"Have you ever been kissed by a man?" Bob Barnes joked as he, his limp and cane darted into my office unannounced a few weeks ago.
"One time," I solemnly replied, "but then he didn't call, he didn't write, he didn't..."
Well, by the time Bob Barnes stopped laughing, bent over at the waist and leaning on his cane like Bo Jangles taking a bow, he had enough time for two more hip and knee replacements, to produce a bunch of PRCA rodeos from Florida to California, and to tell and show Donita, his wife of more than 50 years, how much he loves her for like the millionth time.
That Bob Barnes.
Bob's visit that day was to thank me for a recent newspaper article I wrote regarding his and Donita's latest national awards from the PRCA Rodeo community. Based on the "kiss" question when he entered my office, he apparently approved of the article.
The Papa San of the incomparable Barnes Family that has always called Peterson and Cherokee their home, Bob has the biggest dogs in PRCA Rodeo world-wide on speed dial, including many who occasionally bunk in at the Rafter B Bar Ranch near Peterson.
That Bob Barnes.
This genuine Cherokee County Superstar straps on his mile-wide smile, along with his Wranglers, boots, kerchief, PRCA Hall of Fame belt buckle, and Stetson hat seven days a week, 52 weeks a year.
Bob Barnes is a rodeo legend called by most the finest gentleman in the business and who, last weekend in Oklahoma City, was inducted into the Rodeo Historical Society Hall of Fame - as if the walls at the Barnes Rafter B Bar Ranch could hold any more family photos, trophies, award plaques and picture frames chock full of wonderful rodeo memories.
To top it all off, Donita, the glue and git-er-done expert of the Barnes operation, this year has gleaned the biggest prize for PRCA Women of the Rodeo, being named the winner of the esteemed Rodeo Historical Society's Tad Lucas Memorial Award. She also received her honor in Oklahoma City last weekend.
Bob told Donita early in their marriage that if she didn't like rodeo that he'd continue being a farmer. Touched by that statement, farmer's daughter Donita knew deep down that Bob would never be truly happy farming and that she would have to "toughen up" and go down that rodeo road with him.
Ah-h... the power of love.
Despite all the hardships and financial and logistical challenges the family encountered in those early days, Donita persevered, confiding her thoughts in a diary. A few years ago, Bob came across the diary. After reading a few passages, he drove to town and bought Donita flowers.
Donita not only has scheduled most of the rodeos and travel, she has served as the rodeo secretary and timer, and also has handmade Bob's colorful signature satin shirts he continues to wear to this day.
These are special, yet bittersweet times for Bob and Donita, as they walk hand-in-hand with the Lord while Donita is being treated for cancer.
"What can you do?" asked Bob that day in my office. "We'll just keep going down the road, listen to the doctors, and trust in the Man above. You never know what He has in store for you so you just keep on, praying and hoping for the best."
The Barnes rodeo legend began 60 years ago when a farmer provided fellow farmers Barnes and his sister Marjorie with eight $75 horses to help produce his first rodeo.
"We started rodeo in the Midwest," said Barnes, who has never lost his incredibly keen sense of humor through all the trials and tribulations. "We just started heading down the road after our first rodeo near Cherokee in 1950, and if things go well for us this year, we might just have those eight horses paid off!"
Now, I'm the one bent over at the waist laughing.
Relying on his lifelong axiom that a man's word is a man's word and a firm handshake is the strongest contract there is, the Barnes family quickly achieved national status as high-quality PRCA Rodeo Producers with world-class bucking stock and an immense, endearing integrity and work ethic.
Barnes is just one of two stock contractors in history whose stock has been used for every National Finals Rodeo since its start in 1959.
The legacy of Bob and Donita extends beyond rodeo with them also being the proud parents of children Marty, John, and Mitzi, who, along with their families, comprise MJM Rodeos, which the family founded in 1980. Today, Barnes and MJM PRCA Rodeos supply stock for and produce more than 50 rodeos in 20 states each year.
The Barnes rodeo operation is the longest running professional rodeo in the country, with their own fleet of trucks full of prime stock and gates hitting the road year-around to produce rodeos always attracting the world's best cowboys, cowgirls and entertainment acts.
Bob not only supplied his bucking stock and expertise to the PRCA, but also his leadership. He served on the PRCA Executive Council, The PRCA Board, and the NFR Commission. IN 1994 he was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in Denver, Colo.
Now 81, Barnes has no thoughts of cutting back on his love and passion for professional rodeo.
"Our family's gone quite a ways now," beamed the personable Iowan. "I figure we might as well keep going.
"These honors mean a lot to Donita and me. It means that your friends and peers have watched along the way and think that you accomplished something big while doing what you love. And do we ever love rodeo."
As Bob rose from the chair with the help of his cane for those creaky knees and hips plumb worn out and replaced from 70 years of climbing on and off ornery bucking stock and his beloved white-stocking sorrel saddle horses, I watched as this friend to all walked to my office door.
"Hey, what about that kiss?" I asked with a chuckle.
"Maybe next time, you rascal," laughed Bob without turning around. "Knowing you, you'd tell Donita and we'd all be in a fine mess."
With that, he ambled out the door and on to the next rodeo.
And I sat there all puckered up with no place to go.