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Monday, May 2, 2016

Iowa Hall-of-Fame cowboy has strong ties to Wisconsin

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Bob and Donita Barnes showed off their newest grandchild, Mason Lee, during a buggy ride at the start of the 2006 Cherokee Rodeo in June. File photo by Nancy Nelson
(The following article is from the July 7 Spooner, Wisconsin Advocate; reprinted with permission)

CHEROKEE, Iowa (AP) - Bob Barnes' name, fittingly, is on the roster of ProRodeo Hall of Fame stock contractors in Steamboat Springs, Colo. It deserves to be.

The man who helped begin the Spooner (Wis.) Heart of the North Rodeo way back in 1953, and who has provided stock every year since, was elected in 1994.

Over the more than half-century he has been going to Spooner he has made many, many friends there. What is somewhat strange is to see Bob in a place other than Spooner.

Bob's connection to Spooner is the longest of any single stock contractor with a rodeo in history. Yet the stock contractor in the business 57 years produces rodeos all over the country, including his hometown rodeo in Cherokee, Iowa.

This year he celebrated the 40th Annual Cherokee PRCA Rodeo. And that is where we caught up to him early in June.

I made the trip to the Cherokee Rodeo with Spooner Rodeo Committee Chairman Dick Fankhauser and committee members Curt Johnson, and original committee member Bob LeMoine.

When you roll up to Bob's sprawling ranch near Cherokee, his familiar "B" brand can be seen formed in concrete high up on a hillside - Spooner Rodeo Committee members helped him create it.

The terrain is unexpectedly vertical for Iowa, with a lot more high, rolling hills that one might expect. The familiar stock trailers sat in the front yard of the ranch house, and in a corral nearby the bulls of Barnes PRCA Rodeo seemed content in the late-afternoon sun, a far cry from the thundering, spinning, spitting, kicking beasts they become when the performance spotlight is on them in the arena.

Along the driveway is a small cemetery where two of Bob's prized horses, Crystal Springs and Boy Ballou were buried - both had performed in the Spooner arena in years past.

Barnes PRCA Rodeo is the longest-running rodeo company in the United States. In 1984 Bob was honored as Stock Contractor of the Year, and as stated, 10 years later in 1994 he was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame.

On Feb. 2, 1958, Bob and Donita Barnes were married - fittingly, their honeymoon was spent traveling from stock supplier to stock supplier, and from rodeo to rodeo. Their children - John, Marty, and Mitzi - started MJM Rodeos in 1984, following in their father's boot prints.

Barnes PRCA Rodeo and MJM are family operations. Marty and John travel much of the eastern circuit, including the coast, while Bob and Donita visit places like Texas, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the Dakotas.

After getting settled in our hotel in Cherokee, we headed for the fairgrounds where the Cherokee Rodeo is staged. We noticed surprisingly little fanfare in the way of banners or signs for the rodeo ... you're never a hero in your hometown, I guess.

When we got there, we found Bob in his trailer. Bob isn't feeling quite as wild and wooly as usual these days following a third hip replacement and pinched nerves in his back. The operation has knocked him out of the saddle for the time being, and placed him in a small buggy that he uses to navigate the rodeo arenas he performs in - yes, while most 77-year-old men coming off surgery would be content to take it easy, Bob still dresses for and oversees each performance. Hard to keep a good cowboy down.

"It's been quite a deal," he said, looking a little bit tired. "I've been laid up for a few months now. But I'm feeling good."

There is a feeling of history in Cherokee, especially with the Spooner Rodeo connection. On a previous trip to Cherokee I got to meet Bob's brother, Ken Barnes, since deceased. It was Ken who, in 1953, met Spooner's Bill Feeney at a gas station while he was delivering Christmas trees. The two got to talking about rodeo, and Ken mentioned that Bob was a stock contractor.

The idea of bringing a rodeo to Spooner was born at that historic chance meeting.

"I remember it like it was yesterday, that first meeting," said Ken when I talked to him. "I just happened to be in the gas station at the time."

As we were sitting in Bob's trailer at the Cherokee Fairgrounds, the grand lady of the Barnes Clan, Bob's sister Marjorie, happened to walk by. Bob had me call her into the trailer to join the conversation. She welcomed us with a handshake and a smile, and she too recalled the early days. She and Bob LaMoine, friends since the first days of the Spooner Rodeo, were thrilled to see each other again.

"Oh, yes," she said. "I remember when Bob first went to Spooner. You've got quite a rodeo up there."

Even at age 79 and walking with a cane, Marge still commands the respect of the cowboys and cowgirls of the rodeo when she is on the scene. She has a feeling of being in charge, in control of the situation.

The Barnes family as a whole has earned the respect of the rodeo world. The Grand Entry at Cherokee featured Bob and Donita riding in his carriage with a grandchild.

During the rodeo, Bob sat near Marge in the stands, watching intently. After being wounded in the Korean War, acquiring three new hips, countless rodeo injuries including having his leg crushed to the point one doctor wanted to remove it and four heart bypass surgeries, Bob's attention is still clearly on the rodeo arena.

And that heart that has been operated on so many times still beats to the rhythm of hoofbeats.

Rodeo is in Bob Barnes' blood - in Iowa, in Spooner, wherever he might be.

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