Historian's efforts helped Ogden Pioneer Days receive national recognition

Tuesday , August 08, 2017 - 5:00 AM1 comment

JANAE FRANCIS, Standard-Examiner Staff

ROY — Rodeos may be loud and rough, but it’s the quiet and steady work of Ogden Pioneer Days Rodeo historian Judy Anderson that helped bring into the spotlight the local celebration that dates back to 1934.

Those who enjoyed the royal treatment as Ogden Pioneer Days was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame last Saturday in Colorado Springs, Colorado, gave credit to more than 500 volunteers and eight decades of rodeo committees for the recognition.

They also said that, without a vigilant record-keeper behind them, they may not have been so honored.

“When we were nominated, they asked for a lot of information to see if we would be inducted,” said Rodeo Director Dave Halverson. “It was her research she had done already that helped communicate the history to those at the ProRodeo Hall of Fame. ... There were a lot of things that had to come together to be selected, but she’s probably at the center of it.”

Amazed at the passion behind Anderson’s soon-to-be published 25-year history called “The History of Ogden Pioneer Days: The Early Years, 1934-1959,” Halverson said any historical photos or information he needed, Anderson had at her fingertips — if not in her head. 

RELATED: Pioneer Days committee to be inducted in 2017 ProRodeo Hall of Fame

“I’m sure we overwhelmed them with information,” Halverson said. “Thank heavens there are the Judy Andersons of the world to help preserve that information.”

Also crediting Anderson with enabling the rodeo’s selection to the ProRodeo Hall of Fame was Desirée Cooper-Larsen. With Anderson’s information, Cooper-Larsen said, the Ogden Pioneer Days committee was able to tell the complete story of a community coming together to produce one of the nation’s top events.

Much of the early success of the celebration is credited to five-time Ogden Mayor Harman Peery, whose vision caught on with large crowds supporting the event.

“He traveled all over the country to find the best elements to include in the rodeo,” Cooper-Larsen said. “He went to Cheyenne (Cheyenne Frontier Days) and sat in a box with Amelia Earhart. He tried to connect Ogden Pioneer Days to the whole country.”

Today, that same spirit exists as the committee works to provide the best for fans as well as contestants, Cooper-Larsen said.

”If Judy hadn’t gone through all this effort, we wouldn’t feel that connection from 1934 to 2017,” Cooper-Larsen said. “We need to hold onto our history so we know where we’ve been, to direct us to where we are going.”   

A former Miss Rodeo Ogden (Judy Butler, 1959), Anderson, 77, said she’s always loved the rodeo and naturally wanted to keep track of the celebration’s history.

“No one ever dreamed it would still be going on,” she said.

Anderson is a well-published family historian with many volumes of family history written for her extended family members on her bookshelf. She’s also a member of the board of directors for the Utah Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Union Station, and she regularly purchases items for the museum with her own money.

Much of the research was completed while writing her first history of Ogden Pioneer Days, “A Grand Celebration, Ogden Pioneer Days and the Rodeo Queens,” which includes stories of each Miss Rodeo Ogden until the book’s publication in 2009.

“I basically had 80 percent of that material,” Anderson said. “They said no one will buy it if it’s that thick.”

This time, Anderson thought her work would be much easier. However, physical ailments got in the way as she worked to complete her latest history. Anderson suffered two strokes in January and is working to regain her mobility.

“I typed with one hand after I was out of the hospital,” Anderson said. 

Of her will to keep going, she said: “I decided that it was an important part of history that needed to be documented.”

Perhaps staying active has helped in her health struggles. Despite paralysis initially on the right side of her body, she has regained all but the finer movements in her arm and hand.

One rodeo topic she likes to talk about is Peery’s involvement in the celebration.

“It was more exciting when Harm was the mayor than when he wasn’t,” she said.

Recognized as the founder of Ogden Pioneer Days, Peery worked tirelessly for the celebration, even spending much of his own money, said Anderson. Controversy came to the celebration in 1939 when financial holdings of the then Pioneer Days, Inc. were found to be illegal because money raised on public lands was required to stay in city coffers, according to early city law, Anderson said.

All members of the Ogden Pioneer Days committee were found to be out of compliance with the law, Anderson said. However, Peery refused to allow anyone but himself to pay back a $17,000 debt required of them.

Another story Anderson enjoys telling is about Ogden’s pioneer celebrations before the rodeo.

There would be picnics at Lorin Farr Park and speakers at the Ogden Tabernacle, she said.

In 1947 when actor and singer Gene Autry was hired as rodeo producer, the celebration enjoyed “the biggest crowds they ever had,” Anderson said.

You can reach reporter JaNae Francis at [email protected] or 801-625-4228. Follow her on Twitter at @JaNaeFrancisSE or like her on Facebook at facebook.com/SEJaNaeFrancis. 

Sign up for e-mail news updates.