The first ever Upper Peninsula Championship Rodeo was held August 10 & 11, 1968. At that time it was known as the “Iron River Area Championship Rodeo”.
Weeks earlier, on July 18th , the rodeo committee members were the guests of the Spooner Rodeo committee of Spooner, Wisconsin. Committee members were pictured in the Iron River Reporter with actor Ken Curtis from the television show ‘Gunsmoke’.
The crowd for the weekend performances was estimated to be around 10,000. Contestants participating in the two shows included Larry Mahan. The parade grand marshal is unknown for 1968. The first Miss U.P. Rodeo Queen Pageant had 18 girls participating with local girls Faye Ann Hibbard and Sarah Jane Angeli running. The winner of the contest was Jeanne Seifert of Eagle River, Wisconsin and the runner up was Mary DeVooght of Marquette. Other activities occurring throughout the weekend included a dance at the Iron River Armory on Saturday and a Sunday performance by Merilee Rush and the Turnabouts.
The small town of Iron River was given its thirty seconds of fame when Senator Joe Mack introduced a senate concurrent resolution proclaiming Iron River the “Rodeo Capital of the Upper Peninsula”. The name was then changed from the “Iron River Area Championship Rodeo” to the “Upper Peninsula Championship Rodeo”.
The second annual rodeo was held August 2 & 3, 1969. The parade grand marshal was Lt. Governor Thomas Schwiegart and Mrs. Schwiegart. Also included in the parade were Congressman Phil Ruppe and State Representative Jack Payant. Estimated parade attendance was 20,000.
Rodeo contestants included Chip Whitaker of Chambers, Nebraska who tied for first place in calf roping, took second in bareback and fourth in saddle bronc. His accomplishments earned him the all-around cowboy title and the “Governor of Michigan Trophy Saddle”.
The crown at the two performances was estimated to be around 6,500. The total purse given out was $3,255. The rodeo clown was Duane Reichert.
Music during the rodeo was provided by the Country Gentlemen of Iron River. A dance was held at the Elks Lodge featuring Lane Dawson and his country-western orchestra. A square dance was held at the Miner’s State Bank parking lot and a dance was also held at the Iron River Armory featuring Derek, a popular singer known for the songs Cinnamon and Back Door Man.
The 1969 Rodeo Queen was Mary DeVooght, who was runner up in 1968. The first runner up was Susan Peterson of Ironwood and the second runner up was Roberta Hebert of Marquette.
DeVooght was given the Jeanne Siefert Memorial Saddle, in remembrance of the first queen who had been killed in a car accident the winter before.
The third annual Upper Peninsula Championship Rodeo was held in memory of Louis Ghiggia of Caspian. Ghiggia was a well known community leader who was instrumental in the success of the rodeo.
The rodeo was held August 1 & 2, 1970 and for the second year, Chambers, Nebraska cowboy Chip Whitaker was honored with the all-around cowboy title. He was presented with the “Governor of Michigan Trophy Saddle” by Debbie Patton, Miss Teenage America of Odessa, Texas. The 2 performances were said to be the best yet, with an attendance estimated at 10,000 and a purse of $3,750. The reserved ticket prices for 1970 were $2 for adults and $1 for children 12 and under.
The top raffle prize, a pony named Mr. Blue, along with a saddle and bridle, were won by Dr. Fred Plous.
The queen pageant had 25 contestants, with local girls Julie Bonel and Dolly Bomaster up for the crown. The winner was 16 year old Joni Lietz of Conover, Wisconsin. The first runner up was Pam Gustafson of Ironwood and second runner up was Roberta Hebert of Marquette.
The grand marshal of the 1970 parade is unknown.
Activities included a performance by The Outer Edge during sidewalk sales and a cook out prepared by the Eagles Lodge, with over 500 people attending.
The 1971 rodeo was held July 31 and August 1. The parade Grand Marshal was Fahey Flynn, a former resident of Iron River and at the time, a popular tv news director in Chicago. The Parade Marshals were Paul Ramseth of Marquette and Milo Singler of Shiocton, Wisconsin. Both men were both involved in the rodeo in the prior years.
The specialty act was Buck La Grand of Marion, Oklahoma.
Chip Whitaker of Chambers, Nebraska was the all-around cowboy for the third year in a row, taking home the Governor’s Trophy Saddle.
A dance featuring Eden Storm Rock and Roll Band was held at the Armory.
The parade, which included 87 units and 20 queen contestants was viewed by approximately 18,000 people.
Local queen candidates included Julie Lindwall of Stambaugh and Raddie Richards of Iron River. The winner of the competition was Peggy Lee Hindes of Rapid River. Miss Hindes took home a Simco Saddle, donated by the Iron River Businessmen’s Association. First runner up was Carol Ann Butterfield of Rhinelander, Wisconsin and the 2 nd runner up was Christy Vissering of Kingsford.
There was some unexpected excitement on Saturday when Bob Barnes daughter, Mitzi fell from her horse during the grand entry. She was not injured and rode in the grand entry for the Sunday performance.
It is estimated that 20,000 attended the 1971 rodeo performances.
The fifth annual Upper Peninsula Championship Rodeo was held July 29 and 30, in conjunction with the Fireman’s Tournament.
Bob Barnes celebrated 20 years in the rodeo business.
The parade marshal was Dr. Milton Engebretson. Also being honored at this years rodeo were Gerald Goodman and Earl Melstrom.
A kiddie parade was held Friday night. Children in the parade were to either be in cowboy or fireman attire.
The top cowboy honors went to Roy Reger of Markelville, Indiana. He earned the 1972 Governor’s saddle.
Queen candidates from the local area included Pat Lindstrom, Debbie Owen and Diane Atanasoff. Of the 17 candidates in the pageant, Rebecca M. McKinney of Antigo, Wisconsin was picked as the winner. The first runner up was Patricia DeVooght of Marquette, 2 nd runner up was Robin Gustafson of Ironwood and third runner up was a tie with Chris Vissering of Iron Mountain and Sherry Nelson of Iron River.
The parade participants included the Ojibway Heritage Council, Walter Brey, a Democratic candidate for State Republican from the 110 th District, the Marquette Majestics and Willie Beckman of Nelma’s Triangle Bar, selling “ Hot Horse Apples- 10 cents a piece or 5 for $1.00”.
One of the raffle winners was Ralph Trepasso whose prize was $100 in groceries.
25,000 people were said to have attended the weekend performances.
The rodeo performances for 1973 were held August 4 and 5. The chairman of rodeo was Leo Knowinski. The announcer was Vic Carmen of Tucson, Arizona and the Specialty Act was Rex and Wanda Rossi.
The all around cowboy was Doug Wall of Miles City, Montana.
The winner of the queen contest was Patricia Sue DeVooght of Ishpeming. First runner up was Robin Gustafson of Ironwood and the second runner up was Judy DeVooght of Ishpeming.
Raffle winners included Rita Sandri, who got to choose between $100 in store merchandise or a pony.
The parade included six drum and bugle corps. The Lucky Horse Shoe 4-H Club took first place in the parades riding group category.
A BBQ was held in the Miners State Bank parking lot with employees from Mertins Café helping out. Also held at the bank was a square dance.
Bob MacAfee of Henrietta, Oklahoma entertained the crowds with his goat and mule act and also as a bullfighter.
The years following 1973 are being researched and this page will be updated frequently.