In 80 years, fair and rodeo has grown from small dairy show to big tradition
The Galveston County Fair & Rodeo was billed as a dairy show when it started in 1938, a way to shine a spotlight on the local dairy industry rising to prominence at the time.
To bolster the industry, the Galveston Chamber of Commerce in 1934 had pitched a dairy contest in which dairy farmers would compete for who had the best cattle and business, according to the Galveston County Fair & Rodeo. The idea went over well, with more and more cattle entered in competitions.
Then, in 1938, The Dairy Farmers’ Co-Operative Society of Galveston County announced plans for its own dairy show and cookout to be held Nov. 5 at the Arcadia rodeo grounds near Santa Fe, with 53 cows showing and about 500 people who turned out to watch, according to newspaper archives.
A lot has changed since then.
The Galveston County Fair & Rodeo celebrates its 80th anniversary this year with a nine-day festival — April 13-21 — expected to draw more than 50,000 visitors from around Texas, fair coordinator Melondy Bender said.
“Each year, we have a family reunion, a fair family that you’re excited to see,” Bender said. “We hope people come out and make memories they’ll remember forever.”
Larry Hinze, 74, grew up in Galveston around friends who raised cattle on the West End. He got into showing at the fair and rodeo in the late 1950s as a teenager in 4-H. The rodeo became a huge part of his life, he said.
“Not everybody plays football, not everybody plays baseball,” Hinze said. “There are people out there that love the equestrian life.”
Hinze served on the board of directors for the fair for about 35 years and has been the fair’s superintendent for the past 25, he said.
In his decades of involvement, Hinze has seen a lot of milestones, including the rodeo moving to its home in Jack Brooks Park in Hitchcock in 1984, he said. He also has watched as young ropers and barrel racers grew into rodeo professionals, he said. The event itself also has grown.
“The rodeo of the past was just a three-day event,” Hinze said. “Now, we have more than a week and something going on each day.”
The organization has added new events over the decades, such as mutton busting, bull riding and barrel racing, Hinze said.
The Galveston County Fair & Rodeo, a nonprofit organization promoting youth, education and agriculture, also has expanded its work to other parts of the year. Each year, the Galveston County Fair & Rodeo organizes the nine-day event in April, Winterfest around the holidays and its youth Summer Series, Bender said.
Initially, the event got off to a slow start when a tick quarantine on the mainland forced organizers to cancel the show in 1939 and scale back the event in 1940, according to research compiled by the rodeo. Throughout the 1940s, the rodeos got bigger and bigger, drawing in more attendees and competing cattle — and greater cash prizes.
The rodeo eventually grew out of its space at Runge Park in Arcadia near Santa Fe. In 1984, the county moved its fairgrounds to Jack Brooks Park, where it has been since.
The focus always has been on scholarship and opportunities for youth, Hinze said. Being involved in the fair and rodeo teaches students about agriculture and where food comes from, he said. But it also teaches responsibility, Bender said.
“They’re the ones feeding the animals, bathing them and getting them ready for shows,” Bender said. “They help their mom and dad. It keeps family values and traditions.”
Over the past eight decades, the rodeo also has carved its spot in thousands of people’s lives who spend the year preparing for the show, Hinze said.
“When people think of Galveston County, they think of beaches and Mardi Gras, they don’t look at the Western way of life,” Hinze said. “But there’s a lot of it out there.”