The Industry Hills Pro Rodeo has helped children in need in East San Gabriel Valley for more than 31 years.
Sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA), the event has taken place annually, in September or October, since 1986. Ticket prices this year were a reasonable $18 for adults, $12 for seniors (ages 60+) and $8 for children (3-11).
Saturday and Sunday afternoons, the Pro Rodeo is open to the public. A Community Kids Day takes place the Friday before. Here, local schoolchildren watch the rodeo with their classmates and teachers as part of class curriculum covering the history of the early West.
It was on this day that I was invited to visit by Pro Rodeo chairman extraordinaire Larry Hartmann.
I arrived at the Industry Hills Expo Center Arena at 9 a.m.
In spite of his myriad duties, Larry, along with his wife Corinne, greeted me warmly. He also managed to finagle a seat for me on the horse-drawn stagecoach, generally reserved for dignitaries such as city council people who officially open the rodeo by making a grand entrance and slowly circling the arena. I hung out the window giving the Queen Mum wave to the youngsters who, with heartwarming enthusiasm, wildly clapped and cheered.
Then the event began and I realized at once that I had mentally conflated a 4-H County Fair and a rodeo. A 4-H fair has darling lambs with flowers in their hair, contented prize milk cows and contests for Best Raspberry Preserves and Biggest Pumpkin. A rodeo features loud and stimulating spectacles such as bull riding, bareback riding, saddled bronco riding, team roping, barrel racing and freestyle motocross.
I averted my eyes as a bewildered brown-and-white calf was chased on horseback, hurled to the ground and wrestled by a giant human. No, this was a far cry from the vegan, gluten-free, lapdog worshipping PETA crowd of Silver Lake and Echo Park. Still, I loved being among 4,000 delirious children, amped to the gills on the Norco Rodeo Cowgirl Drill Team, giant bulls and sugar.
I wandered out to tour the concession stands. Souvenirs included cowboy boot key chains, flocked nodding head animals ($4), and Wild West Ranger Sets (plastic rifle, bow and arrows, handcuffs).
It did my heart good to see kids charging through, brandishing pink snow cones, plastic bags of blue cotton candy and slices of pizza with a bag of M&M’s balanced on top.
Ah — God and country!
But back to the Pro Rodeo. The event’s major sponsors are the City of Industry and the Industry Manufacturers Council.
One primary recipient of the rodeo’s largesse is the Delhaven Community Center, a learning and recreational facility for the physically handicapped and developmentally disabled that, among other activities, provides an opportunity for children ages 5 to 14 to attend summer camp. Another, the Youth Activities League, is run by L.A. County Sheriff’s Department volunteers and aims through channels such as sports, camping and cheerleading to deter young people from getting involved with gangs. In addition, Pro Rodeo proceeds help support the YMCA Summer Swim Program.
The Gabriel Foundation, founded in 1985, distributes the money and has donated in excess of $2.3 million to children in need over the years.
I was honored to meet Ron McPeak, the foundation’s current president. The Pro Rodeo is made possible almost exclusively by 500 or so volunteers who work all year. Ron, like many of them, has been involved since its inception. Their first year, three-plus decades ago, they were able to clear $3,300. Last year, they were able to donate back about $95,000.
“Incredible,” I said, glancing out over the crowd. “What a lot of work this must be.”
Ron gestured to Larry. “No, no; he’s the guy. You want to talk about hard work. You want to talk about a heart.”
In fact, perhaps the spirit of the Industry Hills Charity Pro Rodeo is best exemplified by its pick for 2017 Volunteer of the Year: Troy Helling. “Troy has a wonderful ‘get it done’ attitude,” the organization’s website notes. “Troy’s main duty is making sure the trash cans are placed properly and that they get changed when full.”
Could any task be more essential to the smooth running of the Pro Rodeo, and more unsung, than emptying what must surely be its perpetually overflowing trash receptacles?
Just then a group walked by — adults tenderly groping for one another’s hands; their faces, perhaps not entirely comprehending, raised to the sun. “Those are some folks from Delhaven,” said Corinne. I watched as their shepherd patiently guided them toward the arena.
“Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est,” we sing at Holy Thursday, over the washing of the feet.
“Where charity and love are, God is there.”
Heather King is a blogger, speaker and the author of several books.