Photo by George Hipple Photography
Larry Gosnell with his award last year.
Larry Gosnell never thought he'd be involved in rodeo.
The North Platte man always came to watch the Buffalo Bill Rodeo when he was a kid, but he never thought he'd be behind the chutes.
It was in 1988 when Melvin Hill, another North Platte resident, stopped by his business, Larry’s Glass, on West Fifth. He asked Larry to go for a ride with him. They stopped for coffee and a donut, and Melvin asked if Larry would want to be on the Buffalo Bill Rodeo committee.
Melvin said the committee was made up of cowboys and businessmen, and they were looking for more businessmen.
“I said, I don't know anything about rodeo,” Larry remembers, and Melvin told him he didn't need to know anything about rodeo, he needed to know business. “I said, ‘you've got to be kidding.’ I thought it was a joke, and I was pretty sure I wouldn't be voted in.”
A few weeks later, after the rodeo board election, Melvin called Larry. You were a unanimous decision, he told him, and again Larry said, “You've got to be kidding me."
"I didn't know what I was getting into,” he laughs.
Larry joined the committee and right away was put to work. His jobs were sponsorships and organizing the meals served to cowboys, cowgirls, contract personnel, and special guests after each rodeo. He’s continued in those jobs, and now also does the daysheets, the listing of the contestants for each performance.
And 26 years later, he’s still at it and enjoying it. He loves meeting the people, seeing them through the growing up years of their kids, their lives throughout the years.
Stock contractor Bennie Beutler has been bringing bulls and horses and his family to North Platte for years.
“Bennie’s family grew up with my family,” Larry said. He’s made friends with cowboys and contract personnel from across the nation.
“Knowing all the cowboys who came to town” has been a thrill. “Ty Murray, Tom Reeves, Dan Mortensen, the Etbauers (saddle bronc riding brothers), the Suhns (steer wrestling brothers), so many of them.”
He’s enjoyed their friendship, and how they will literally give you the coat off their back. He remembers when the rodeo committee was to receive commemorative coats from Copenhagen-Skoal, and the sponsor was short one coat.
“Big old Randy Vaughn (who worked for Copenhagen-Skoal) took off his coat and gave it to me.”
He’s seen a lot of the rodeo entertainers come through town, too. Bullfighters Ted Kimzey and Leon Coffee, barrelman Butch Lehmkuhler, rodeo clown Keith Isley, and specialty acts The One Arm Bandit and Max Reynolds are among his friends.
And bullfighter Greg Rumohr, who worked the North Platte rodeo for 24 years before retiring in 2011, got his start the same year Larry began.
His daughter has continued with an interest in rodeo. Susie Dobbs, who lives in Nashville, was part of the Beyond Rodeo television show on RFD-TV for five years and has sung the national anthem at the National Finals Rodeo.
“That’s pretty special,” he says.
Last year, Larry was honored with the Buffalo Bill Rodeo’s Trail Boss Award, given annually to a volunteer who goes above and beyond with their support of the North Platte rodeo. He was caught off-guard.
“I had no idea,” he says. His daughter Susie awarded it to him, and he didn't realize he was the recipient till her presentation was nearly done. “That’s when I lost it,” he said. “And then I couldn't talk at all.”
He’s looking to retire from the rodeo committee, but his fellow committeemen aren't willing to let him go yet. “They say they need me for my wisdom,” he jokes.
And this June, he'll be back at the arena, ready for more rodeo. “If it hadn't been for Melvin, I would be there. I have to thank him, even though he’s gone, because I've had 26 of the most fun times of my life.”
The Buffalo Bill Rodeo takes place each evening at 8 p.m. June 18-21 at the Wild West Arena in North Platte. Tickets range in price from $7 to $20 and can be purchased online at NebraskalandDays.com, at the gate, and through the NebraskalandDays office (509 East 4th in North Platte.)
For more information, visit NebraskaLandDays.com or call the NebraskalandDays office at 308.532.7939.