The grand marshals of the 2013 Sisters Rodeo Parade are four retired gentlemen known by their fellow rodeo members as “The Four Horsemen. “ Ranging in age from 64 to 80, the horsemen are Ron Ackerman, Earl Brawner, Roger Holmer and Don Stuart.
In an often heard Central Oregon story, the four men and their wives left the southwest, after long careers, to relocate in Bend and Redmond, most bound by common history.
Ron Ackerman, a southern Californian and life-long truck driver in California and Nevada, was the first to arrive. He and his wife, Carol, came to Bend to visit old friends. Two weeks later, they purchased twenty acres outside of Bend.
With hundreds of thousands of road miles tallied in his career, Ackerman just hadn't seen a landscape that compared to Central Oregon. The couple moved to Bend in 1989. In a few months, he joined Sisters Rodeo. His next move was to get his close friend since childhood, Roger Holmer, to make the change.
Following a visit with the Ackermans in 1990, Holmer was convinced. He and his wife, Linda, left Los Angeles noise and crowds in 1991, after a career he described as being a “glorified machinist.” His company manufactured Broach drilling tools that made round holes into square, and parts for machinery from Buck knives to aircraft. The next stage of his new life in Central Oregon took Holmer a little longer. He didn't become a member of Sisters Rodeo for two more years.
“And then I talked Earl into moving here,” Holmer proudly stated.
Earl Brawner had spent the last seventeen years as a Phoenix, Arizona police officer. “You could find him in the doughnut shop,” joked Ackerman. For fourteen of those years, Brawner trained new officers. His wife, Louise, is the sister of Holmer's wife, so the outcome was predictable.
The couple moved to Redmond near their relatives in 2000, with rodeo membership coming shortly afterward. “I had been coming to Sisters Rodeo since 1992,” Brawner reported. “It was a natural.”
Each winter, Brawner begins work as a tax-preparer, but he makes it very clear that as soon as rodeo work parties start, he will not be on his tax job until Saturday afternoons. “I'm a tax widow in the winter, and then a rodeo widow until the rodeo is over,” says Louise with a chuckle.
Don Stuart, a Northern Californian, worked for the San Francisco Chronicle as a photo engraver for nineteen years. He sold his own engraving company before joining the Chronicle when new regulations required very expensive upgrades. He didn't know the other three “horsemen” until he moved across the street from Ackerman in 1989, but he had the most prior experience with Oregon.
“My father was born in Portland, so I knew this place,“ he explained. He and his wife, Patricia, and their children spent their vacations camping, mostly in Central Oregon. The couple moved to Bend in 2003. With the goading of his neighbor, he joined the rodeo association that year.
“We adopted him,” explained Brawner, thus making the set of Four Horsemen complete. Patricia Stuart passed in 2011. Don honors her with a team roping sponsorship each year. Fittingly, The Four Horsemen sponsor Team Bronc Riding.
The moniker was given the four buddies by Sisters Rodeo's Vice President, Curt Kallberg, in 2005. “They just went into the bleachers and started doing the heavy labor, working quietly and diligently,” said Kallberg. “They were unbelievable with what they got done. They deserved a special title.”
The foursome voluntarily took on the grueling job of finding worn boards in the rodeo bleachers that were the victims of extreme Central Oregon weather, pulling and replacing them every year. Sometimes there have been as many as 100 damaged two-by-ten boards, eighteen feet long. These men pack them out, carry new ones up imposing layers of steps and bolt them to frames before replacing the plastic covers.
They move as a finely tuned unit, smiling and uncomplaining, year after year. Their friendship has been nailed more securely in place with every board they set.
Their feelings about their 180 rodeo companions are easy for them to communicate. All four have children and grandchildren, but they find their lives enriched by their membership in rodeo. “It's a second family,” Brawner stated simply. Agreement spread among the others. They aren't fishing and golfing on spring Saturdays; they are working at the rodeo grounds.
“I enjoy coming, and knowing all the members,” Holmer explained, “I haven't met a bad rodeo member yet.”
“Yes,” agreed Stuart, the snowbird of the group, “If it weren't for rodeo, I'd still be in a warmer climate until June.”
Ackerman, who started it all, smiled when he noted, “We just have fun being here and doing the work.”
Not one of the four men expected to be chosen as grand marshals. “Surprised” was the common response. “I was awestruck,” Brawner said, “I had previously told the other guys that when I die, I want my ashes poured on the bleachers.”
“So many people have done a lot more,” shared Holmer, in a unanimous expression of sincere humility. Not one mentioned that they all volunteer again at the rodeo, doing a variety of jobs.
When he asked what grand marshals do, Brawner said he was told their job is to bring shovels and scoop the poop when the parade is over. These Four Horsemen would have brought their shovels and done the job without complaint, but with a few well-placed barbs of humor. Instead, they will be riding in a carriage at the front of the parade, with the opportunity to sit and enjoy the show themselves during the rodeo.
“We'll be doing our jobs until we get smarter -- or weaker,” quipped the Four Horsemen.