Kurt Kadatz, Rod Hay, Tim Ellis, Kristen Odland and Dustin Flundra toast Dwayne Erickson with rum and cokes, his favourite drink, inside the newly-named Dwayne Erickson Media Suite at the 2016 Calgary Stampede in Calgary, Alta., on Saturday, July 16, 2016. Erickson covered the rodeo for the Calgary Herald and Sun for over 30 years. ELIZABETH CAMERON / CALGARY HERALD
Published on: July 16, 2016 | Last Updated: July 16, 2016 5:13 PM MDT
It wasn’t even noon, but we drank rum and Cokes to toast to an old friend anyway.
Not quite the way he drank them, mind you. His were a little stronger.
But it was an appropriate tribute to honour someone who gave so much to the sport of rodeo, touched the lives of so many cowboys and cowgirls, mentored so many journalists, and became a larger than life figure at the Calgary Stampede for decades.
Year after year, Dwayne Erickson sat in a chair — his chair — in the South Media Press Box. He wasn’t always easy to deal with. Cantankerous, ornery, impatient, and downright grouchy, Dwayne could intimidate the greenest of interns and the city’s most veteran scribes. Yet, if he gave you a small smile or a gentle compliment about your story of the day, there was no better feeling in the world.
Regardless of your relationship with Dwayne, when you truly understood what he was about, you couldn’t help but admire his passion and gift.
“Right from the first time I did any good in the pros, he was the first one to give you a call,” said Rod Hay, a four-time Calgary Stampede saddle bronc champion and a 20-time National Finals Rodeo qualifier. “He covered my entire professional career. You knew darn well you did something good if Dwayne called you.
“If you saw Dwayne was calling, you knew you must have done something good somewhere. It was always nice to hear from Dwayne, for sure … he had our sport’s best interest in mind at all times.”
Dwayne passed away at the age of 75 in the spring of 2013.
On Saturday, at the suggestion of the Calgary media eager to pay tribute to an old friend, the Calgary Stampede board renamed the South Media Press Box the “Dwayne Erickson Media Suite.”
Hay, among others, raised a glass of rum and Coke in his honour.
“With Dwayne, everybody he knew he loved rodeo,” Hay said. “All he wanted to do was to show rodeo the way it really is and show people what rodeo was about. All of the cowboys trusted him and loved him.
“He was one of the best things that ever happened to our sport, I believe.”
Saddle bronc rider Dustin Flundra agreed.
“I had him on speed dial, I’m pretty sure he had me on speed dial,” chuckled the Pincher Creek native. “If he didn’t know what we’d done already, he’d call to see how we did. You knew as soon as you got the call that you’d either won something somewhere or something didn’t go the way it should.
“Dwayne was going to get the stories both ways. I don’t know if you can find a person that has done more for sport than him … he thought we were rock stars and wanted us to have the same attention that other professionals got.”
Dwayne covered his first Calgary Stampede in 1982 and every National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas since 1985, working not only for the Herald and the Journal, but both the Edmonton and Calgary Suns, the Winnipeg Free Press, CBC-TV and the Canadian Rodeo News.
“If Dwayne trusted you, then you could be trusted,” wrote George Jonhson in a written tribute after his passing in 2013.
In 2000, he left the Calgary Sun to write for the Calgary Herald. I met him seven years later when I first started covering the rodeo. And I had no clue what I was doing.
But, gradually, after getting past his tough-as-leather exterior, I started to learn the importance of listening and watching, instead of talking.
Writing stories about good people and building good relationships, you see, was almost more important than the sport itself.
“He’s definitely missed among the cowboys,” Flundra said.“Especially the ones that got to know him as a person, not just as a reporter. He developed relationships with quite a few of us, beyond rodeos.
“Just before he passed away, he’d come to the Twin Butte Store because he’d heard all of us cowboys talk about what we’d do after Calgary. He wanted to come check it out … he was really interested in our lives outside of rodeo too.”
Dwayne — Dwayne-O or Cowboy, as he was known to the media covering the Calgary Stampede — said it best himself.
“What I have tried to do is explain that cowboys are not million-dollar hockey players or football players,” Dwayne had said when he was inducted in the Canadian Professional Rodeo Hall of Fame, a quote which will now be hung in the Dwayne Erickson Media Suite next to his photo. “They are good, everyday people who have the greatest sense of community that I have ever seen.
“It makes me so proud of this sport, because there isn’t a moment when they wouldn’t stick out their hand and help, in competition and in life.
“Rodeo is a life teacher.”