Reviews were mixed. Char Raney-McGinnis, chamber manager, called the cowboy breakfast, which fed 121 people, a success, but admits the family fun day wasn’t the hit she expected. The lackluster turnout was due to a combination of too little advertising and poor timing, she said.
“If it wasn’t for Father’s Day and the nice weather, the turnout could’ve been a lot better,” Raney-McGinnis said. The chamber will give it another shot next year. “We still want to work hand-in-hand with the rodeo.”
Speelman said she is unsure of how the Nyssa rodeo wound up in the condition she found it, but since taking the reins, it has turned a profit every year.
“The year my daughter ran for queen, I’d be surprised if there were 250 people in the stands,” Speelman said, attendance numbers for this year aren’t known yet, but 2016 saw up to 900 in attendance.
“We’ve come a long way,” Speelman said.
With the help of what she calls her “core group,” the 20 mostly new but committed board members, she hopes to take the rodeo farther still.
“We want it bigger. I’d like to see the Nyssa show grow into more than just a two-day show,” Speelman said. “It would be fun to have a four-day show, like Vale does.”
Have news? Contact reporter Mitchell Willetts at 541-473-3377 or [email protected].