Gail (left) and Connie Bateman pose for a portrait in their living room in Vale earlier this month. (The Enterprise/Angelina Katsanis)

VALE – Connie and Gail Bateman were never leaving Arizona. 

Raised in Arizona, Connie was an Arizona Wildcat and Gail an Arizona State Sun Devil. After marrying in 1963, Connie, who worked for the Bureau of Land Management, was assigned a six-month job in Vale, Oregon — after which they would return to Arizona.

“We were supposed to be here for six months and 55 years later … we’re still here,” said Gail, chuckling about their 54-year overstay. 

The Batemans have done a lot in those 55 years, and that record of service is recognized in their selection as grand marshals for the Vale 4th of July Rodeo. After decades of involvement with the community and the rodeo, the honorary title almost seems overdue.

“Connie and Gail helped in any way with community, rodeo, church and other needed projects,” Jerry Levanger wrote in a nomination letter. “Connie and Gail have always been there to help families when needed with food, work, car rides or whatever. They always go the extra mile.”

Connie continued working for the BLM, doing a variety of work on the rangeland, while Gail got a job working at the Vale Elementary School until they both retired in 1994. But the real passion and priority for the Batemans was the rodeo.

“Our youngest son was born on Wednesday and I came home Thursday and opened the rodeo books, and the rodeo started Saturday,” recalled Gail. 

Gail described her job as rodeo secretary, which she did for 25 years, as doing “eight weeks’ worth of work in three days.”

Connie competed in the Vale rodeo, becoming champion of tie-down roping at one point, and was also the rodeo president for many years. He said what he misses most about the rodeo is the crew and his best friend Billy Evins — for whom the Vale rodeo’s big roping preliminary is named. 

“Billy spent most of his time getting the rodeo going and he was the ramrod that kept it going. After he passed, other people stepped up. We always had a good crew down there,” said Connie.

Vale isn’t the same town it was a half-century ago when the Batemans came to town, but through it all, they’re glad to see the rodeo never change that much. The one change they’ve been happy to see is a younger Vale generation taking over the rodeo, many of whom Gail taught in the classroom and Connie in the arena.  

“You don’t just go to a rodeo like you go to a football game; where you go to it and that’s the end of it. That’s not true with rodeo,” said Gail. “It’s a family-oriented event. The people we’ve met through the rodeo have been very important in our lives.”

News tip? Contact reporter Joey Cappelletti at [email protected] or 616-610-3093.

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