Wanted: a few volunteers for the 2012 Cloverdale Rodeo and Country Fair, Surrey’s signature community event.
You’ll need a pair of cowboy boots, plus a nice clean pair of jeans. Western wear is definitely encouraged for the army of
volunteers who lay out the welcome mat for tens of thousands of visitors each May long weekend, says Randy Miller, who’s been involved with the Cloverdale Rodeo since he was a boy.
As volunteer coordinator, Miller’s responsible for wrangling a new crop of volunteers – plus he’ll oversee the stable of faithful folks who return to Cloverdale year after year.
Remarkably, a small staff of just 12 full timers plus 400 volunteers pull off one of the largest events of its size in the country and one of the biggest rodeos in the world.
The core group is from the Surrey-Langley area, but volunteers come from throughout the Lower Mainland – and beyond.
“A lot of the time it’s friends coming back to see friends they haven’t seen for a year,” Miller (pictured at left) says. “They just pick up wherever they left off.”
He knows of a Saskatchewan couple who spends part of their holidays in Cloverdale so they can volunteer during the rodeo each year.
Another pair – Jim and Heather Black of Hope, BC., chair the Stetson Host Committee and are involved year-round, driving in to Surrey each month for meetings, in addition to traveling around the province, attending parades as rodeo ambassadors.
“They’ve decorated up their vehicle like a little chuck wagon,” Miller says. “They are so dedicated, and really wonderful people.”
With the 66th annual rodeo and 123rd country fair set for May 18 to 21, organizers are kicking their volunteer drive into high gear.
This year volunteers are especially needed for the exhibition area, to host and welcome visitors, work in the information booths, and help organize the volunteer schedule itself, but plenty of other avenues are available, Miller says.
“There’s all sorts of opportunities for people to be involved. We’ll find a spot for practically everybody.”
All ages are welcome; Local high school students provide critical volunteer power, Miller says.
An ideal rodeo volunteer has a good personality, is pleasant and outgoing (“well, not even outgoing, because we’ve got places for quiet people, too,” Miller explains), is reliable, and dedicated.
In other words, qualities Cloverdalians have in spades.
Talking to Miller, it’s difficult to imagine someone who wouldn’t enjoy being a part of it – whether as a visitor or a volunteer.
The rodeo, which features the world’s top cowboys and cowgirls competing for thousands of dollars in prize money, is a big part of the weekend. Volunteers are entitled to watch the performances.
But it’s not the only attraction at the fairgrounds, home to the country fair, Kids Zone, live music performances, and much more. Last year there was even a roller derby exhibition.
“I’ve talked to many volunteers who’ve never seen the rodeo,” Miller says. “They’ve volunteered for years and they’ve never gone to see it. Their interests lie elsewhere on the fairgrounds.”
Laura Ballance of public relations firm Laura Ballance Media Group, or LBMG, has worked with some of the largest volunteer organizations across the country, including the Cloverdale Rodeo, and says when it comes to volunteerism, nothing else comes close.
“Over the course of twenty years I’ve worked on thousands of events across the country,” she says. “What makes the Cloverdale Rodeo special is the incredible grassroots volunteer network that gives so much to the event and the community each year.”
Ballance says it’s staggering to think that such a small staff and such a large number of volunteers stage one of the largest and most beloved events in British Columbia.
She chalks it up to a community spirit that’s unmatched. “This is a testament to how well loved the event is, and the incredible spirit and pride of the people of Surrey.”
Miller, whose involvement stretches back to his childhood, when his parents volunteered for the rodeo plus hosted All Star Wrestling matches at the fairgrounds, has his own theory.
“It’s a good way to give back to the community,” he says. “You really do feel a part of the community, because of all the people. They’re a great group of people, I can’t stress that enough.”
He returned to his rodeo roots in the late 1990s, when his friend Shannon
Claypool, now the president, got involved with the organization that runs the rodeo and oversees the fairgrounds and encouraged Miller to help out too. “Yeah, been there since!” he laughs.
He cites Penny Smythe, also a long-
serving board member, as another example of someone who embodies the passion behind the Cloverdale Rodeo.
“Her whole family, in one way or another, is involved. Her mom, her husband, her sister, her brother-in-law, all her kids, all her nieces and nephews. It won’t be long before the grand kids are in there.”
Association memberships cost $10 a year. Members can vote in the upcoming Annual General Meeting, are provided with insurance while they’re on the grounds, plus they receive free admission to the Sunday Flea market for the whole year.