Since its 1989 be­gin­ning, only one per­son has re­mained con­tin­u­ously com­mit­ted to the USTRC through­out its de­vel­op­ment, own­er­ship changes, moves, and in­no­va­tions—un­til now. Judy Dawes, cus­tomer service ex­traor­di­naire and the sen­tinel of the USTRC, has reti

Spin to Win Rodeo - - Features -

Af­ter a nearly 30-year run with the USTRC as the first-ever paid em­ployee, Judy Dawes, cus­tomer service ex­traor­di­naire, has re­tired. by G.R. Schi­avino

In the late 1980s, then-lob­by­ist Denny Gen­try wit­nessed Judy Dawes run­ning the New Mex­ico gover­nor’s of­fice in Santa Fe. He al­ready knew her from team rop­ing cir­cles, but that day, he dis­cov­ered the per­son that could help him get his big idea off the ground.

“To­day, she’s one of the last, hard­core sec­re­taries,” Denny said. “When I saw Judy han­dling that of­fice, I knew I had found the first em­ployee. That was who I wanted help­ing me.”

The big idea, of course, was a recre­ational team rop­ing as­so­ci­a­tion with a num­ber sys­tem. What be­gan as the New Mex­ico Team Rop­ing Cham­pi­onships, in short or­der grew to be the United States Team Rop­ing Cham­pi­onships, and Judy was there at ev­ery step and mis­step, re­lent­lessly heav­ing the coals onto a some­times out-of­con­trol fire that be­came the am­a­teur team rop­ing of to­day.

Now on the eve of her 75th birth­day, Judy grew up in Wy­oming and be­gan rop­ing com­pet­i­tively when she was 35, and of­ten of­fered up her sec­re­tar­ial ser­vices at the rop­ings in or­der to sup­port her new-found habit.

“I started work­ing rop­ings back in the early ’80s,” Judy said. “And in Ari­zona, I worked for Jim Ri­ley at the orig­i­nal Dy­na­mite Arena, so that’s where I re­ally got my start and made some key con­nec­tions.”

When a sub­se­quent move took Judy to New Mex­ico and she was look­ing for work, it was that ex­pe­ri­ence that got her foot in the door with the cam­paign­ing politi­cian.

“They said, ‘ Do you know com­put­ers?’,” Judy re­mem­bered, “And I said, ‘Sure!’ But I had ab­so­lutely no idea. I went and took a crash course on how to turn on a com­puter and do dif­fer­ent things. But, of course, I walk into work and their com­put­ers are com­pletely dif­fer­ent from any­thing I’d ever seen. It was a bless­ing, though, be­cause they sent me to IBM school to learn.”

That op­por­tu­nity, com­bined with Judy’s first-hand knowl­edge of the team rop­ing busi­ness, opened the door for the de­vel­op­ment of the first US clas­si­fi­ca­tion sys­tem. By the time the USTRC part­nered with Gary Poythress at Rodeo Com­puter Ser­vices to build a data­base, they were al­ready han­dling 15,000 rop­ers on a spread­sheet that Judy had de­signed. It’s an ac­com­plish­ment that marks both the most chal­leng­ing and the most suc­cess­ful as­pects of her time with the USTRC.

“At our first New Mex­ico Cham­pi­onships, I could see how suc­cess­ful it was go­ing to be,” Judy re­called. “Be­tween the par­tic­i­pa­tion and how well re­ceived it was with the rop­ers; for them to be able to rope in their skill level … they fell in love with it.”

By 1990, the first USTRC fi­nals was be­ing planned, even though the or­ga­ni­za­tion had yet to be able to af­ford it­self. Rop­ers and pro­duc­ers were sign­ing on and there was no lack of en­thu­si­asm for the as­so­ci­a­tion, but be­hind the scenes was an al­to­gether dif­fer­ent story. Denny’s wife, Con­nie, was us­ing her sin­gu­lar salary to pay Judy’s (very mod­est) salary and to the or­ga­ni­za­tion she and her hus­band were op­er­at­ing from their garage afloat. But the freight train that was the USTRC was rolling, charg­ing down the moun­tain.

“In the ’90s,” Denny said, think­ing back to the early days, “the USTRC was rockin’. We would put on a three- or four-day events in Phoenix, Scotts­dale, or Al­bu­querque and have 3,300–3,600 teams in it, and we would run three full go-rounds. Com­pare that to right now where the World Se­ries Fi­nale has 3,900 teams—just 300 more—and it takes seven days.”

And ac­cord­ing to the rop­ers, it was a golden era of good times. But be­hind the cur­tain, it was hair-on-fire mad­ness that only the hardi­est could han­dle.

When the de­ci­sion was made to build a na­tional data­base, R.W. “Dig­ger” Howard, who founded the Orig­i­nal Team Rop­ing As­so­ci­a­tion in 1987 and had a hand­i­capped num­ber sys­tem, gra­ciously shared his list of Texas rop­ers, giv­ing the USTRC a solid foun­da­tion to be­gin build­ing their net­work. It marked the be­gin­ning of end­less hours spent on the phones get­ting in­for­ma­tion on rop­ers across the coun­try, an en­deavor that had not yet been pur­sued un­til then.

At the same time, desk­top com­put­ers were be­com­ing com­mon work­force tools, and Judy be­gan team­ing up with pro­gram­mers to bet­ter com­mu­ni­cate how the data­base needed to op­er­ate to best serve the team rop­ing com­mu­nity. And un­til the data­base was built, ev­ery­thing was be­ing done by hand.

Judy was trav­el­ing across the coun­try shar­ing her skills and ex­per­tise with sec­re­taries and pro­duc­ers alike, help­ing them get their newly sanc­tioned USTRC rop­ings off the ground and on­line.

“Judy would log some­where around 50,000 miles a year go­ing to all those rop­ings,” Denny mused. “We were putting on 200 rop­ings a year and I needed her train­ing the sec­re­taries in all those places. Well, we did not have the tech­nol­ogy back then and we would be string­ing ca­ble for x-hun­dred feet and car­ry­ing the sheets on golf carts from one arena to the next. That’s how sim­plis­tic it was. Judy would tell the sec­re­taries they needed to back up the com­put­ers, and would give them a packet with car­bon pa­per. That was our back-up sys­tem: triple car­bon pa­per with all the sheets writ­ten out long-hand!”

It’s been long enough to look back now and see the hu­mor in all of it, but back then, mak­ing the magic hap­pen re­quired true met­tle.

“Denny was real good about send­ing me to dif­fer­ent parts of the coun­try,” Judy

be­gan, “but I didn’t know what I was get­ting into. All-Around Cow­boy Cham­pion Paul Tier­ney was putting on a rop­ing up in Belle Fourche, South Dakota, and it’s just out in a big pas­ture. He says, ‘I have a trailer for you for an of­fice,’ and pulls up a four-horse stock trailer and gives me a card ta­ble to work on. When I sug­gested a chair, he asked, ‘Will this work?,’ and gave me a five-gal­lon bucket. So, we rigged up elec­tric­ity for my com­put­ers and that’s where I took en­tries.

“Denny called me,” Judy re­counted, chuck­ling, “and he said, ‘How’s it go­ing? How many stalls do they have?’ I said, ‘Denny, there are no stalls here. There are hob­bles for when they turn their horses out in that 90-acre pas­ture!’

Con­nie speaks sim­i­larly of their first event in Ari­zona, which was met with mon­soon rains.

“Denny was out in the rain try­ing to build pens for the cat­tle,” she ex­claimed, “and Judy and I were patch­ing holes in ceil­ing to try to keep the water out!”

“Now they have all th­ese fancy fa­cil­i­ties, but that’s how it started,” Judy con­cluded. “It’s come a long way.”

Though desk­top com­put­ers were hit­ting their stride, the USTRC de­vel­oped long be­fore email and other forms of in­stant com­mu­ni­ca­tion came into play, mak­ing land­lines and di­rect mail­ings the in­for­ma­tion mules of the time.

“We worked a lot at night,” Judy ex­plained, “be­cause that was the only time to be in con­tact with the rop­ers. Back in the day, you didn’t just call any­body up on any hour of the day or night. We had to wait and go in the of­fice in the evening and catch them when they’d come in for sup­per, or home from work, be­cause there weren’t any cell phones.”

The same went for mail­ings, which, in the be­gin­ning, were sent to each roper for each in­di­vid­ual rop­ing.

“Lots of mail­ings went out on Con­nie’s kitchen ta­ble,” Judy con­tin­ued, “and I was burn­ing the can­dle at both ends. The kids suf­fered, but I was the sole provider. I would make sure they were safe and sound and then I would leave home at mid­night and go to the of­fice and work un­til the wee hours of the morn­ing and catch up on stuff and then go back home and make sure they got off to school.”

Judy was rais­ing her two daugh­ters at the time, Jody and Chanteal, who of­ten lent their mom a help­ing hand.

“I’ll never for­get,” Judy re­counted fondly, “Jody was in high school and we were stuff­ing mail­ings for Texas, and she goes, ‘Mom, do you re­al­ize how many peo­ple are named Bubba in Texas? Look at all th­ese Bub­bas!’”

(Fun fact: To­day, there are 85 reg­is­tered rop­ers named Bubba in Texas.)

The mail­ings, which would even­tu­ally lead to the cre­ation of Su­perLooper, were grunt work. But so was most of the work in the be­gin­ning, when it was just Judy, Denny, and Con­nie.

“I think back to times when prize sad­dles would show up un­fin­ished,” Denny said. “The three of us would sit down on the floor and paint the let­ters on the sad­dles all night. I can’t tell you how many nights we would fin­ish when the sun was com­ing up. Judy’s deal was al­ways that she would do what­ever the hell had to be done to make things work.”

It’s a con­vic­tion that Judy ap­plied to ev­ery as­pect with­out ex­cep­tion, even her own rop­ing.

“I think it was in the early ‘90s, I was rop­ing with World-Cham­pion heeler Den­nis Motes in Guthrie in the shootout,” Judy re­ported. “We had our two steers down re­ally good, and some catas­tro­phe hap­pened at the of­fice. I ran in there to take care of what­ever it was, and as I’m help­ing solve what­ever was go­ing on, I heard them call, ‘Third call. Dawes and Motes. Turn ’em out.’”

Think­ing that Judy gave up what may have been a once-in-a-life­time arena op­por­tu­nity is a bit gut-wrench­ing, but she stands solid in her de­ci­sion to this day.

“That was back in the day when you didn’t get your steers back,” she went on. “But we set a prece­dent. I know some of the rop­ers thought some of the rules were a lit­tle harsh, but we just had to say no. It set a prece­dent, and that’s what made it suc­cess­ful—fol­low­ing our guide­lines and en­forc­ing them. If we had just been lack­adaisi­cal, we could have never set the kind of stan­dard that we needed then and re­main true to to­day.”

Still, be­tween draw­ing hard lines and work­ing un­for­giv­ing hours, Judy es­tab­lished her­self as the go-to re­source in the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“Her great­est skill is her re­source­ful­ness,” Con­nie re­flected. “She had such a strong work ethic and, if she needed to learn how to do some­thing, she’d just stick with it. And now, she’s prob­a­bly the most well-known sec­re­tary in team rop­ing.”

“Judy made about 10,000 peo­ple think that she was their per­sonal sec­re­tary” Denny added. “It was good and bad be­cause they wouldn’t talk to any­body but her, so she made her job dou­ble-tough over the years be­cause she wanted to take care of her peo­ple. But it’s no lie, over the course of that 30-year run, there were thou­sands of them that be­lieved Judy was the only one that could take care of their busi­ness.”

When asked how she did it, Judy humbly chalks up her sta­tus to the fact that she had sim­ply been around long enough to know how all of it worked.

“It’s just be­cause, when you grow with a com­pany, you have all the an­swers be­cause you’ve been on the plan­ning end of it and the trial-and-er­ror part of it. And there was a lot of trial and er­ror back in those days—try­ing to try some­thing that might work. So you just grow that knowl­edge.

“But,” she went on, “the main thing is just take care of your cus­tomer. The rest will fall into place as long as you’re tak­ing care of your cus­tomers. They’re your bread and but­ter in this or­ga­ni­za­tion, even the un­pleas­ant ones. And there are a lot of those, but the good over­ride the bad. My at­ti­tude was al­ways that with­out them, I wouldn’t have a liv­ing and we wouldn’t have the suc­cess­ful team rop­ing we have to­day, so we have to take care of them, too.”

Judy knew an­swers to ev­ery an­gle that team rop­ers could pos­si­ble throw at her,” Arkie Kiehne, who worked with Judy in and out of the USTRC for 25 years, re­vealed. “And, be­lieve me, they can throw a lot of an­gles.

“She’s The Duke. She’s the John Wayne of team rop­ing, as far as I’m con­cerned. She could do any­thing in any part of the or­ga­ni­za­tion; and she ex­pected it to be done right. And if it wasn’t, she’d dang sure tell you.”

It’s no se­cret that Judy could pull a don’t-mess-with-me card from time to time, es­pe­cially at the end of big rop­ing, when the of­fice was shut­ting down, and it was fi­nally time to go home ... which is ex­actly when a 13-year-old Ben Cle­ments de­cided to col­lect the check for the first rop­ing he’d ever won.

“I was ter­ri­fied,” Ben, who now han­dles event sched­ul­ing and fa­cil­ity as­sis­tance for the USTRC, said of his first en­counter. “And when I be­gan an­nounc­ing years later, I would check if she was go­ing to be work­ing there be­cause she had left such an im­pres­sion on me.”

What Ben soon came to re­al­ize is that you can’t nav­i­gate the team rop­ing world with­out rub­bing el­bows with Judy. (“She’s kind of like Cher,” Ben ex­plained. “It’s not Judy Dawes. It’s Judy.”) They be­gan work­ing the same rop­ings, and when Ben hired on at the USTRC in 1997, it was no time at all be­fore they were trav­el­ing the miles to­gether and build­ing a life­long friend­ship. When the Gen­trys sold the USTRC to Equibrand in 1999, Ben and Judy made the move from Al­bu­querque to Stephenville to­gether.

“If there had been no Judy Dawes,” Ben sup­posed, “I think the team rop­ing in­dus­try would have felt that tran­si­tion. She was the con­stant that didn’t change. She was able to help the pow­ers-that-be learn the in­dus­try while help­ing the team rop­ers feel com­fort­able about the changes.”

For Ben, who has lit­er­ally trav­eled from coast to coast with Judy, a woman whom his wife re­gards as a mother and his chil­dren re­gard as a grand­mother, her re­tire­ment is bit­ter­sweet.

“I’m happy for her,” he con­firmed, “but in an­other way, it’s a loss for the team rop­ing in­dus­try. She’s an awe­some am­bas­sador to our sport and she’s been the mother hen to all the sec­re­taries, timers, an­nounc­ers, ev­ery­body, and has herded them in the right di­rec­tion. She’s a tough woman, but deep down, she’s car­ing and pas­sion­ate, and a stick­ler for or­ga­ni­za­tion and suc­cess.

In the nearly 30 years spent with the USTRC, Se­nior Cus­tomer Service is as close to an of­fi­cial ti­tle as she was ever given. She sug­gests that “Jack of all trades, master of none” may have been just as ap­pli­ca­ble—as there likely isn’t a ti­tle that could pos­si­bly in­cor­po­rate all that she took re­spon­si­bil­ity for—but service to oth­ers is cer­tainly a trade­mark.

“Judy Dawes is an icon in this in­dus­try,” Ken Bray, Equibrand’s pres­i­dent and Judy’s boss of 17 years, posited. “She has ded­i­cated her life to the sport and her con­tri­bu­tions helped shape and trans­form team rop­ing into the sport it is to­day. She is a stick­ler for get­ting it right, but she is a friend to all.”

It’s a fact that cer­tainly aids in Judy’s tran­si­tion away from the USTRC.

“Peo­ple are al­ways need­ing me to do some­thing,” Judy com­mented on her new post-re­tire­ment life. “It’s not like I’m not still busy. I’m a babysit­ter. Have been my whole life, tak­ing care of ev­ery­body.”

It’s a tra­di­tion that she is happy to con­tinue with her own grand­chil­dren—Faye, 5, and 12-year-old Billy.

“Billy is very busy in sports and athletics,” Judy stated. “And Faye de­cided she wants to be a bar­rel racer. We do a lot of stuff to­gether be­cause I have time now and I’m home more.”

For those who may be won­der­ing what team rop­ing will look like with­out Judy, rein it in. That’s not what’s hap­pen­ing.

“I will con­tinue to stay in­volved as long as I can drag my leg out the door,” Judy as­serted. “I do miss the day-to-day rap­port with the rop­ers, but I still work a lot of the rop­ings. I still have a lot of the pro­duc­ers call­ing me to work. So, as long as I en­joy it. Be­cause that’s where the rest of my fam­ily is—on the road out there in ev­ery part of the coun­try.”

In look­ing back at her time with the USTRC, Judy laments that she didn’t keep a jour­nal (though who could imag­ine keep­ing a jour­nal in ad­di­tion to ev­ery­thing else she was man­ag­ing) to help her keep track of all the sto­ries and the peo­ple who have shaped her life.

“There are so many peo­ple who I have in my mem­ory that have in­flu­enced me and made me grow; I don’t know where to start,” Judy ad­mit­ted. “We’ve cer­tainly been a lot of miles, made a lot of mem­o­ries, and sur­vived a lot of dis­as­ters—tor­na­does, floods, hur­ri­canes. But it’s kind of like child­birth. You re­mem­ber the good parts.

“I tease Denny and say, ‘I wish I’d had your crys­tal ball since you al­ways seem to know what’s down the road.’ And the rop­ers would never have much of a clue what was go­ing on be­hind the cur­tain. All they knew was their name was called and they got to rope.”

It’s a truth Denny mar­vels at, as well. “The ma­jor­ity of it hap­pened be­cause a small core group of peo­ple spent more time and more ef­fort than com­mon sense should al­low,” he noted. “I al­ways thought it had to be di­vine in­ter­ven­tion that brought all of them to­gether. To­tal com­mit­ment and ded­i­ca­tion cre­ated the mod­ern day in­dus­try. Judy would have to be at the top of that list.”

“She just loves team rop­ing,” Con­nie fol­lowed, “and this com­mu­nity has been her life. She was on the front line since day one and, of­ten, a per­son will harden and burn out from it all. But for Judy, it’s been the op­po­site. Her time with the rop­ing com­mu­nity has given her grace.”




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