Linda McElroy, cattle rancher and 1971 Vale rodeo queen. (Austin Johnson/ The Enterprise)
VALE – Linda McElroy drank iced tea as she sat in Perk, occasionally waving to friends coming in and out of the coffee shop in the community she has known most of her life.
Decades have passed since she was crowned Vale rodeo queen, but with a working ranch to run and grandkids to mentor, it would be a mistake to suggest she’s slowed down in the slightest.
“It’s hard for me to believe it’s been 50 years,” McElroy said.
The date at the top of the Enterprise archival print of June 16, 1971, confirms it: “Linda Basey named rodeo queen.” She was 19, and the newspaper included photographs of her at the ceremony.
“My grandkids thought they were cool. They’ve never seen those pictures before,” she said.
She noted that one of her four grandkids had inherited her dark hair apparent at the time and now turned gray. She turns 70 next year.
In 1971, McElroy was both Vale queen and queen of the Treasure Valley Community College team. She also competed in Miss Rodeo Oregon, which Vale hosted that year, and scored top in horsemanship.
Linda McElroy, then 19-year old Linda Basey, being awarded Vale Rodeo Queen at Vale Grande Hall in 1971. (The Enterprise file)
McElroy also did team roping with her sister, Donna Gillespie. She said it was her favorite event because of the teamwork and her competitive spirit. Though she proved her expertise on the scoreboards, she didn’t boast.
“We had good horses. I kinda credit them,” McElroy said.
McElroy grew up on a farm in Homedale, where she started riding at a young age and then went on to compete in junior rodeos.
She knew how to handle horses, but her first rodeo pageant her freshman year of high school required a whole other set of skills.
“You have to smile the whole time, I thought my face was going to break,” she said.
In the announcement of her Vale rodeo queen win, she stands among the other contestants with a crown of dark jewels over her cowboy hat, and dangle oval earrings similar to those she wears today. All the women are dressed similarly.
“In most competitions we had to wear jeans and white shirts, just so the money deal wasn’t an issue – who had the silver and the fancy horses and the fancy clothes, that wasn’t an issue,” McElroy said. “I don’t know if that’s changed. I’ve been a queen judge too and most people were really good, and they’ve got great family support behind them.”
Having been a 4H leader, McElroy said that family and community support is essential to young rodeo competitors’ success.
“That’s one thing about Vale, they’re very supportive of youth,” McElroy said. “They’ve been supportive of mine and everybody else’s. That’s one of the advantages of being in a small town, I think.”
She said that Vale has changed a lot since her rodeo days.
“I guess we didn’t have a coffee shop back then,” she said, gesturing to the dining area in Perk. “If you got coffee, you got it at home.”
She said she and her husband try to support the local businesses in town, and that what makes Vale special is its people.
McElroy and her husband Tom run a cattle ranch where they also grow their own feed. They’ve had an especially busy week caring for the animals during the heat wave. She still rides whenever she can.
“That’s where I’m the happiest, on my horse,” McElroy said.
Catching up with other competitors from 50 years ago
Linda McElroy, Diana Goodman and Cindy Womack pictured together with their unmarried names in the 1971 Enterprise Miss Rodeo Oregon announcement. (The Enterprise files)
Diana Goodman, then Diana Camp, competed in the Miss Rodeo Oregon competition held in Vale the summer of 1971. She went on to a career in bookkeeping, including at the hospital in Baker, and for the trucking and cattle industries.
Though she loved the rodeo and working with animals, she shifted her focus in the years following the competition.
“I had boys, and they really weren’t into all that,” Goodman said.
She ended up selling her horses to give back to her parents, who had paid for the expensive upkeep of horse riding from when she started at age 4.
“They had dragged me all over hell and half of Canada,” Goodman said. “I don’t know how my folks did it.”
Goodman was on several courts throughout her rodeo days, and did barrel racing, pole bending and steer daubing. She was supported by a strong 4-H community she grew up in outside of Baker City and Haines.
“My mom, it was her way of keeping me out of trouble, and it worked,” Goodman said.
She became involved in Miss Rodeo Oregon through the Blue Mountain Quarter Horse Association, and said she did much better in the 1970 competition than in 1971, when she had been distracted by her future husband.
Of the latter competition, she said she remembers all the girls being incredibly accepting and supportive of one another.
“There’s times where those girls are so worried about competing and winning that they lose track of the camaraderie and of just being nice to each other,” Goodman said.
For girls who want to compete in rodeo events, Goodman said to put in their best effort, but to have fun.
Cindy Womack, then Cindy Holton, grew up in Vale but now lives in Vancouver, Washington. She moved out of her hometown soon after marrying her husband Terry in 1972.
“I was gonna do the Miss Rodeo Oregon thing in 1972, and I fell in love instead,” Womack said. “And we’re still together.”
Womack now works as a trauma therapist and the program developer for Good Samaritan Ministries, an international organization that provides free mental health services and assistance.
“The only thing I ever wanted to be when I grew up was a cowgirl,” Womack said.
Womack did barrel racing, pole bending and goat tying. She also competed on the rodeo team at her college, now called Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls. She said she represented the school in the College National Finals queen contest in 1971, too.
She said her post-rodeo career in mental health services has been an adventure, taking her to over 25 countries.
“Growing up in Vale I didn’t know anything outside of eastern Oregon,” Womack said. “I didn’t even know Oregon was known for its rain until I went to college.”
“I was so fortunate to grow up in a town where I had the same friends from the first grade through 12th, and lived in the same house my whole childhood,” she said.
Womack said she was disappointed to miss her 50th class reunion due to Covid, but hopes to visit in the future.
For girls currently competing in rodeo, Womack said to not let the stress of competing ruin the fun.
“Just have fun,” Womack said. “Just enjoy it, have fun running your horse.”
News tip? Contact reporter Abbey McDonald at [email protected]
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