Graham Smith began his volunteer-career with the Williams Lake Stampede in a round- about way in1980 with the Fall Fair. Back then the Fall Fair and the Stampede fell under the umbrella of the Williams Lake Stampede & Exhibition Association; each group had a board of directors; with one annual combined meeting. The members of each arm of the association volunteered at both events.
Which explains how Graham ended up, at his first Stampede (1980) – selling parking passes in the pouring rain for four days. It was memorable, he contracted pneumonia. Thankfully, it didn’t deter him. In 1982, he was elected as a Fall Fair director, which he laughingly comments, ‘was the farm team for the Williams Lake Stampede board’.
1986 was his first year as a Stampede director - working quietly in the background, fund-raising with many long evenings spent at Lucky’s Bingo Hall, usually arriving back home in the wee hours of the morning, after dropping off the association’s share of the bingo profits with Marg Elliot. Smith acquired Stampede’s first casino license. He spent countless hours filling out grant applications.
From 1991-1995, he took a sabbatical from his directorship, but was still valued Stampede volunteer; taking on projects that helped elevate the event’s level of professionalism. He helped engineer a better grandstand sound system; enabling the clown and the announcer to interact verbally with the crowd and used his technical skill to provide music to the rodeo program. Every rodeo performance he was there to play the music.
In 1995, he led the quest for an official, professional logo for the Stampede – one that promoted the spirit and heritage of the rodeo and directed the publication of the new, glossy Williams Lake Stampede Guide (this magazine). The previous version was an plain newsprint booklet, with content that was identical from year to year, except for date changes. Graham also introduced the first-ever Stampede internet website and the toll-free Stampede information/ticket sales phone number.
Graham’s wife, Claudia Blair, also a Stampede supporter and volunteer was in charge of the Stampede parade at that time - so, for years Graham also pitched in to help with that task. Stampede Saturday’s (parade day) were crazy for the couple – they were up at the crack of dawn to fine-tune parade details, traveling the parade-route via four-wheeler (trouble-shooting) and then battling the traffic to get Graham back to the rodeo grounds in time for his grand entry and rodeo ‘DJ’ gig.
In 1996, Graham was re-instated as a director and spent 5 more years on the board working on rodeo promotion/advertising. The association had a parade float built (by Walt Cobb) that could easily be loaded in the back of a pick-up, transported to an out-of-town location and then be reconstructed around that pick-up truck. Graham and Claudia traveled all over the province with it. Claudia would drive the truck (float) in whatever parade (Quesnel, Cloverdale, etc.) and Graham would don the famous ‘Williams Lake Willy’ suit and walk alongside passing out promotional material. They would also set up a Williams Lake Stampede booth at the event. Williams Lake Stampede and the Cariboo were lucky to have such enthusiastic, tireless supporters and volunteers. Congratulations to Graham - with thanks to Claudia, who he couldn’t have done it without!
- Liz Twan
2009 Lifetime Pass honoree, Kurt Gustafson is a pretty low-key, modest man. He had to be persuaded to accept this honour bestowed upon him by the Williams Lake Stampede Association, although it was well-deserved.
Gustafson, who has been in the automotive business for more than fifty years, was chosen for his (and his family’s) role as a long-time sponsor and supporter of Stampede.
Gustafson’s Dodge – first, Kurt and son, Kerry (later joined by Daryl), has been one of our long-time rodeo sponsors and supporters (close to a quarter of a century); making financial donations and supplying the Dodge trucks for arena-use during the rodeo. For quite a few years, it was Kurt who drove the pick-up during the rodeo; driving the ‘cans’ (barrels) in and out of the arena for the barrel racing event.
He says, “The rodeo has changed quite a bit over the years, and I would say that the caliber of the cowboy competitor’s and the bucking stock has improved a lot. I think rodeo is similar to other sports now in that young people receive better coaching and training early in their careers, allowing them to acquire a higher level of skill sooner. The rough stock is bred to buck now and it too, is better. I always enjoyed my role as the truck driver because it meant that I got to be there to watch the entire rodeo performance each day.”
The whole Gustafson family supports our annual rodeo; the men, Kerry, Daryl and Kurt contribute as great sponsors while Kurt’s daughter, Bev Williamson is a Stampede director – one of our super volunteers, along with her husband, Daryl Williamson. Kurt’s late wife, Jane was also a long-time Stampede volunteer. Bev and her mom spent many rodeo seasons working together in the Stampede rodeo ticket/sales office all through May, June and on into July.
Congratulations, Kurt and family. Although he has, theoretically, retired – you’ll still find Kurt at the office (Gustafson’s Kia) most days.
- Liz Twan