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O’Neill Summerfest Rodeo
story by Lily Weinacht
Every third weekend in July, the O’Neill Summerfest Rodeo in O’Neill, Nebraska, draws in contestants and spectators alike for two nights plus slack of M-SRA and NSRA rodeo fun. They were voted M-SRA Small Purse Rodeo of the Year in 2015 and 2016, and the rodeo board attributes that to the caliber of stock, the facilities, and the never-slackening pace of the rodeo. “We try to go the extra mile accommodating contestants and keeping the spectators comfortable and entertained,” says Bryan Sanford, the rodeo committee president. He competed in the M-SRA for several years and stepped into the role of president eight or ten years ago, though he’s been on the rodeo committee since the early 1990s. “We’re having a wild horse race again this year including a Calcutta, and we always try to throw some fun things in. We had a chicken scramble three years and continue to have a best seat in the house. We’re always doing something different with a unique twist.” The latest twist features celebrity horse races on inflatable horses at the rodeo this year, organized by rodeo secretary and treasurer, Lauri Havranek. The rodeo is also a featuring a dance at the community center following the Friday performance, with music by Cutrix Sound and Entertainment.
The Summerfest Rodeo celebrates its 33rd summer of rodeos this year, and makes an centralized stop between the rodeos in Burke, South Dakota and Madison and Greeley, Nebraska. “It was originally started by the O’Neill Chamber of Commerce as a way to give back to the community that would appeal to everybody,” says Bryan. Along with the eight rodeo committee members, the weekend runs on many volunteer hours. “We have terrific volunteers from throughout the community that work our concession stands for the rodeo, and our Lions Club and Rotary Club park cars,” says Lauri. Bryan, also the arena director, coordinates gate help and other volunteers in the arena. He’s helped the rodeo committee grow, doubling their numbers in the last three or four years.
The rodeo features nine events, including breakaway roping, and new this year, mixed team roping. “It’s been at the contestants’ request, and we’ve had a lot of people asking about it,” says Lauri, also the executive director of the O’Neill Chamber of Commerce. Planning of the next Summerfest Rodeo begins even before the current year’s rodeo has opened. Lauri has served on the rodeo committee the last six years, and though she hasn’t competed in rodeo, she’s equally passionate about it as any contestant. “I love the sport and the silent communication between the contestants and their horses. I like meeting people and the camaraderie amongst the contestants,” she says. “A real cowboy’s word is as good as the handshake that accompanies it.”