University of Minnesota Alumni Association

The Last Word

Rodeo U

In February, 1972, a cowboy from Nebraska came to campus. He felt the University of Minnesota needed a rodeo team.

This is what a 70-plus-year-old student activist looks like now, says Kiewel. He adds that the buckle for the U of M Rodeo Association is something he wears every day. (And 50 years later, he still has the rope one of his fellow rodeo enthusiasts left in his mom's car.)
Photo courtesy of Larry Kiewel

In February, 1972, a cowboy from Nebraska came to campus. His name was Bob Cherry and he was from the Sandhill country of Northern Nebraska. Mr. Cherry felt the University of Minnesota needed a rodeo team.

I was studying agricultural economics and finishing my second year as the president of the Student Center Board of Governors at the time. Cherry was looking for horse people on the St. Paul campus, and I was easy to find. I wore an aging Stetson and practiced roping a stump in front of 1306 Cleveland Avenue.

I used my skills in student government to register a rodeo team as an approved organization, opened a bank account through the University, and received a grant to place an ad in the Minnesota Daily for the first meeting. Then, on the last Thursday in February, a dozen or so horse people showed up at the Livestock Pavilion. We passed the hat for dues and started a rodeo school, meeting every Tuesday and Thursday.

Mr. Cherry and members of the Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity made a bucking dummy from a 55-gallon barrel, four garage springs, some rope and connectors. Someone else showed up with a homemade roping dummy. We practiced roping and “riding.” The bucking dummy was attached to four corners of the Livestock Pavilion and we took turns tying ourselves to the barrel with a bull rope. Then, four guys (or gals) pulled on the ropes to make the barrel buck.

After a while, Mr. Cherry said we needed live horses to see if we really wanted to be bronc riders. So, someone found an indoor arena in Coates, Minnesota, that would let us set up bucking chutes with horses that were supplied by an auction service.

At the end of March, Mr. Cherry went home to help with his family’s ranch and our new rodeo club entered the University of Nebraska Rodeo. Five of us drove to Lincoln in my mom’s car.

I was the bareback bronc rider. Matt Bad Heart Bull, who was from Wounded Knee, South Dakota, rode saddle broncs and calf roped. Two boys from the Minneapolis campus with high school rodeo experience brought their calf roping horse. Two sisters, Ellen and Colleen, from Osseo, and Jane Jacobi from Vernon Center joined us. The sisters had high school rodeo experience in barrel racing and goat tying. This was a scouting trip for them. They also sewed up a set of maroon and gold vests for us to wear during the competition.

Afterwards, there was a rodeo dance, which led to even more interesting stories than the actual rodeo. But, we survived and made it back to campus.

By the time we competed in the next rodeo, which was at the University of South Dakota, our group had acquired more rodeo equipment.

I bought a bareback rigging, spurs, and a bull rope. My parents sprung for a pair of chaps. (Jane Jacobi would eventually leave her brand new calf rope in my mom’s car, which I still have to this day.) I sported a well-worn cowboy hat every day that winter.

We didn’t get the club back together in the fall because no one ever called me to ask when the next meeting was.

I still have Jane’s rope, the bareback rigging, and some bucking straps we had made up for the rodeo school.

Larry Kiewel (B.S. ’78) was active for 40 consecutive years in Minnesota 4-H and worked in manufacturing. He and his wife, Marci, have a son, daughter, and five grandsons.