By Laura Lambert
This story originally appeared in the May 2017 issue of the WPRA News but felt it was a fitting time to share it again, with the WPRA celebrating 73 years on Feb. 28 and today, March 1, 2021 WPRA Founding member Betty Dusek is celebrating her 90th Birthday. We would like to wish Betty a very Happy Birthday and for anyone wanting to send her a birthday wish since she is not on social media feel free to mail a card to Box 58, Van Court, TX 76955.
“Remember who you are and where you came from; otherwise, you don’t know where you are going.”
– Karolina Kurkova
The scene is set in San Angelo, Texas in 1948 where a gathering of approximately 38 women had made up their mind to be better and in order to do so, they needed to band together. With no association, no generalized rules, no organization, the women’s events were going downhill. These 38 trendsetting women set the stage for what we enjoy today as the WPRA.
These strong women gathered together and formed what was known as the “GRA” – Girls Rodeo Association. They elected a President (Margaret Owens Montgomery), Vice President, Secretary and Treasurer along with event directors. The calf roping director was Betty Barron Dusek.
“We were just sick of being cheated and not having rules. We were ready for some organization – honestly just to make everything better,” Dusek remembered.
“In fact, I might be the only founding member alive today. When you get to be 86 years old, you outlive a lot of your friends and in the sport of rodeo, you’ve got to be tough. I guess I’ve been pretty blessed and pretty tough over the years,” Dusek said.
Looking back over quite a legacy of a life, Dusek started riding at a young age and didn’t really experience rodeo until she was 13 when she attended a soldier’s rodeo in San Angelo, Texas. From that point on, she was hooked. That was what she wanted to do and she was drawn to the roping events.
“Oh I liked to do it all, but I really loved the roping events. Of course, I ran barrels, poles, and competed in the flag race, but the roping is what I wanted to do,” she said.
Dusek had plenty of opportunities to live the western lifestyle as she grew up on a ranch consisting of four sections where they raised Hereford cows, sheep and sometimes goats. Speaking of goats, that’s what she roped and practiced on for a long time.
“When I first started, my Daddy built an arena there at the ranch and quite frankly, it was mostly made up of rocks,” she laughed. “I practiced roping and tying down on Spanish goats. We didn’t have any calves, so that’s what I roped.”
“I went to school basically out my back door for years. The last two years of my schooling I had to go to San Angelo which was about 25 miles away. Some days that was quite a challenge as the roads sure weren’t the same back then. There were days when it would rain and the mud would be up to the running boards,” she said. For Dusek it was just another character building opportunity.
Dusek works hard at everything she does in life and this included marriage. She met her future husband when she was just 14 years old at a goat roping. She was there as a spectator as it was just the guys roping at the time. The pair courted for nearly five years before they got married. Dusek celebrated her 19th birthday on her honeymoon. The pair tied the knot on Valentine’s Day 1950 and through thick and thin – even running a ranch together – they stayed married 65 years until he passed in 2013.
“When we got married, I moved to his ranch which is where I live now in Van Court, Texas. It consists of about 520 acres southeast of San Angelo. As the crow flies it is only about 15 miles from my family ranch I grew up on. Throughout our married life, I just helped him. He was quite a farmer and I just did whatever needed done. I helped drive tractors, feed, take care of the house – I guess I just did whatever we needed,” she said.
Over the course of their marriage, they had four children – two boys and two girls. The boys reside on and run her family ranch and her daughter and grandson help her on her home place. She enjoys the fact that the family has remained relatively close in location. She passed her love of horses to all of her family but her love of rodeo resides in her youngest daughter, Ruby Lee.
Rodeo was a major part of Dusek’s life. Starting at age 13, founding the GRA at still a young 18, and then getting to as many GRA rodeos as possible throughout the years – Dusek kept herself busy. Just a few of the highlights of her rodeo career include winning the trailer in Duncan in 1967 for the All Around and winning her choice from a pen of 11 fillies while competing in Arizona.
“Oh man, that was something I was really proud of! To win a horse was such a great thing. It’s a highlight of my life. They had a big roping and then we ran straight barrels one day and cloverleaf barrels the next day. I won the All Around and got to pick from that pen of fillies. It was really something. She turned out to be a great horse. You know, horses were good back then. I’ve had a lot of really great horses over my life. It takes a great horse to be successful,” she said.
Dusek knows quite a bit about being successful. She traveled around to the six or seven All Girl Rodeos that were held each year where she earned several titles. Later, she moved on to the West Texas Rodeo Association.
“I won four or five saddles for the All Around at the WTRA. In fact, I won my last saddle in 2005,” she remembered.
Do the math and that makes Dusek 74 when she beat out the young guns for the All Around win.
“Oh that just tickles me. I’m competitive and I love to win. Shoot, I’m so old, I’ve competed against my kids, my friends, young kids, you name it, and you know what? I love it when I beat them. It just makes me giggle when I beat those young ones!” she laughed.
She’s competed with the best and even helped a few out along the way. Dusek was great friends with Wanda Harper Bush. They were traveling partners one year in rodeo and in 1953 when Dusek was pregnant with her first child, hard luck struck Bush with her good horse getting hurt. Bush called on Dusek to ride her barrel horse. Dusek agreed and Bush started running her mare. Between Bush’s horse and borrowing Dusek’s mare, Bush ended up the World Champion.
Dusek’s main rodeo days may be over but don’t be fooled. Born March 1, 1931 makes her 86 years young and she still takes care of herself and lives on her ranch.
“My grandson lives here with me and is here with me at night, but he works during the day. He does the chores when he gets home but I try to keep myself busy. The worst thing you can do when you get older is sit down. I’m doing better now and keeping myself busy. For a bit, I watched TV and you just can’t do that. You have to stay active,” she said.
Dusek’s advice is worth taking as she still owns around 150 sheep and a few horses at the home place. They just finished up having lambs and she said the cotton crop this year might have been the best ever from her place. She also owns cattle that reside at the family ranch under her sons’ supervision.
Dusek even rode a horse this year on Easter. Since losing her good horse a few years ago, she hasn’t wanted to ride as much.
“He was such a good horse. He was bay with a lot of chrome on him. He had the biggest, prettiest bald face. We called him Baldy. We bought him and his momma together when he was just born. We raised him and then had a gentleman break him and get him started in the roping. I suppose he was a really good roping horse but he ran barrels as well. He was just one of those that gave you the same trip every time. We all loved him. My kids and grandkids rode him as well. He lived to be 31 and never suffered a day. I had him just outside my house in a pasture and he passed peacefully. He was a good one,” she said.
“I’m proud of where rodeo has gone and the success of the WPRA. I always wanted to see more ropings and I sure see a lot of them that pay darn good for the girls. I think it just keeps getting better. If you looked back to what we made when we were doing it, you would wonder what we were thinking! I’m amazed at all the advancements and I don’t think any of the founding members ever dreamed it would be this good,” Dusek said.