COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - It was an emotional day at the ProRodeo Hall of Fame, and for good reason.
The induction of the 2015 class evoked great rodeo and personal memories for those entering the Hall and their families.
Mark Garrett - the 1996 bareback riding world champion - summed up the day's festivities in his speech by saying, "I can't imagine life without rodeo; it taught me so much about life."
Garrett was one of 10 new inductees, joined by World Champion Cowboys Tom Nesmith, Bob Wegner and Harry Charters, along with rodeo notable Jack Hannum, the Hendricks Brothers specialty act, four-time team roping head horse of the year Precious Speck (Walt) and the rodeo committees from the Red Bluff (Calif.) Round-Up, the Guymon (Okla.) Pioneer Days Rodeo and Iowa's Championship Rodeo (Sidney).
Several of the inductees and their family members battled through their emotions to give retrospective, informative and sometimes humorous speeches.
Garrett, 49, joined his brother - four-time World Champion Bareback Rider Marvin Garrett (1988-89, 1994-95) - in the Hall of Fame, and not only thanked his brother for his success in the rodeo arena, but also friends and traveling partners Ken Lensegrav and Larry Sandvick. All four men finished in the top five of the bareback riding world standings in 1996.
"Marvin and I grew up infatuated with rodeo," Mark Garrett said. "He's my best friend and brother, and an outstanding talent. Kenny is here today, and that means so much to me. We rodeoed together in high school, amateur and were PRCA rookies together - he whipped me that year - and he's like a brother. Larry and I traveled a lot together and finished up together.
"We'd all call a spade a spade, and if you made a sorry ride, they'd tell you about it. It wasn't the horse's fault; it was yours. You accepted responsibility for what you did."
Garrett, who qualified for the NFR nine times (1989-91, 1994-97, 1999-2000), won his only gold buckle - and NFR average title - with a clutch ride in Round 10 at the 1996 National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, scoring 83 points on Big Bend Rodeo Company's Spring Fling, a 2014 inductee into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame.
Nesmith, of Bethel, Okla., was a soft-spoken cowboy whose best events were steer wrestling and calf roping. He captured the 1962 all-around and steer wrestling world championships.
"My dad was so quiet, but he would have loved this," said Janette Nesmith-Kelly, Tom's daughter. "He would be so honored, and he had so many friends come to this induction. He had friends come from all around the country for this, and that is so special."
Nesmith died of a heart attack on Oct. 16, 1972, at the age of 37.
In addition to his double gold buckle season, Nesmith also finished fourth and third in the 1958 and 1961 tie-down roping world standings.
Janette's daughters, Janecy Machac, Josey Kelly and Johnnie Kelly accepted the Hall of Fame honor Saturday for their late grandfather.
Although young when her father died, Janette Nesmith-Kelly was extremely proud to be a part of her father's Hall of Fame induction.
"I was completely caught off guard by him being selected to be in the ProRodeo Hall of Fame," Janette said. "Now my kids get to know who he really was, and that's the best. I was 9 years old when he passed away, and I do remember some of his accomplishments."
In an era full of Hall of Fame bull riders, Wegner made a name for himself.
Over an 11-year span from 1956-1966, Wegner finished among the top five bull riders in the world standings 10 times, earning a world championship in 1964 and four reserve world championships (1958-59, 1961, 1966). He twice won the NFR average title (1964, 1966).
"I think my dad would've been overwhelmed (about this) and I'm overwhelmed," said Kelly Olson, Wegner's daughter. "This is just a great honor. I just wish it would have happened before he passed."
Wegner died March 30, 2014. He was 80.
The Ponca City, Okla., native joined the Rodeo Cowboys Association, precursor to the PRCA, in 1953 and from 1958-62 he never finished worse than third in the world standings. The 5-foot-6, 140-pound Wegner finished second to seven-time bull riding world champion Jim Shoulders in 1958-59 and twice to Ronnie Rossen (1961, 1966).
"I knew how good he was (in the rodeo arena)," Olson said of her father. "He would ride with a broken leg with a cast on, and he just kept on going no matter what. This is very special, and a lot of it hasn't soaked in yet. It probably will after everything is done and I will realize the accomplishments he had. I know he's up there looking down, enjoying this whole thing."
Unlike most PRCA cowboys - who start their careers in their teens - Harry Charters took an unconventional path to rodeo.
Although Charters did not buy his RCA permit until 1958, at the relatively advanced age of 33, he managed to compete at an elite level for a decade. He won his only world championship as a rookie steer wrestler in 1959 and went on to put nine NFR qualifications on his career resume - six in bulldogging and three in tie-down roping.
"We've always known of his greatness, and it's exciting for the rest of the world to be able to see it," said Nicole Albisu, Charters' granddaughter. "This is a really proud moment for our family. There are so many emotions wrapped up in all of this for everyone. We are sad he couldn't be here for this day, and you wish you could take back time and hear the stories from him rather than other people, but we are so very proud for him to receive this honor."
Wegner barely missed a second world title in 1962 when he finished second by $773 in the steer wrestling to fellow Hall of Fame inductee Nesmith.
Charters died of cancer on July 7, 1981, at the age of 56.
The Hall of Fame ceremony included two current WNFR cowboys giving emotional speeches on behalf of inductees.
Steer wrestler Olin Hannum spoke for himself and his four siblings on behalf of their father, the late Jack Hannum, while team roper Travis Tryan spoke about his horse, Precious Spec (Walt).
Jack Hannum was a five-time qualifier for the National Finals Rodeo and a longtime administrator with the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.
He made his big breakthrough in his first year of full-time competition when he won the Cheyenne (Wyo.) Frontier Days all-around title in 1977 on his way to qualifying for the National Finals Rodeo as a tie-down roper.
In 1981, Hannum was hired by the PRCA Board to serve as the head of rodeo administration, to deal with rodeo sanctioning applications, rule infractions and all things related to membership.
It was the start of more than 25 years of service to the PRCA as Administrator, Circuit Coordinator and Chief of Officials.
"Our dad loved rodeo and the PRCA, and cared about the cowboys," said Olin, a 2011 WNFR qualifier. "There aren't many rodeos that we go to that our dad didn't win. This is a great honor and tribute to him, and we couldn't be more excited."
Joining Olin on stage were his brother, Jake, a 2007 WNFR tie-down roper, and their sisters, Amee, Emily and Jane.
"All five of us have our own families, so it's hard to get all of us together," Jake Hannum said. "This was a way that dad brought us all here together today, and it was very special."
Hannum died Sept. 16, 2014, in an Ogden, Utah, hospital of organ failure at the age of 70.
Tryan said before his induction speech for Walt that he hoped he wouldn't cry, but the emotion came out as he recalled the 10-year stretch that he had with the horse.
"He brought me to the place I needed to be before I was even ready," Tryan said of his first of nine WNFR appearances aboard the horse in 2001. "This is like family going in. He was a huge part of my team, and helped me make my living."
Walt was voted the AQHA/PRCA Team Roping Heading Horse of the Year from 2007-09 and four times overall (also in 2003). He was also third in the balloting twice.
"I entered rodeos around this (induction) so I could be here, because I wasn't going to miss this," Tryan said. "I knew Walt was worthy of this, but I didn't know it would be this big of a deal to me."
The horse died April 24, 2010, of an aneurysm while warming up for morning slack at the Clovis (Calif.) Rodeo. He was 20.
The Hendricks Brothers - identical twins Byron and Lee - entertained rodeo audiences from the 1940s into the 1960s, with a variety of acts that included daredevil Roman riding, bridle-less jumps, dancing horses and dogs.
The Flying Twin Act, with Byron and Lee riding Roman style, had each of them jumping their horses over an automobile in opposite directions. It became their most famous stunt, but probably seemed easy for the brothers, who were both Army paratroopers during World War II.
Lee Hendricks spoke on behalf of his twin brother, Byron, who died in 1996.
"This is the biggest honor of my career," said Lee, 91. "This is a day I'm thankful for, and it's a great honor to be here. I just wish it had happened while my brother was alive. I'm thinking a lot about him today. He would've really enjoyed this and we would've had a wonderful time here together."
The Red Bluff Round-Up held its 94th annual event in April, and has become a must-compete destination for cowboys.
"My great-grandfather, Claus Trede, was one of the 20 people who put up the money for our first Red Bluff rodeo, and he'd be so proud of our induction today," said John Trede, first vice president of the Red Bluff Round-Up committee. "Most of our directors are involved through their family's generations - it's ingrained in our DNA, as directors and even our spectators. About a third of our seats have gone to the same family reservations since the 1930s."
Iowa's Championship Rodeo, named the PRCA Small Rodeo of the Year in 1997, celebrated its 91st anniversary in July.
"This honor means so much to our town of 1,200 people," said Lyle Tackett, vice president of the Iowa's Championship Rodeo board. "Our first goal is always to make enough money to keep our rodeo going, but this Induction is the ultimate goal for any ProRodeo. When my grandfather bought a bunch of horses for $50 for our first rodeo in 1923 and the town made a circle of Model A's for the first arena, they never dreamed it would build to what it is today."
The Guymon Pioneer Days, the 2002 PRCA Large Rodeo of the Year, celebrated its 83rd annual event this year.
"We truly believe it is absolutely phenomenal to win this honor," said Jim Quimby, chairman of the Guymon Pioneer Days rodeo committee. "It's a huge tribute to the thousands of people and many sponsors who put it together in the beginning and kept it going - and our stock contractors. We work hard to make sure that our event winners can come from any performance, and we like to think of our rodeo as having the best four performances in a row of any rodeo other than the National Finals."
ProRodeo Hall of Fame inductees are selected by a committee of former contestants and rodeo experts. More than 150 individuals are nominated each year and selection is based on contributions to the sport of professional rodeo in any one of seven categories: contestant, stock contractor, contract personnel, rodeo committees, livestock, media and notables/lifetime achievement.
Including this year's inductees, 243 people, 29 animals and 25 rodeo committees have been selected for enshrinement in Colorado Springs since the Hall opened in 1979.