2016 Volunteers of the Year
Stories and photos by Angie Mindus
For rancher and former rodeo contestant Bruce Rolph, volunteering at the Williams Lake Stampede for the past twenty years hasn’t felt like work at all.
“It’s a fun weekend,” Rolph said of the Stampede, where he has been named one of three Volunteers of the Year. “It’s a great community event to be a part of. The fact it’s been around for 90 years tells you how great it really is.”
Rolph and his wife Lonnie moved to the Horsefly area in 1982 where the young couple purchased a ranch on the 108 Road with his parents.The move was a perfect fit for the family, who went on to raise three children schooled in Horsefly and active in the community playing ball and being a part of the local 4H Club.
“We love it,” Rolph said of the area. “We have good neighbours, and it’s a nice part of the country to live in.”
Rolph began volunteering for the Williams Lake Stampede in 1995 after fellow rancher and friend, Bronc Twan, asked him to help out with the team roping, steer wrestling and tie-down roping. Eventually Rolph took over running the timed events and now oversees a crew of about eight who make sure the event goes smoothly by checking that all the stock is healthy, sorted and ready to go for each rodeo.
No stranger to rodeo competition himself, Rolph used to compete in steer wrestling, team roping and bull riding for about 12 years and finds that being a part of the Stampede is a great way to stay connected with the rodeo and ranching communities.
“It’s a great way to give back to a sport that has given so much to us and that we have enjoyed being a part of for so many years,” said Rolph, whose wife Lonnie also volunteers throughout the Stampede weekend as a timer in the announcer’s booth. “And it’s a fun weekend, it doesn’t seem like a job.”
Though he didn’t move here until just nine years ago, Volunteer of the Year Lionel Burnier has had a long history with the storied Williams Lake Stampede.
“Williams Lake wasn’t a stranger to me. If I could, I’d always schedule our work so that we would be traveling through Williams Lake during Stampede weekend – the guys were from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, all over – but we’d come, and that’s going right back to the 60s. The Williams Lake Stampede was always quite special.” After a lifetime spent on the road working “in the patch” and on pipelines with crews of roughnecks, Burnier is retired from his high paying career, which saw him work from the Mexican border to Northern Alberta and all points in between. Now 74, Burnier dedicates one month of his time every spring, and his highly sought after skills as a welder and heavy duty mechanic, to volunteer for the Williams Lake Stampede.“The pay [at the Stampede] is more,” Burnier said of volunteering. “I enjoy it so much and the people I meet. Making people happy and giving back to the community is worth more than any money you can make anyway.”
Burnier was born in Vancouver but spent much of his youth in the Mount Leman area on the family farm with his grandmother. As a kid he said he rode anything he could for fun whether it was sheep, pigs or calves, and it was likely that influence coupled with a lifetime with his pipeline pals, that still draws him to the rodeo to this day. “We’re rednecks and we can’t argue that point. Anytime I had a chance, we’d come to the rodeo.” Burnier said since he started volunteering at Stampede, he’s never missed a rodeo. His favourite event is that of many a rodeo fan. “I favour the bullriders. I tried it once and realized I could make a better living in the pipelines.”
Burnier now calls home a 20-acre spread in the Pablo Creek area with Sharon his wife of 29 years, their four horses, a dog and a cat.
For the Stampede’s youngest Volunteer of the Year, 19-year-old Wyatt Manuel, pitching in at the rodeo since he was a youngster was all about spending time with his grandpa.
It’s pretty cool. I feel honoured,” Manuel said of being recognized for his efforts. “I never expected anything from volunteering, I was just helping my Grandpa out and it was fun. I have a lot of good memories doing that with him.” Manuel’s grandpa was Jim Byer, a longtime friend of the Stampede who served the rodeo since 1996 as a volunteer, then director and finally, office administrator. Byer was one of last year’s Tough Enough to Wear Pink recipients which helped the family cover the costs associated with cancer treatments. Sadly he lost his battle with cancer just months before seeing the Stampede’s 90th anniversary. “He loved the Stampede. Every year since as long as I can remember my grandpa would always call me and ask if I could help him out.”
Manuel said he did whatever his grandpa needed of him, from manning the fire exits during the rodeo performances to being on garbage clean up detail with his cousin Michael Byer. “It was good work experience and it was fun,” he said.
Manuel was born in Williams Lake and raised in the country just outside of the city, where his love of rodeos and ranching was fostered over years spent visiting and helping out at his neighbour’s cattle ranch.
“That’s what I’d like to do one day is own a ranch, but I don’t know, it’s a tough job.”
In the meantime, Manuel is happily working full-time shift work at West Fraser’s plywood plant which has allowed him to purchase his first brand new pickup truck. His work commitments and the passing of his grandpa have curtailed his volunteer efforts with Stampede this year but he said he’d be happy to help again if needed.