A tradition that spans seventy-one years with few interruptions is something to celebrate as the Homestead Rodeo Association will show with multiple activities January 22-26, 2020 when the Homestead Championship Rodeo kicks off.
If we could time travel back to November 11, 1949 to tell the founding members about some of the many changes since then, they would no doubt be both puzzled and pleased. Continuation of the rodeo is indeed what many of them envisioned. The idea of “selfies” taken by a mobile telephone and posted to world-wide social media would be more difficult to grasp.
On the fall day of the first rodeo, it was the Elks Lodge who sponsored it at Homestead’s Municipal Park. According to former resident Bob Jensen’s passage in the book about Homestead history, there was a gap in 1950 and then, “The Homestead Jaycees, under the direction of John McLean, Bob Morgan and Dr. R.J. Elliott, sponsored the second rodeo on Saturday, February and Sunday, February 11, 1951.”
Lower revenue than expected and having a Brahma bull break loose that damaged the park could have signaled the demise of future rodeos. In January 1952, the Jaycees acknowledged the troubling financial reality. Others were not ready to call it quits and in February, seventeen men established the Homestead Rodeo Association (HRA). Whitney Beam, Dr. John Demilly, Ken Doherty, Everett Douberly, Dr. R.J. Elliott, Al Goding, Earl Gordon, Sr., John Hale, Tom Hodson, Bill Mitchell, Joe Perkins, Pat Rutherford, Jim Sharp, George Skall, William Sottile, Vernon Turner, and Al Webber were ready to do whatever was needed, and what a year it turned out to be. The Saturday and Sunday, March 8 and 9, 1952 performances were well received. The plan was for a second rodeo in the fall and several HRA members and their wives went up to Davie where their rodeo was into its third decade. In August, the HRA proposed that the City of Homestead provide the ball field for a rodeo site, but that was not approved. Undaunted, they leased a five-acre tract near the ball field from South Dade Farms, part of the Sottile family’s holdings. The November 1952 rodeo was subsequently held in the new arena, and while the event was popular, finances continued to be an issue. 1952 was also when the Homestead Everglades Posse, founded in 1951, performed a synchronized drill pattern on horseback. The non-profit organization, with youth and adult riders, has never missed a rodeo.
The decision was made to have only one rodeo per year; an event that became increasingly popular. In 1958, the grounds of the original Homestead City Airport became the permanent rodeo arena, and it was formally
dedicated in 1960 as the Tom J. Harris Field. Although the HRA did reorganize in 1976, the rodeo lost none of its allure.
Indeed, according to their website, “Frontier Days began in the early eighties & ran through the mid-nineties. It grew to a two week long series of city-wide events leading up to Rodeo weekend. The whole town’s population & businesses joined in the western-themed celebration. Events included Pet Photography Portrait Day, the USO Celebrity Roundup Dance & BBQ, clogging demonstrations, a beard growing contest, a Senior Citizen Buffet Dinner and Dance, an Ice Cream Social, and an Antique Auto Gaslight Parade.”
In the midst of all the fond memories though, the tragic murder of
former HRA president Dr. John W. “Doc” DeMilly in 1985 stunned the community and in 1989, the arena was re-named in his honor.
Nor was the arena spared by the devastating 1992 Hurricane Andrew. The rodeo, however, was a tradition worth fighting for and the determination of HRA members meant the gates were opened as soon as possible. Harry Bostic and two other state trooper provided security for the rodeo one year and he spent the next thirty-five years personally engaged. He remembers the sight after Andrew. “The bleachers were all twisted, the fence destroyed, everything was a mess. We all pitched in to clean up what we could. The City stepped up and helped with getting grants for us to be able to have the 1994 rodeo. A lot of people came out for that one.”
Even though the Bostics relocated a bit north, they return a few times each year to visit family still here. “It’s a time a lot of people from Homestead get
together. You see people you haven’t seen for a while, maybe for several years. It’s a lot of fun and contributes to the community.”
Those who had the foresight and willingness to establish what is the Southernmost Rodeo in the continental United States would agree it is a unique part of the community.