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Rodeo brings American west to St. Helens

Curt Robinson, rodeo announcer, has wealth of experience

JOHN WILLIAM HOWARD - 2015 Columbia County Rodeo Queen Ashley Lanphear carries the American flag into the arena during opening ceremonies on Friday, July 24 at the Columbia County Fairgrounds. For many who sat in the stands for last weekend’s Columbia County Rodeo (RESULTS), the event is an annual chance to step out of daily life and in to the Wild West, a time suddenly filled with rugged cowboys, prancing horses and lumbering livestock. As the breeze picked up near sunset last Friday, the wind carried more than dust and the faint but unmistakable rodeo scent.

It also carried with it a golden voice, one which has been a mainstay in St. Helens for nine years and at rodeos around the country for the better part of three decades: announcer Kurt Robinson.

The pocket on his wrangler shirt stuffed full of pens and his straw cowboy hat perched just above his ears, Robinson’s loudspeaker personality translates perfectly to his western look — a worn, experienced feel which his hat seemed to escape.

Rodeo announcer Curt Robinson has been a part of the Columbia County rodeo for the last nine years, and brings more than three decades of experience to the event.
With two days of announcing behind him and countless rodeos to come before the summer season closes, Robinson didn’t hesitate to tell his story, pausing his attempts at packing in the cramped announcers’ box and spinning a tale as though the old cowboy sat around a campfire.

Though he might sound like a Texan, Robinson calls Oregon home. He grew up in Pendleton, which holds one of the state’s most high-profile rodeo events every year, and was practically born in to rodeo. But how does someone step in to such a career — especially one which has lasted for 30 years? Unsurprisingly, it began at an arena when he was a far younger man.

“Well, I happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, I guess, and I told a guy I thought I could do as well as what we were hearing,” Robinson said. “His dad walked up behind me and says, ‘You think so?’ and I said, ‘Yeah,’ and he said, ‘Well, we’ll see about that.’”

A few months later, Robinson got the call from his friend’s father: he was on the fair board in a neighboring county, and was about to open the door for a major career opportunity. Robinson’ first rodeo, as they say, was in Condon that September. It’s a tiny town in the sparsely populated Gilliam County: less than 700 in the county seat, and less than 2,000 residents in the county that’s mostly only known because it borders the Columbia River and Interstate 84 passes through it.

“It was different,” Robinson remembered. “In fact, Delene [Durfey], who was timing here, she was helping put it on. Her father had the stock there, and she told me I didn’t do too bad except for all the corny jokes I tried to tell. That was a lesson learned because you can’t be an announcer and try to be a comedian, too.”

Something seems to have clicked at that point for Robinson, and even after heading to what is now called Eastern Oregon University, the passion for announcing continued.

“Then I went to college and got involved with the rodeo club, and the guy who was the president of the rodeo club was living with a guy who was an announcer and did the national finals,” Robinson said. “He told him about me, and so he kind of helped me get places and get set up. I got to Texas about as much as any place else.”

Robinson has been a gold card member of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association since 1974, at the age of 20. He’s an auctioneer, and has served as the rodeo secretary for the PCRA. Most importantly, though, Robinson managed to reach the Senior Rodeo National Finals as the television statistician in 1976 and worked there until 1988, returning again in 1992 and staying until 2007.

It’s been a long, incredible career for the 61-year-old veteran of the business, a summer which includes a trip to Sisters — which celebrated their 75th anniversary last summer — and a trip to St. Helens.

Robinson said the opportunity to be part of a centennial celebration was a rare one, and there are a handful of things he remembers about his decade of performances in Columbia County.

“The crowd, and how good they are and how great the people are to work with here. Just how much they try,” Robinson said. “They want to have a good rodeo for the people, and the committee works together and they try. They’re constantly trying to make improvements and additions to make things better for the crowd, as well as the contestants.”