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Family Reunion

7/14/2006

Every June, John and Mildred Farris hold a family reunion on their ranch in Addington, Okla. This year, the occasion moves back a month, and north and west to Colorado Springs, Colo.

This isn't a typical family reunion, though.

The couple, married 52 years, is entering the ProRodeo Hall of Fame as its first husband-wife team to enter together.

The family reunion theme is fitting; the Farris' can go to any rodeo in the United States and have a contingent of people readied for their company.

"That's the great thing about rodeo," said Mildred, 72, a PRCA member since 1960 and longtime secretary and timer with 20 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo selections to her credit. Five of those came as a secretary and 15 as a timer — after she qualified for the event 12 times as a barrel racer.

"When you make friends, you make friends forever. Everywhere we go, we know someone. I know we'll have at least 16 family members coming, and a lot of friends say they're coming."

As Mildred makes her checklist for who she can expect to see in Colorado Springs, John, a PRCA member since 1959 who has worked every Wrangler NFR in one capacity or another since 1967, is already taking a ribbing from those who question his ability to speak in front of a large group of people.

Come July 15, his words won't matter. Years of loyalty to ProRodeo spoke for him long ago. Still, he takes it in stride.

"My friends are kidding me about me giving a speech," said John, 78. "I'm not much of a speaker, so I don't know if my friends and family are coming to see me or hear my speech. It's quite an honor for both of us."

John and Mildred married in 1954 during the Eisenhower administration. That was nine U.S. presidents ago. That was before the modern-day PRCA, with modern-day PRCA technology.

A week in mid-June without the services of a computer in Gladewater, Texas, took Mildred back to those days.

"I remember sitting to take entries myself over the phone, before PROCOM," Mildred said. "PROCOM and computers are two of the best things that have helped secretaries, as far as I'm concerned. I remember with some of the big ones, you would drive overnight after finishing up one and you would open up the next one in the morning. You find a telephone that works, and you get to work, even in the back of a pickup."

As Mildred has seen her profession evolve, John's recollections of rodeo blur through years as a contestant, chute boss on the roughstock and timed event ends, saddle horse boss and whatever other hat he was required to wear to keep a rodeo running smoothly.

"It's moved real fast," John said. "I was 14 years old when I entered my first rodeo in Jacksboro, Texas. Rodeo has taken me to a lot of different places over the years, and every year, time flew by pretty fast. It's been a good life, we raised two good boys and met a lot of good people."

The couple, fittingly, met at a rodeo. One week after Mildred graduated from Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas, they got married. Then it was rodeo.

And it's been rodeo ever since.

John competed in amateur rodeo for five years before joining the RCA, the precursor to today's PRCA. Mildred ran barrels in the Girls Rodeo Association, known today as the Women's Professional Rodeo Association. While John competed in bareback riding, saddle bronc riding, bull riding and tie-down roping from 1959-75, his wife was making a name for herself, too, first as a barrel racer, then later as the GRA/WPRA director, vice president and president from 1965-71.

Mildred has been named PRCA Secretary of the Year eight times, is a member of the Sul Ross Rodeo Hall of Fame and was WPRA Woman of the Year and Secretary of the Year in 1994 and 1996, respectively.

Next month's ceremony won't be the couple's first. They were inducted into the Texas Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame in Belton, Texas, in 2004.

But going into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame, together, is the ultimate.

"We've always worked together," Mildred said. "So, it should be both of us. It's quite an honor, and I speak for both of us. And people keep walking up to us and saying thanks to us."

That's the rodeo family. The Farris' add a few more members every day.