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LeMoine, last member of original Spooner Rodeo Committee, passes away

Courtesy of BILL THORNLEY

Bob LeMoine, the last link to Spooner, Wisconsin’s original rodeo in 1954, has died.

He passed away March 24, surrounded by his family at the age of 90. Funeral services took place March 29, at Trinity Lutheran Church in Spooner. His favorite cowboy hat sat atop his casket. Burial was in the Spooner Cemetery.

There were none more proud of the Spooner Rodeo than Bob. He wore the red shirt of the Spooner Rodeo Committee with great distinction.

Over 40 years in the job and as a member of the Spooner Rodeo Committee, I had many occasions to interview Bob and explore his connection to the birth of the Spooner Rodeo.

In the community

Many find it hard to imagine him not being in the rodeo arena in July to celebrate the 65th Spooner Rodeo. He was the last surviving member of the original Spooner Rodeo Committee formed in 1954.

Bob will also be missed at Trinity Lutheran Church, at the Washburn County Fair, and for the first time in memory he won’t be first in line at the Tri-County Dairy Breakfast in June. He always loved not only the Dairy Breakfast, but also spending the early morning hours drinking a hot cup of coffee, talking with friends and neighbors. 

A love for farming and horses

Bob was, to say the least, one of a kind. His cowboy hat was dusty and stained. His boots wouldn’t hold a shine anymore. But it didn’t matter. They were for working. And sometimes, working and relaxing could be the same thing, as I found out in talking to him.

In earlier days, Bob owned draft horses, which he used to work his farm. In an era when people seemed to be moving faster and faster, Bob didn’t mind doing his work the old-fashioned way, even if it meant moving a little slower.

“I can have a hectic day and I’ll come home, take a pair of horses, cultivate, and it relaxes me,” he told. “It’s therapy. Some people go fishing, I enjoy my horses.”

Along with the tall, muscular draft horses, Bob also owned saddle horses, donkeys, pigs, chickens, and pheasants and other assorted critters.

Heading North at age 15

In his long life, along with his farming, Bob worked at Barron Electric, he was a farm herdsman, and had jobs at the Spooner Feed Mill, Haugen  Sawmill, and the Locker Plant. He was employed in refrigeration with Art Lehman, at Benson-Thompson Realty, and was an officer of the law in Washburn and Burnett counties. 

“I was born in Sioux City, Iowa, but I’ve been up here since before I can remember,” he said. “I came up here when I was 15 and never went back. You might say I’ve been here all my life. I’ve always been on a farm, always.”

In true cowboy fashion, he even had his own state brand, the Diamond L.

“Back in the old days, everything was done with horses. And back then, everybody had time to help each other. Now days, with all the modern equipment, nobody has time to help his neighbor anymore,” he  told me once.

A cowboy soul

As stated, Bob LeMoine was the last of the Spooner Rodeo originals, a true local legend and link to the historical past. 

He was a cowboy in body and soul, seldom seen without his beloved cowboy hat on his head and a pair of work gloves stuck in his back pocket.

Even as he grew elderly and cancer took a toll, he would attend Spooner Rodeo Committee work nights, if for no other reason, I think, than just to be there and make sure everything was going alright.

“I’ve been with the rodeo since Day One,” he said proudly. “Five of us went down to Cherokee, Iowa when Bob Barnes first started and saw one of the first rodeos he ever put on. It was Gib Durand, Bill Stewart, Gib Grunning, Bob Durand and myself.”

Without Bob and the other originals, it is safe to say the Spooner Rodeo might not have made it. 

“Eight or nine of us went to the bank and got a loan to put the thing on,” he told of the very first Spooner Rodeo in 1954. “When we built the first arena all the posts were cut where I live. They were white oaks.”

There was early opposition to the idea of rodeo in Spooner, but something clicked that first year as the Barnes Rodeo played out in the little hand-built arena with the poles cut from Bob LeMoine’s farm.

The nay-sayers were proven wrong. People loved the rodeo, and it came back for a second year in 1955. This July the Spooner Rodeo will explode into the arena for the 65th consecutive year, thanks to those like Bob who believed.

Changing times

The sport of pro rodeo, he noted, changed a lot from 1954 and the first Spooner Rodeo. It became a faster, more expensive sport.

“Back in 1954 all the contestants would come to town and stay all week,” he recalled. “Now they come in, ride, and fly out the same night. Before, they used to bring their whole families up. It was like a big family party here. It’s not like that anymore. Now there is a lot more money involved, they have to get to as many rodeos as they can. 

“I guess I’m old fashioned, but I liked it better the other way. Everything is so hurried up now. Back then you could meet the contestants, really get to know them. Oh, you still make friends, but not like you used to. I don’t like this fast pace.”

Bob seemed to have a great fondness for the slower pace of the “Good Old Days.” But even in his 70s and early 80s, his “slower pace” could still probably outlast many younger men who tried to keep up with him. He once described his daily routine.

“I get up at quarter to three every morning, three o’clock at the very latest,” he once said. “I go to work at 6:30 a.m. I’ve done it for years. How long I work all depends. If you’re haying you work till dark and eat later. There’s always something to do.”

Feeling blessed by life

Bob attended the old Fairview and Oak Hill country schools in his youth.

“I quit school when I got out of eighth grade,” he said. “ That was one of those deals where you didn’t think you needed to know any more at the time, but now you wish you’d gone on. But I guess I’m happy.

“I have a real simple thought on life … every man should have a good dog, a good horse and a good wife. I don’t necessarily mean in that order. I’ve been blessed with all three, so I have no complaints. I’ve had some awful good companions.”

In his younger years, Bob served as President of the Washburn County Fair Association.

“You gotta love kids, and I do,” he said of his reasons for staying involved for many years. “My theory is the fair is a big country picnic where everybody can get together and have a good time.”

He also served many years on the Spooner Rodeo Committee as arena chairman.

Rodeo supporter to the end

“I think the rodeo is going real good,” he once said. “We have a committee chairman in Dick Fankhauser who I think is one of the greatest. He is a good promoter and a good worker.

“The rodeo is hard to put on.  You used to operate on gate receipts. You can’t do that anymore. Like everything else, it costs a pile of money to put it on. We keep trying to better ourselves all the time. It takes a lot of hard work each year.”

Bob was a big part of the Spooner Rodeo Committee that was voted Committee of the Year in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association in 1984. 

At the time of this interview, Bob was still a huge supporter of the rodeo and planned on staying with it well into old age, which he did.

“Rodeo is good entertainment for the whole family,” he said. And I think it is about the fairest sport there is. It’s pretty hard to buy off one of those bulls or horses. It’s a sport that is about as honest as you can get. It is pretty hard to cheat in rodeo.

“I really enjoy the rodeo. I plan on sticking around as long as they’ll let me and as long as I can.”

Bob knew he wouldn’t be around forever. Back in 2003, just before the 50th Spooner Rodeo, he made this statement.

“I always plan long-range,” he said, lamenting the fact that most of the men he had started the rodeo with, old friends, were gone. “I want to hang around until the 50th. Then, maybe I can go.”

Well, Bob, you did it. You not only made the 50th, but almost the 65th. You will be missed this July. A little bit of the Spooner Rodeo died with you.

Yet I can imagine the old cowboy, reunited with all his old friends from the past, taking in the 65th and cheering long and loud. He’ll have on his finest cowboy hat, and his work gloves will be crammed in his back pocket … just in case something needs fixing.

And of course, he’ll be wearing his red Spooner Rodeo Committee shirt, the shirt he wore so proudly for almost 65th years.

There will be no pain from cancer, no aches and fatigue from 90 years of an incredible life. Just happiness and pride at seeing competitors gallop across the rodeo arena aboard a bronc or bull as the crowd roars.

Thanks, Bob. Thanks for taking out that loan, for suppling the trees for the first arena and believing back in 1954.

 
 
 
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