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Board of directors nix annual Fourth of July event, citing health issues in light of pandemic

NEWBERG GRAPHIC FILE PHOTO - The chutes in the arena at the St. Paul Rodeo will be quiet this summer after it was announced Friday that what is billed as the nation's largest Fourth of July rodeo was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The global pandemic has invaded every aspect of society and that fact became ever more clear Friday when it was announced that that annual rite of summer, the St. Paul Rodeo, has been canceled for the first time in its 85-year history.

"The St. Paul Rodeo has endured many hardships since the eight founders decided to create a Fourth of July celebration in the Willamette Valley in 1935," Cindy Schonholtz, general manager, said of the event previously slated for June 30 to July 4. "The cherished traditions that surround the St. Paul Rodeo are important and the board of directors has looked at every possible avenue to continues these traditions. As with thousands of other events, we have not found the answer and sadly there will be no St. Paul Rodeo or related events in 2020."

The rodeo's 11-person board of directors, according to the release, struggled with the decision to cancel the event.NEWBERG GRAPHIC FILE PHOTO - Activities outside of the St. Paul Rodeo arena, particularly popular with youth and folks looking for a good meal, will be silent this year after officials announced the annual event would be canceled.

"The board of directors realized the gravity of the situation at the March 11 meeting and continued to monitor the situation and try to find a path to holding the rodeo again this year," Schonholtz said. "It became apparent that (Gov. Kate Brown's) executive orders limiting gatherings would extend well into the summer and would not allow for a large gathering over July Fourth. This, combined with our concern for the health and well-being of all involved, were factors in the decision to cancel. The decision was not taken lightly."

"We know you are all suffering and would have liked nothing better than to celebrate this great country in our special town this year," Randy Ernst, rodeo president, said in a press release. "Our hearts are breaking for the memories lost and the state of our country during this sad and overwhelming time. But our first responsibility is to the health and safety of four community, our members and rodeo fans."

Rodeo officials provided some solace to fans by pointing to the 2021 event, scheduled for June 30 through July 4 and referring ticket buyers to the rodeo's website at StPaulRodeo.com.

The rodeo officially drew a record crowd of more than 53,000 people into the circular arena during its four-day run in 2019, with another 17,000 folks frequenting the carnival, Wild West Art Show, fireworks and the rodeo's ever-popular Tack Room tavern.

Schonholtz commented that estimating an exact dollar figure lost to the cancellation would be tough.

"It is difficult to predict what our income would have been if it was possible to hold a rodeo," she said. "Each year the rodeo association has a budget with the goals of making a profit to put into the building fund for capital improvements."

And it's not only the association that suffers from the loss of revenue. The entity typically doles out more than $70,000 in direct donations to area nonprofits that range from A Family Place to Providence Newberg Health Foundation locally. In addition, the St. Paul High Boosters runs the stadium concessions, sells strawberry shortcake and parks cars at the rodeo, the St. Paul Parrish of the Catholic church hawks its popular chicken barbecue dinners, the St. Paul Jaycees have a beer garden and many other groups benefit from the big event in a tiny town.

"It is a loss for many groups and we look forward to coming back and helping these and many other organizations in 2021," Scholholtz said, adding that she estimates the economic impact of the rodeo on the area tops $250,000.

NEWBERG GRAPHIC FILE PHOTO - The board of directors of the St. Paul Rodeo announced Friday that the annual rite will be canceled this year in recognition of the COVID-19 pandemic.


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