35 years strong for the Isanti Firefighters Rodeo

Greg Hunt

The fabulous fun that is the Isanti Firefighters Rodeo will entertain crowds for the 35th straight summer July 8 and 9. The rodeo is a sanctioned Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association event, with performances at 6:30 p.m. both Friday and Saturday night.

Overseeing the affairs is once again Rodeo Chairman Tom Pagel, who is excited to host another quality weekend of entertainment.

“We have a brand-new stock contractor this year: Frontier Rodeo Company out of Texas. Heath Stewart will be the stock man here, and they also have Donny Gay– the No. 1 bull rider ever in the history of rodeo– as their general manager. I talked to one of the judges who will be here who said the stock will be unreal at our rodeo,” said Pagel.

Tom Pagel has chaired the Isanti Firefighters Rodeo for 34 of its 35 years. Photo by Greg Hunt

Dances will be held after each rodeo performance– free with a paid rodeo admission or $12 for folks coming just to the dance. The Killer Hayseeds play Friday night, with the Iron Horse Band taking the stage Saturday evening. An autograph table will be set up, with Miss Rodeo Minnesota and rodeo riders on hand. Advance tickets for the rodeo are one sale until July 7 and also will be available at the door.

Competing for the load of prize money at this year’s Isanti Firefighters Rodeo will be 347 contestants, including 82 barrel racers, 64 steer wrestlers, 32 bull riders and 30 each in bareback and saddle bronc riding. To handle that many contestants, a slack session begins at 1 p.m. Thursday afternoon at the rodeo grounds which is free and open to the public.

“We work very well with the Hamel Rodeo and Spooner (WI) Rodeo which both annually go on at the same time, so we work out the event order and slack sessions to get the most contestants up here as possible. We have three good rodeos up here within a short drive of each other,” explained Pagel.


History of the Isanti Rodeo

Pagel offered a lesson on how the Isanti Firefighters Rodeo has grown. The first year it was actually a Lions event, held at the T & B Stock Farm north of town. The Lions lost a little money that year and were going to drop the event, but two firefighters– the late Jim Houston and John Bartz– talked the department into taking ownership, with Houston serving as chair.

“The next year, Jim asked me to take over, so it’s been 34 years now,” said Pagel. “Prior to that, I never was involved in anything rodeo. I grew up on a farm as a kid, but that was it.”

The rodeo has raised over $1 million for the Isanti Fire Department, which in turn goes to support the community through purchasing quality equipment, increasing training and expanding the department to now three fire houses across its district.

Pagel remembered a couple instances where inclement weather created a mud pit of the rodeo grounds. But for the most part, nice hot summer weather has graced rodeo weekend in Isanti over the years.

“Probably the most gratifying thing overall through the years has been to watch three and four generations of rodeo fans keep coming back. That’s very gratifying,” spoke Pagel. “You know, it’s always been a family event which gets people together. Rodeo seems to bring the community together, and I see people there that I don’t see all year-long. It’s like ‘old-home week.’ And the dances allow people to socialize.”

He continued, “And it’s the same for the fire department. The old-timers that were on the department when I started, their kids are on and now some of their kids have joined.”

And, with all the work required to pull it off, the Isanti Firefighters Rodeo helps fuse those relationships while putting smiles on the faces of many fans.