The closest Dee Stevenson came to being a cowboy came in namesake only as a student at Oklahoma State University. His wife, Colleen, like her husband since 1956, grew up a rodeo fan but never took part in the sport.
For the last 28 years, however, this couple has made up for lost time. No, they haven't joined the PRCA. Instead, they, more or less, live the lives of PRCA cowboys.
The cowboys say so themselves.
"I kid them all the time that they went to more rodeos last year then I did," steer wrestler Rod Lyman said. "They are extreme fans, and I've thoroughly enjoyed them over the years. If we ever had role models for a fan base, it's Dee and Colleen."
The Stevensons of Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., began planning rodeo trips in 1976 and have been traveling the continent extensively for 44 years. It seemed simple enough: Crack open the atlas, find the rodeos and complement the experience by taking in the history at each site. And with these types of itineraries, no two years have ever been the same.
"We counted several years ago that we've been to 47 national monuments," said Colleen, 68, who with Dee, 70, ran a custom cabinet shop until retiring eight years ago. "When we go to a rodeo, we go to the whole thing, including slack. So while we're in that town for three or four days we take side trips. We very much enjoy the local history, museums and natural sites. We've been to practically every national park west of the Mississippi River."
Their interest of rodeo started at an early age. Dee, who grew up in the northern Oklahoma town of Wakita, remembers his father taking him to a rodeo at the local high school football field.
"It was during World War II," Dee recalled, "and the Beutler Brothers Rodeo Company came to our hometown. They built a fence around the field and had a rodeo there. I never got over being a rodeo fan. It was a special thing you did in the summer time when you were growing up."
Colleen also grew up in northern Oklahoma, in the small town of Pond Creek.
"I can remember as a child when my dad drove us 60 miles one Sunday afternoon to the Woodward [Elks] Rodeo," she said. "Enid also generally had a rodeo later on. After we were married, Chickasha was one of the big ones during the 1950s and '60s. I was a rodeo fan then. I'm just a better educated rodeo fan now."
No one knows that more than the countless numbers of cowboys who have crossed paths with this couple.
"For somebody who never entered a rodeo and aren't cowboys at all, they love the Western heritage," team roper Kory Koontz said. "I'll see them in Garden City [Kan.], then I'll go to California, and they'll be there, too. They rodeo just as hard as anybody. They're good to have for our sport, and they're definitely the most die-hard fans I've ever met."
It was a conversation between Koontz and Dee that turned him into a team roping fan.
"One year in Lewiston [Idaho], we met up with Kory Koontz," Dee said. "We were mostly roughstock fans when we started. Kory talked to me for one hour on how to heel rope. After that, we were five times the team roping fans than we were before."
The Stevensons spent about four and a half months on the road this year, which equated to about 45,000 miles, spanning 28 rodeos. They would have gone to more but a business decision forced them to call off a trip that would have taken them to the Northwest in September.
Before each trip, Dee carefully plots out points on the map, taking into consideration when slack starts, the distances between rodeos and points of historical significance that need to be seen.
Then, it's on the road again in their van/camper.
"We've had a couple of mobile homes, but they weren't mobile enough," Colleen said. "We depend on campgrounds, and we've gotten to know lots of people that way, too. People have been great in allowing us to hook up on rodeo grounds. And when we've had trouble on the road, all the cowboys' sympathies have been with us. We've had a transmission or two go out on us, and we've had extremely good service when we've had problems."
Road-weary cowboys seem to appreciate the support the most.
"Every one you meet is great," four-time world champion saddle bronc rider Billy Etbauer said. "It's fun to see Dee and Colleen. I'm glad they're out there watching you, helping you along and wishing you well. It means a lot."
While their rodeo-vacations have primarily taken them west of the Mississippi River, they haven't ruled out heading east at some point.
"We don't travel east much, but we would like to vacation around Prince Edward Island in Canada," Dee said. "There are some rodeos over in Michigan we'd like to get to, but it's on the other side of Lake Michigan. That's a lot of miles in heavily populated area."
But one thing is for certain. Come December, the Stevensons will end their year at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas.
"This will be the 19th year we've been to the Finals," Colleen said. "We stay there about two weeks, and between the 10 days of rodeo, we probably spend at least parts of six or seven at the trade shows. There's always stuff you can't go without. The rodeo is great, too."
Fortunately, the couple has a daughter and other friends to look after their house when they are gone. Like cowboys themselves, they depend on a support system to get by.
"It's great to meet the cowboys and get acquainted with them," Colleen said. "That's the great thing about rodeo. You can still get close to contestants and get to know them. You can't say that about any other sport."
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