After skipping a year because of the pandemic, Gilbert Days is back.
The Town of Gilbert’s celebration of its western heritage – a time when horse ranches, dairy farms, agriculture and the rodeo lifestyle were mainstays – has different venues this year.
The Gilbert Days Rodeo, organized by Gilbert Promotional Corporation, will be held Thursdayday through Sunday, Nov. 18-21, at Queen Creek’s Horseshoe Park and Equestrian Centre.
The Gilbert Days Parade, organized by the Town, will be held Saturday morning, Nov. 20, down Gilbert Road from Juniper to Elliot Road. The Gilbert Half Marathon and 10K events will follow the parade at Higley High School. And a family-friendly music festival takes place from Friday and Saturday, Nov. 19-20, at Gilbert Regional Park.
Paige Nelson, vice president of GPC, said the main reason for moving the rodeo venue from Welcome Home Ranch in southeast Gilbert to Horseshoe Park is more room.
“We were having to turn people away and having to refund the tickets because we just didn’t have any more room to seat any more people,” she said. “That’s so sad that we can’t let in all the people who want to come.”
Each year, GPC runs a rodeo as part of the Grand Canyon Professional Rodeo Association, showcasing the competitions of professional cowboys and cowgirls in Arizona and other western states. Bull riding, bareback riding and saddle bronc riding are among the activities. The Lil Dudes Rodeo features kids mutton bustin’ and barrel racing, among other events.
After the hiatus, organizers hope to fill the stands.
At Horseshoe Park, the rodeo can seat 3,000 people per day, which is quadruple the number GPC could accommodate earlier. Organizers are also able to host triple the number of food and retail vendors and parking won’t be a challenge like in past years.
After the rodeo on Saturday, there will be a dance featuring local country music artist Harry Luge.
As for holding Gilbert Days in Queen Creek, “it’s initially going to be confusing to people,” Nelson admits. “I think, once they see what this venue has to offer, they’re going to understand.”
Meanwhile, the parade will step off at 8:30 a.m. from Juniper Avenue/Gilbert Road, travel south and end just beyond Elliot Road. While some neighboring roads will be closed, parking will be available throughout the Heritage District’s parking garages.
The parade theme is City of the Future.
“With 100 years of history and growth, our focus is on keeping the thriving community that Gilbert is today well into the future, while continuing to be one of the top communities in the country,” said Eva Kirschbaum, a spokeswoman from Gilbert Parks and Recreation Department. “We challenge the community to anticipate change, create solutions, and help people and our businesses. We all play a role in the design of tomorrow.
“In Gilbert, we are shaping a new tomorrow, today,” Kirschbaum added.
The parade will feature 85 entries from local schools, businesses, nonprofit organizations and special interest groups. One of those will be the GARBage Family Show – where kids recycle using drivable toy garbage and recycle trucks.
Also participating in the parade are Miss Rodeo Arizona 2022 and Miss Teen Rodeo Arizona 2021/2022 while Watson Flower Shops will return with its crowd-pleasing float made entirely of flowers.
Cowgirls Historical Foundation and the Gilbert Days Rodeo Court will also participate. This year’s court comprises Queen Jessica Wolfe, Teen Queen Amber Michne and Princess Mckenzie Craven.
The Rodeo Court was extended from last year because the young women couldn’t fulfil their roles as rodeo ambassadors for Arizona and beyond due to the pandemic’s restrictions.
Usually, for many months earlier, members connect with young people to talk about Gilbert and its farming traditions, the history of rodeo and the values of cowboys and cowgirls – such as respect and being kind to each other.
“We stayed as involved in the community as we could while practicing social distancing. It has been thrilling to watch rodeo return,” Wolfe said.
Wolfe, a medical scribe in Mesa – who is studying for a master’s degree following the attainment of four college degrees – has ridden horses and attended rodeos from a young age.
“I can remember being mesmerized by the rodeo queens at those events, and know I have the privilege to be one,” she said. “My favorite aspects of this role include meeting the fans, making the kids smile, and participating in the grand entries filled with overwhelming patriotism.”
She contends that this will be her last rodeo queen title.
“I will forever be grateful for the opportunities, friendships, and memories it has provided to me,” she said.
During the rodeo, the community is also honoring Mesa horsewoman Julee Brady, who groomed many past members of the rodeo court, including her daughters Shanda, Marjon, Kelsee, Kellan and Taryn.
Brady passed away last year, and Cowgirls Historical Foundation, which she founded, is leading a tribute to her during Friday evening’s performance.
“Julee was truly a light unto others in all arenas of her life,” said Kiva James Lindaman, the current foundation president. “Our tribute drill is in memory of her legacy of kindness and encourages everyone to be a light in the world.”
Daughter Marjon Brown said her late mother “was constantly teaching us life lessons in the most wonderful and uplifting of ways. One of her recurring messages was to spread kindness to those in our sphere of influence. She consistently strived to do that.”
Brown, who is married and has children of her own, said Brady was “remarkable and such a pillar of strength” in her life. “The best way I can pay tribute to her is to teach my children the values she emulated. And to do it cheerfully and with a heart full of faith,” she added.
Julee Brady loved horses, rodeo and the unique opportunities and friendships the lifestyle provided. Preserving the nation’s rich western heritage was important to her as well.
“I will always envision her quietly working behind the scenes making rodeos happen so future generations can enjoy them,” Brown said. “She would say that the past is a present for the future. Indeed, it is. She was living proof of that.”
The Brady daughters won’t reveal the details of the tribute in advance. It will incorporate Brady’s husband, Pat.
“It’s really touching,” Nelson said.