St. Paul Rodeo a 'can't miss' event for local
Gary Pack got his first taste of the St. Paul Rodeo more than 50 years ago as a little boy growing up in Newberg. His aunt and uncle were both involved in it back then, so it became an annual family tradition.
In the decades since his first visit to the rodeo grounds, a Fourth of July simply lost its meaning if it didn’t involve a parade through St. Paul, a rodeo and fireworks in full view of the grandstands.
“It gets into your blood,” Pack said.
Pack and his wife, Debbie, are long-time McMinnville residents who are immersed in rodeo, St. Paul’s in particular. Pack has been on the board of directors for nine years.
The St. Paul Rodeo begins its five-day run tonight with the Professional Bull Riders Tour making its annual stop. In the days that follow there are rodeo performances each night, and there is a second performance on Thursday.
Now in its 78th year, the St. Paul Rodeo is not only a fixture on the rodeo circuit – its Oregon’s only Gold Tour Rodeo – but a vital economic engine to the small community of 421 people between Newberg and Woodburn.
Pack is in his 38th year working for PGE, but his responsibilities with the rodeo are year-round and the commitment feels like a second full-time job.
“I’m the kind of person that what I get into something I really get into it,” Pack said.
When he was younger, his passion was fast-pitch softball. From the time he graduated high school in 1973 he was consumed by his softball team until 1987 when a back injury forced him to the sidelines for good.
In all of that time, the schedule tripped him up only once.
“One year out of the 15 I missed the Fourth of July (at St. Paul),” Pack said. “And I told my team, ‘I’m not trying to be anyone special here, but the Fourth of July, that’s my rodeo time.”
When his softball days were over, Pack took up golf at Michelbook Country Club. He joined the St. Paul Rodeo Association 20 years ago, and his first job was taking tickets at the gate. Eventually, he ran a beer stand and then graduated to running the popular Tack Room Saloon on the rodeo grounds.
As a member of the board of directors, Pack oversees the royal court, the gatemen and the beer stands.
This week, he will see very little of the rodeo performances.
Pack organized the tryouts for the royal court, held last October at the Yamhill County Fairgrounds. That process led to McMinnville’s Dusti DeVore election at queen and her coronation ceremony April 20.
Pack has shepherded the members of the court – DeVore, plus Angie Eichler of Amity and Jordann McClister of St. Paul – plus their horses, to parades spring parades in Hillsboro and Keizer as well as Portland’s Starlight Parade and Grand Floral Parade.
“The Grand Floral Parade is the biggest weekend our court has except for our rodeo time,” Pack explained. “As soon as it was over, we moved all three horses into a trailer and drove them on to Sisters for a rodeo performance that night.”
This week, Pack said, he and his wife Debbie “are constantly doing things.”
“We own box seats and haven’t gotten to sit in those seats for the last 10 years,” he said.
Pack will spend his time walking the grounds with DeVore, Eichler and McClister, introducing them to sponsors, setting up photo ops with kids and spreading goodwill inside and outside of the grandstands.
“My rodeo time is spent escorting the court and visiting with different people,” he said.
Debbie Pack also has a lifelong association with the rodeo. She was on the St. Paul court with her best friend, Sally Johnston, in 1975. And they still do competitive barrel racing together nearly every weekend (although not this week in St. Paul).
The personal connections to the rodeo run deep.
“You wouldn’t believe all of the miles we drive between McMinnville and St. Paul,” Pack said. “You have to genuinely love the sport to do this.”
There is some pressure to put on the most professional rodeo possible, even with an army of volunteers doing most of the work. A year of strong ticket sales means a chance to increase prize money for the contestants. The organization also makes the most of its annual boon to sustain the community. Rodeo proceeds fund for the St. Paul School District and the St. Paul Parish.
“We spend a lot of time getting (the grounds) spiffed up, the dirt worked up, the corrals pressure-washed,” Pack said. “Every place that you look (this week) has been seen a lot of time and attention.”
Pack’s time and attention have been valuable to the rodeo, but he also has retirement from PGE on the horizon.
He is also nearing the end of his third three-year term on the rodeo’s board of directors.
“I’m a competition clay target shooter,” Pack said.
Sometimes he runs into a scheduling conflict and the shooting takes a backseat to the rodeo, but that might not always be the way.
The Fourth of July, however, will always be booked for St. Paul. That’s his rodeo time.