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Saturday, Dec. 20, 2014

Family history includes rodeo

Sunday, August 11, 2002

(Photo)
Current Jaycee President Deke Lape poses with his grandfather, Bob Mitchell Sr., who served as Jaycee president at the first rodeo 50 years ago.
SIKESTON -- Bob Mitchell Sr., 75, and his grandson Deke Lape, 27, didn't plan anything. It just worked out this way, they said. When the Sikeston Jaycee Bootheel Rodeo began in 1952, Bob Mitchell Sr. was serving as Jaycee president; now, 50 years later, Lape is sitting in the same seat.

"The rodeo was nothing like it is now," Mitchell recalled. "It was quaint then."

The first rodeo was held at the VFW ballpark. The club had to rent metal chutes and bleachers from the city of Memphis, Mitchell recalled. The ballpark was arranged with bucking chutes in center field and bleachers on either side, where the grandstands are now located.

About 5,000 people could be seated in the arena. It's reported about 18,000 people attended the rodeo over the four-day period. Today, nearly 40,000 people come together for the rodeo.

According to Mitchell, the Jaycees only had about $500 to their name. In order to put the rodeo on properly, the organization needed $10,000, which prompted them to see a loan officer at the Bank of Sikeston.

"About six or eight of us from the Jaycees went to the bank, and we told the loan officer what we wanted," Mitchell laughed. "He thought we were crazy."

Crazy or not, the gamble paid off. Mitchell estimates the Jaycees sold about $6,600 in tickets for the rodeo, but he's not sure what the first ticket price was. He said it may have been around $2. After the first few years, Mitchell said the Jaycees had so much money, they didn't know what to do with it, which is how the Jaycees became involved with donating to charities.

Throughout the last 50 years, the Jaycees have worked on and funded several projects and organizations within Sikeston. They were largely responsible for funding and putting up the first street signs in Sikeston. The Jaycees worked every Saturday and Sunday after church for three months to put signs on every street in Sikeston, Mitchell said.

The Kenny Rogers Children's Center was developed through the rodeo, Mitchell explained. The popular charity transformed to the respected physical, occupational and speech therapy center that serves over 300 Southeast Missouri children today.

"Kenny Rogers made a couple of visits to the rodeo," Mitchell remembered. "On his first trip, he visited the Cerebral Palsy Center in its former location on Center Street. There were about four children there, and Rogers just fell in love with the place." The rest is history.

After the first rodeo ended, the Jaycees' membership soared, Mitchell revealed. Approximately 30 or 40 men made up the Jaycees in 1952. A year later, nearly 100 members comprised the organization, Mitchell said. Today the number of Jaycee members remains at around 100, Lape confirmed.

One of the reasons the Jaycees and the rodeo are such a success is the strong relationship between the older and younger Jaycees.

"Every piece of advice they (older Jaycees) give us -- whether about the rodeo or on cooking a Boston butt -- is appreciated. The interaction between the young and old is always there," Lape said.

Mitchell thinks the biggest thing the Jaycees and the rodeo does is train its members for leadership in Sikeston.

"What the Jaycees have done is promote and develop leadership with the organization of younger members," Mitchell said. The rodeo has a direct effect on men in Sikeston because older business men in town have always encouraged and supported the Jaycees, Mitchell added.

Mitchell continued to help with the rodeo long after he held office. His brothers, sons and now grandson, have been either rodeo chairman or Jaycee presidents. Lape is the first third-generation Jaycee president in club history.

One thing Lape has noticed over the years is that the older members never forget what the rodeo was like, and they want it to be successful. To show their appreciation, past living Jaycee presidents were honored in a ceremony Wednesday night at the opening of the rodeo, and past living rodeo chairmen were honored at the closing Saturday night.

Mitchell admits he usually doesn't attend the rodeo anymore, but he does visit the rodeo grounds at some point each year. "I feel proud of how they have the place looking. It's important to me and vitally important to Sikeston. It represents our area," he claimed.

Lape and Mitchell agree the rodeo is a community event. Lape explained: "The whole community helps out with the rodeo. Many Jaycees are fortunate enough to have bosses who know what the rodeo is worth for us and allow their employees to take off from work and help with the rodeo."

While the rodeo has already come and gone, as it has for the past 50 years, it will reappear next year and the year after that and the year after that. And the one thing that will always come with that rodeo is the common ground the Jaycees share, Lape said.

"There's such a wide variety of Jaycees. We're farmers, welders, engineers, lawyers, investment brokers," Lape continued, "But we all have the same goal -- to work and to raise our children."