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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow Longtime CJD volunteer honored as grand marshal

Longtime CJD volunteer honored as grand marshal

At last fall’s Chief Joseph Days Rodeo court tryouts one contestant was asked, “How many volunteers does it take to put on the rodeo?” The answer, 300 people. This year the 68-year-old rodeo honors one of its longest running and most dedicated volunteers, Jerry Winegar.

An experienced back country guide, Winegar came to Wallowa County in 1977 to work for the U.S. Forest Service as a packer, managing mules and their loads in the extreme backcountry — from the peaks of the Eagle Cap Wilderness to the depths of Hells Canyon.

Just two years before Winegar took the job with the Forest Service he had completed his 12-year rodeo career as a team roper — traveling around the Northwest circuit.

“I didn’t have time to travel any longer — work interferes with that -— so I got involved with Chief Joseph Days thanks to Dave Turner and Keith Waters,” Winegar said. “I worked all the rodeo events from the roping chutes to arena director.”

Wallowa County suited Winegar, a Prairie City native, and in 1978 he and his wife, Ruby, bought a ranch in rural Joseph raising horses and hay. On a hot, July morning a large helicopter flew overhead battling the Cuba Fire on the Idaho side of the Hells Canyon. Winegar said he is on the flight path between the canyon and the Joseph Airport.

He retired in 2002 and now he and Ruby work day riding for local ranches and in the Sumpter and Prairie City area.

“We ride two to four days a week moving cattle. There’s not much more pleasure than that,” Winegar said.

They also delivered horses all over the country — as far as Fairbanks, Alaska, Atlanta, Ga., and Texas. “It’s a good life — we enjoy it,” Winegar said.

When not riding the range or driving thousands of miles across the country, he drives for Farm Supply delivering cattle and hay up to Lewiston, Idaho.

As a Forest Service packer, Winegar spent a lot of his time bringing fire supplies on a mule team into the roadless areas of the national forest and the national recreation area that straddles the Snake River. Either way, the country is rugged and steep and requires quite a bit of skill to keep the team together.

Packers use something called “piggin string” when they tie their mules together — the string is tied to each of the pack saddles in such a way that they stay together, but if one mule falters, the string will break easily so the whole team doesn’t get in a wreck. Running volunteers require the same sort of system.

“The volunteer crew had a lot of repeats, a lot of friends. The two weeks before the rodeo you got to be there every day and every night — 8 a.m. to midnight — it’s a lot of people doing a lot of work,” Winegar said.

Winegar retired from volunteering at the rodeo in 2011 after 33 years. He said he wanted to thank his friends and volunteers who nominated him for the honor of serving as the grand marshal of the Chief Joseph Days Rodeo parade.

On Saturday, Winegar will ride his horse in the Chief Joseph Days Rodeo Parade and will lead an unmounted horse in honor of his long-time friend, neighbor, and volunteer, Jim Mackin, who died this springs.

“I really want to thank my friends and volunteers and the directors for giving me this honor — without them I wouldn’t get to do this,” Winegar said.

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