Common Denominator

GERRY – Despite the countless changes experienced by the Gerry Fire Department’s annual rodeo in its 70 years of operation, perhaps the only constant in the way of attendees is Allen Peterson.

When the 70th rodeo gets underway Wednesday, Peterson will continue his record of perfect attendance.

Peterson, 77, of Jamestown, owns Peterson’s Farm at the intersection of Route 430 and Strunk Road. Having grown up riding horses and raising Polled Hereford beef cattle just outside the city limits of Jamestown from a very young age, Peterson attended the first Gerry Rodeo as a 7-year-old horse enthusiast. His passion for horses and all things cowboy ultimately culminated in a past presidency of the New York State Beef Cattlemen’s Association.

It was Peterson’s son, Kris, who contacted The Post-Journal regarding his father’s perfect attendance record.

“He’s the cowboy of the family,” Kris said. “We (his children) all grew up riding horses, but it was really his passion. We just think it’s really cool that he’s been going (to the rodeo) for that long, and we always come back as often as we can.”

The Gerry Rodeo, sponsored by the Gerry Fire Department, began as the brainchild of Jack Cox, a former working cowboy from the West who moved to Gerry. Cox suggested hosting a rodeo as a means of raising money to support the fire department.

After several community members and fire department members spent 70 days transforming 4 acres of swampland into an arena and parking lot, Cox’s dream was realized and the Gerry Rodeo was born. Bleachers were borrowed from area schools, and portable lights were rented. Peterson and other attendees of the first annual rodeo witnessed the arrival and performance of Colonel Jim Eskew and the livestock that year.

Since then, numerous updates to the programming of the rodeo and the land upon which it is hosted have taken place. Some of the more significant improvements include: the purchase of additional land; the permanent installation of bleachers that can seat up to 4,000 people; the installation of a lighting system, allowing for evening and nighttime events; and the enlargement, refurbishing and air-conditioning of the rodeo ground dining hall.

Today, the rodeo consists of the same competitive events it did 70 years ago, such as: bareback bronc riding, tie-down roping, saddle bronc riding, bull riding, steer wrestling, team roping and cowgirls’ barrel racing – with all the entrants competing for cash prizes and points. In addition, there are specialty acts such as trick riding, animal acts and clowns.

Despite all of these upgrades, improvements and changes, it all comes back to the horses for Peterson.

“I always enjoy seeing the horses, and have always been interested in good stock horses,” he said, adding that his favorite events are those that feature the abilities of the horses – such as calf-roping.

Peterson’s love for the rodeo extends beyond the confines of Gerry’s town limits, however. Although he has never competed in a rodeo, he has attended others throughout the country, including those which have been hosted in Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, Tucson and Denver. Even though these rodeos have taken place in larger and more established venues, Peterson said the Gerry Rodeo can hold its own as a respectable event.

“It’s a good rodeo,” he said. “I’ve been to some big rodeos, but they’ve always had good rodeos here at Gerry and they’re very representative of the industry. They’ve always been good shows, and you always see something different each time. And it’s also nice that the whole community works together for the good of the Gerry Fire Department.”

The town of Gerry will be hosting its 70th annual rodeo this week, beginning Wednesday and going through Saturday. This year’s event will feature approximately 135 professional cowboys and cowgirls, who have traveled from all over the nation to compete for $45,000 in prize money in the seven traditional competitive events of rodeo.

The event will include nightly performances at 8 p.m. each day, as well as a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday. Barbecue dinners will be served each evening at 5 p.m.

For more information, call 985-4847, or visit www.gerryrodeo.org.