Story by Ruth Nicolaus The Mid States East Rodeo Association member lived in Texas for five years before moving back to her parents’ farm in […]
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Meet the Member John “Lefty” Kee
story by Michele Toberer
Originally from Johnston City, Illinois, John “Lefty” Kee started under the radar with his rodeo career as a 13-year-old cowboy that was already breaking horses for clients with his 17-year-old cousin, Randy Etherton. He and Randy learned that staying on the horses they were training hurt far less than the alternative and decided to hit the rodeo trail to ride bareback horses for buckles and cash. His parents, Bill and Yolanda Kee, were unaware their nephew was signing permission as John’s guardian so that he could enter rodeos. “It wasn’t the right way to do things, but I figured my dad wouldn’t want me to enter because I might get hurt and not be able to help with farming; so, I rodeoed secretly for several years. Both my parents have passed on, and my dad went to his grave not knowing about my rodeo career, but my mom was able to watch me fight bulls before she passed.”
Although he started as a bareback rider, after breaking his arm in 1985, he moved into fighting bulls to keep money flowing. After a short-lived stint as a bullfighter, he gave up rodeo in 1987 and moved to Wisconsin where he started work as a firefighter and medic for the city of Madison in 1989. Finding it hard to give up rodeo completely, he started fighting bulls again for a few years for the Little Britches Rodeo Association in 1988, but once again called a rodeo retirement in 1991. In 1993, while still working for the Madison fire department, John sustained career-ending injuries as a building caved in on him. He and his wife Lisa had been working as youth workers in the Evangel Life Center, and they became youth pastors at the church. Nineteen years ago, they came to Missouri as senior pastors for the Doe Run Assembly of God, where they stayed for 7 years before feeling called to step out and plant cowboy churches. In 2002, while pastoring and ranching at 35 years old, John had a fence building accident that resulted in the loss of his left arm. “My shirt got caught in the PTO shaft of the tractor and I lost my arm. The head of vascular surgery at the St. Louis University Hospital said she didn’t believe in miracles until seeing my case, because I truly shouldn’t have survived the accident.” John, who after the accident became known as “Lefty,” was not going to let the loss of his arm slow him down. He and Lisa helped plant 5 cowboy churches, with the last one being Faith Cowboy Church in Desloge, Missouri. “I felt called to come back to rodeo and do ministry there, and 5 years ago I came back out of rodeo retirement again and have been a full-time funny man since.” This is his first season as a Mid-States Rodeo Association funny man, and he looks forward to his first MSRA rodeo in McCloud, North Dakota, on June 29th.
Lefty and Lisa have 3 children; Kassidy, 28, who is working towards a career in PTSD equine therapy, Dakota, 25, who just graduated from law school, but continues to fight bulls nearly every weekend, and A.J., 21, who rides bareback horses while attending Mesalands Community College. Lisa works as an insurance company office manager, and Lefty, besides his bullfighting, where he’s sponsored by Durango Boots, works as an Uber and Lyft driver, as an armed security guard and investigator for an attorney, and as a heavy equipment operator. Lefty recently won the Funny Man Showcase at the C.R. McKellip Rodeo Company’s 2019 New Year’s Stampede. “Back in the day we had to fight and funny man, but I’m too old and fat to fight bulls anymore and I’m more of an around the barrel funny man.” Lefty has found ways to use the loss of his arm to inspire those around him to know that they can still do anything they want in life; they just have to learn how to do them differently. “I’m not disabled, I’m able-bodied, and just a little unhandy. I tell people you just have to suck it up cowboy, and get over it. God gave me a reason to be here, so let’s roll.”