In any other year, this week would be Rodeo Week for the Franklin Noon Rotary.
In any other year, no rodeo committee member would have slept much during the week as last-minute details were solidified — some more easily than others — to launch three nights of excitement and family fun.
For 70 years, the week was kicked off with the annual rodeo parade at noon on the Saturday before the three-day event.
This isn’t any other year, however. The Franklin Rodeo is another casualty of the COVID-19 virus.
“Everybody seems to be in a state of shock knowing (the rodeo is) really not going to happen,” said Valerie Clark, president of the Franklin Noon Rotary. “Everybody feels a strong sense of pride and the belief it will be back in full force.”
What is really missed, at least by Rotary Club members, is the “organized chaos” that comes with the final week.
“I miss the chaos, but what we have, thanks to Bill and Jill Fitzgerald, is organized chaos and camaraderie,” said Clark, who has been deeply involved with the rodeo committee for seven years and with Rotary for six years. “Our club is the epitome of a Rotary family. We play hard and we work hard. The biggest part we miss right now is the excitement and anticipation of serving the community and giving back."
The fact remains, Rotary will continue to serve and the rodeo will return because, “We stand on the shoulders of those with great foresight.”
Bill Fitzgerald, who is executive director of the rodeo, and his wife, Jill, who is director of operations, said that while the cancelation of this year’s rodeo is very disappointing, it has one small advantage, at least for him.
“I haven’t had a spring in 16 years,” he said.
In a normal year, he spends the spring months organizing, arranging, ordering supplies and gathering people. After the rodeo, he leads the committee in assessing the event, paying bills and sending out thank you notes to all who supported it.
“From planning to wrap-up, it’s well into summer before he’s done,” Jill said.
The rodeo was put on hold in mid-March, when the county closed the Enrichment Center, where the Rotary Club holds its weekly meetings.
The call to cancel rather than reschedule the rodeo was difficult, but Bill Fitzgerald said that “all stars had to be aligned” to postpone the event.
The Ag Expo Center already has bookings for every weekend until the end of the year. Even if there was an available weekend, the announcer, clowns, stockmen and other contractors would all have to be available on that specific weekend.
“Who’d have thought, in our lifetime, something would happen and we can’t do anything for four months,” he said.
During the past 70 years, the Franklin Rodeo has provided a high-quality, professional, PRCA-sanctioned rodeo and developed professional relationships and loyalty between contractors and the Franklin Noon Rotary.
The Rotary has turned to its “rainy day” fund and made goodwill payments to contractors, including the rodeo announcer, clowns, sound people and stockmen who have been out of work for months.
“We are blessed to be able to make these goodwill payments,” Jill Fitzgerald said. “If they don’t work, they don’t get paid, and they haven’t had rodeos in several months. It was just our way to say we’re extremely grateful for their loyalty.”
Many sponsors who already paid their sponsorship before the event was cancelled demonstrated their belief in the Rotary Club and the rodeo by leaving the payment in the Rotary account to go toward next year’s sponsorship. That will allow the Rotary continue its mission to support the community.
This week the Franklin Noon Rotary donated $5,000 to both GraceWorks and One Gen Away, two organizations doing what they can to feed members of the community in need of extra help during this trying time.
“Next year we’ll get back,” Bill Fitzgerald said. “I have no doubt (the rodeo) will be back to the way it was. We’ve been very fortunate over the years. People support us and through that support, we support the community through the charities we help. We will adapt, overcome and move on.”
Carole Robinson may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.