THE KAW VALLEY RODEO ASSOCIATION
In 1976, when the Riley County Fair Board needed evening entertainment, a group of rodeo enthusiasts looked into bringing their sport to Manhattan. A fairground arena, established through a federal grant, provided a location. Next would come organizing the event.
Named in the establishing document as incorporators of the Kaw Valley Rodeo Association (KVRA) were Bob Brummett, Wayne Dunafon and Buck Gehrt. Others named were original Board of Directors — George Rader, Bernard Wells, Charlie White, Pinky Busick, Stanley Parsons, Ron Innes, Dean Coughenhour and Bill Colvin. Bob Newsome was county extension director at the time.
Brummett and Dunafon were veterans of the professional rodeo scene. In the national field of advertising Dunafon, a top contending steer wrestler and saddle bronc rider, was known as one of the original Marlboro men.
Busick, then with Manhattan Parks and Recreation, knew stock contractor Bob Barnes from Cherokee, Iowa, whom he had worked with as a rodeo clown before coming to Manhattan. Barnes was invited to a meeting as an adviser. By the time the evening was over, he had been persuaded to bring a rodeo to the fair in Manhattan. After two years, logistics led him to pass on the job and the organization moved on to other contractors.
The fair board has always been a vital partner of KVRA, as Wells and Rader served on both governing entities in the early years. The arena carries Wells' name by choice of county 4-Hers in the late 1970s.
KVRA presidencies, limited to a one-term year, were filled by Innes, Brummett and Rader for the first three years, respectively. Term length is no longer limited to one year only.
Both the county and the city took part in getting the rodeo off the ground and running. County equipment worked the arena. Various businesses and individuals donated water piping and electrical wiring.
Financial support in the beginning was tricky since no reserve had yet been built up to fall back on. A large number of individuals and businesses put up monetary donations and hoped for no rain. The weather held until a cushion could be established a few years into the organization’s history.
There were three sides of an arena in the beginning, but no chutes or grandstands. Jim Lindquist, who was the county's agriculture extension agent during early performances, remembers hauling bleachers from Ahearn Field House. KVRA eventually invested in quality chutes and pens. Early on, livestock was held with barbed wire fences and pure cowboy luck. Today metal permanent pens provide more security for stock contractors and the public alike.
Early scheduling benefited from following the Cheyenne Frontier Days, bringing well-known cowboys to compete in Manhattan. Names such as bull rider Donnie Gay, calf roper Roy Cooper and other world champions have appeared at Manhattan's Kaw Valley Rodeo — now celebrating its 43rd year. Clem McSpadden served as the announcer during the early years. He enjoyed attending the Flush picnic as a guest of the Dunafon’s. Jerry Olson, respected Roman rider, provided color to the early performances. Later, scheduling was adjusted to accommodate a carnival for the fair.
Plaques given to the Cowboy/Cowgirl winners of Kaw Valley Rodeo through 2009 were the work of local artist/cowboy Bob Clore, who then owned BCR Awards.