story by Lindsay Humphrey Last summer, Emily changed her last name from Vinton to Finney when she married Doug. It was a match made at […]
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Meet the Member Don Kocis
story by Lindsay King
From the south side of Chicago to the arena lights of the Ak-Sar-Ben rodeo in Omaha, Nebraska, Don Kocis has a rodeo tale unlike any other. At a spry 75 years old, Don is still able to step off a stopping horse, run down the rope to flank and tie a calf. “I started calf roping at 15 and one thing led to another and before long I was steer wrestling too,” said the Essex, Iowa, resident. The Kocis family didn’t have the means to buy a horse when Don was growing up, so he saved up by working multiple part-time jobs. “I thought I could make a calf horse before I even learned to rope, so I bought a green horse. I ended up trading that one plus $250 for my first real calf horse.” The gelding called Cherokee earned his keep by pulling hay rack “party” rides through the woods at night for the stable where Don boarded him. Don, being one of five drivers, was often on the other end of the reins.
“I was getting fairly proficient when I was about 17 and that’s when I decided I had to go west to rodeo in college.” Don made the rodeo team at Colorado State University where he met his wife of 52 years Jeanne. “Those college years were some of the best of my life. I truly loved being there.” Don graduated in 1967 with a business degree and went on to be named the NIRA Rocky Mountain Region steer wrestling champion and the reserve national champion steer wrestler at the CNFR. “Jeanne and I have been blessed with a wonderful family – three children (Brent, Lori and Hillary) that have married terrific spouses and blessed us with seven grandchildren.” Don can remember when they loaded all three kids up to hit a rodeo, he jokes about how Jeanne had her hands full.
In 1980, Don set the record in the Ak-Sar-Ben coliseum with a 3.4 second run on his first go in the steer wrestling. He proceeded to win the two head average in addition to defeating the reigning world champion steer wrestler Stan Williamson in the Coors Chute-Out Challenge. Two years earlier Don won a round at the same rodeo in the calf roping with the fastest time of the entire event. “I was pretty lucky to have tied the fastest calf one year and then came back to Omaha to set a record in the steer wrestling so close to home and in front of my family and friends.” Even as time passes, there are no signs Don is slowing down.
One of Don’s top accomplishments in the M-SRA was winning the 45 and over division at the prestigious Gothenburg rodeo. He was 73 at the time. “I am also proud of winning the 40 and over tie-down roping year-end championship in the IRCA, but I was young at the time.” He was 55. The M-SRA is one reason why Don simply can’t quit rodeo. “Obviously I like the competition, but the M-SRA gives me the opportunity to enjoy friendships and experience the excitement and passion generated annually at each of these rodeo towns.” Don cannot express his gratitude enough to the committees, fans and volunteers for all the hard work they put in to make great events. “My 2019 goal is to make the top ten in the 45 and over and to have a good finals.”
With Dr. Carl “the nicknamer” Martin as a traveling partner, Don is sure to hit those goals. “Traveling with Carl has its benefits – he is a good horseman and vet, he knows all the short cuts in Nebraska and besides being a world-class navigator and passenger, Carl is an equally adept story teller.” Besides competing, Don enjoys working with his calf horses and spending time with his family while watching his grandkids participate in sports and other activities. It’s Jeanne’s support and encouragement that truly keeps Don going though. “She says as long as you can still compete, you should. If not, you will regret not going when you could have. She knows me pretty well I’d say.”