Thousands Gather for Knights Rodeo
8/27/2019By Joe Pappalardo
Knights’ rural Michigan rodeo draws massive crowds each year
GAINES, Mich. — Thousands of people have gathered for a two-night rodeo courtesy of St. Joseph Knights of Columbus Council 12186 and other local sponsors for the past 17 years. When Lee Wendt, then the council’s grand knight, cleared a field full of debris he helped start what would become one of the largest rodeos in the region that also raises as much as $40,000 for charity each year.
While the Knights provide staff to manage the crowd, concessions, logistics and the field itself, The Flying Star Rodeo Company handles the rest. The rodeo has all the necessities — cowgirls’ barrel racing, bronco riding, cattle roping and, of course, bull riding. Attendees, who form a crowd of nearly 5,000, even come from nearby cities like Flint. Riders have come from the 48 continental states to compete in the event, named Rodeo of the Year in 2003 and 2005 by the Mid-States Rodeo Association.
“In 2003, we had our first rodeo, and it might not have been big, but it was something, and it was the beginning of where we are right now,” Lee’s son Brian said.
That “something” now brings thousands of people together. The Knights even made it more family-friendly by isolating alcohol to the entertainment tent. It’s not your typical rodeo.
Brian, also a Knight, organizes the rodeo, including the food pavilion and surrounding vendors, the entertainment tent with the band and mechanical bull, and the rodeo trailers that pour into town. He promotes the event heavily on social media, giving away free tickets through Facebook and YouTube videos leading up to the weekend.
According to Grand Knight Mike Gentry, Knights volunteered at least 2,000 hours in the week of the rodeo and countless more in the preparation prior. They’re not short on help either — the council sees about 25 members at every meeting, and draws even more volunteers from Knights’ families and neighbors.
“It’s just a great way to grow deeper in your Catholic faith,” Deacon Wayne Corrion, a Knight himself, said, explaining why men should become Knights. “Between the community events like this, where we all work together with prayer, it just continues to draw us deeper into Christ.”
The proceeds from the rodeo were dedicated to Habitat for Humanity this year. In the past the Knights’ funds have contributed to causes including veterans’ organizations, wildfire relief and even a hot water heater for an 84-year-old woman who went two years without one because of her fixed-budget income. Little happens in Gaines without the Knights of Columbus being involved.
“They help with all of our needs at the church, including things like clerical garments, candles, things we use at the altar,” Corrion said. “They’re quite a backbone as far as the Catholic faith in this community.”
Gentry said Corrion has been a solid leader at the parish of St. Joseph, constantly supporting the Knights at events like the rodeo, although the deacon refused to ride a bull without direct orders from a higher office.
“Talk to the pope” Corrion said.
They might have to. It’s not your average rodeo.
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