1 of 12
Mike Terry Deseret News

OGDEN — There isn't an aspect of the Ogden Pioneer Days rodeo that Mary Lynne Chino doesn't enjoy.

From the Weber County Sheriff's Mounted Posse riding in the same formations they did when she was a child in 1946 to the view of the surrounding mountains as the sun washes over them during the national anthem, she's enthralled with it all.

"I love the whole feel," she said. "It's your roots. It's your family. It's something that will never go away."

The affection Chino has for the 77-year-old rodeo is shared by thousands of residents in the area. Even if they choose to live elsewhere, many return with their families and friends and introduce them to a tradition that began in Ogden in 1934. This year, some 50,000 spectators will take in the rodeo during its five-day run.

The rodeo is a key part — or as some see it, the "crown jewel" — of the Pioneer Days Celebration. It all began in the heart of the Great Depression when Mayor Harman W. Peery decided the city needed to celebrate its pioneer heritage.

"I have seen firsthand how this type of celebration brings a community together," said Dave Halverson, this year's rodeo chairman. He acknowledges none of it would be possible without the more than 500 volunteers, including 16 committees, who make the weeklong celebration a reality.

Most of the volunteers are like Halverson. They grew up going to the rodeo with their parents or grandparents and probably pitching in. His father was a chairman in 1989 and 1994-95, so he found himself "shuffling horses and hauling bales of hay."

"The volunteers make it all happen," he said.

The task of putting together the rodeo is Herculean. Months before anyone enjoys any bull riding, organizers are meeting to plan logistics.

"We start going to other rodeos in March," said Halverson.

On Sunday afternoon, Pioneer Stadium is deserted. Dry and hot, the committee members and a handful of volunteers trickle in to begin decorating and hanging banners. Slowly, through the efforts of people like Paula Smith, the stadium is transformed into the center of the Pioneer Days Celebration.

Born and raised in the Ogden Valley, Smith, 60, volunteers in the Cowboy Hospitality Tent. She's attended the rodeo for as long as she can remember. It isn't just die-hard rodeo fans who fill the Pioneer Stadium in July, she said.

"For some people, this is the only rodeo they ever go to," she said. "I used to help sell tickets and people would line up at 3:30 a.m."

Marilyn Mills decided in December that taking some of her children and grandchildren to the Ogden Pioneer Days Rodeo would be like having Christmas in July.

"This is part of their Christmas present," said Mills, who grew up in Ogden but now lives in Murray. "I used to do this every year as a child."

It is an experience she wanted to share with those she loves most. "I just remember it as entertaining, fun and exciting," she said.

The rodeo is a source of pride, and something that links residents with their past and each other.

"It's something to be proud of," Mills said. "I used to sit at the back of the stadium. You could hear the river, feel the breeze from the river ... that is the way rodeo was meant to be experienced."

Fans of the rodeo understand and appreciate all the hours put in by volunteers to bring the show together.

And those who donate their time realize how important the tradition is to their neighbors. It is a relationship and reality that is difficult to put into words.

"I don't know how to explain it exactly," Halverson said. "The same reason it was started during the Depression. It provides life to our community. It's tradition for our families ... You can't overlook that people like to reflect on the pioneer heritage that settled this valley."

It is something volunteers feel as they serve those who migrate back to the stadium year after year.

Chino moved away from the area and said she missed the rodeo most of all. She rattles off memorable moments and parts of the show she still loves. She takes off her visor as a riderless horse enters the arena to honor fallen U.S. soldiers. And then she points to the mountains east of the stadium.

"Have you seen these mountains when the sun is setting?" she said, like it is a scene that belongs to her. "I love Ogden. I love the rodeo more than life itself."

e-mail: adonaldson@desnews.com