Happy Mother’s Day
The Youree Family
Youree Legacy Lives on in Future Generations
Photo by Kenneth Springer
Florence and Dale Youree had a unique setup sixtysomething years ago.
They drove a pickup that pulled an eight-foot camper with a two-horse trailer behind that. It was how they traveled around ProRodeo, and it’s how they raised their two children, Johnny and Renee, during the summer run that took them across the country together.
Florence Youree (horseback middle) celebrated her 90th birthday with her daughter, granddaughters and great grandkids at the family ranch in Addington, Oklahoma in April. Photo from the family.
“We thought we were really in style,” said Youree, who just turned 90 in April. “It had two beds and had a bathroom; of course, that bathroom wasn’t very big. It was just an eight-foot camper, after all. You could go to the bathroom and take a shower at the same time.”
She laughed at the memory and the thoughts of how times have changed. Ladies on the WPRA circuit ride in big dually pickups pulling a living-quarter trailer designed for on-the-road comfort and typically four horses.
The Youree family legacy has been passed down from generation to generation. Florence Youree (standing) is the matriarch of the family and her love and compassion for the WPRA has been passed down to her daughter, Renee Ward (sitting on the right) and then to her daughter Janae Ward Massey (sitting left). In 2003, Janae would capture the family’s first Gold Buckle and would join her aunt Sherry Combs Johnson (1962) as a WPRA world champion. Photo by Kenneth Springer.
“Boy, we thought we were in tall cotton then,” she said.
What she and her husband did more than a half-century ago is noteworthy. Florence Youree served as a Girls Rodeo Association/WPRA officer for 20 years, first as a director then as president. She resigned from that post to take the paid secretary’s job. That $150 month meant something to the Yourees, who lived on a ranch outside the tiny community of Addington in southern Oklahoma.
Janae Ward Massey (left) qualified for her first NFR in 2001 following in her grandmother, Florence Youree and mother, Renee Ward’s footsteps. She would qualify again in 2002 and took home the family’s first gold buckle in the barrel racing in 2003. Her sister Kylie Ward Weast (right) qualified for the NFR in 2018. Photo courtesy Ward family.
Florence Youree still lives on that piece of property, about 2,000 acres. In addition to the pasturelands are four other homes that dot the acreage for her daughter, Renee Youree Ward, with her husband, James, and three granddaughters and their families: Janae Ward Massey, Cassie Ward Ambrose and Kylie Ward Weast.
All are part of the family business, and all will likely spend their Mother’s Day together, honoring their heritage while also enjoying their own broods. They are barrel racing bluebloods, and Nan has forged the legend that guided her to an induction into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame and Museum, National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum’s Cowboy Hall of Fame and the ProRodeo Hall of Fame.
She was one of the guiding forces for rodeo women of her generation, qualifying for the first barrel racing National Finals Rodeo (NFR) in Clayton, New Mexico, in 1959, and following that with trips the next three years.
When the National Finals Rodeo moved to Oklahoma City in the mid-1960s, Youree made a move that changed the face of barrel racing today, meeting with Stanley Draper, then the manager of the Oklahoma Chamber of Commerce, and Clem McSpadden, who was the general manager of the NFR.
In 1967, barrel racing made its NFR debut with all the other PRCA events, and it’s been a major attraction at the finale each year since.
“I loved what I did,” Youree said. “It was a challenge to me to get bigger and better barrel races, and I thoroughly enjoyed my job with the WPRA. I loved meeting people, and I think that was one of my greatest experiences, the people and the associations I made with people all over the country.”
She was influential … across the country, across rodeo and across her family. She’s a big reason why three generations of Yourees have played on the biggest stages of rodeo with her leading the way with six NFR qualifications. Renee Ward competed in 1985, the first year the championship played in Las Vegas, and two of her three daughters followed suit: Janae Ward Massey did it in 2001-03, winning the gold buckle in her final trip, and Kylie Weast made her appearance in 2018.
“The best lessons I got in life was to have a good work ethic,” Ward said. “My daddy worked, and he meant for everybody around him to work. My husband, James, is a workaholic. His family was the same way. They’re all workers.”
So are their children. Massey was the first to step onto the stage, earning championship qualifications through smaller organizations before taking her game to the WPRA. She’s six years older than the twins, Cassie and Kylie, but they all understand the need to work.
“Cassie’s our backbone,” Ward said. “She keeps things moving. She just picks up the slack whenever somebody leaves. She’s the only one of us that’s never been to the NFR, but she is just as deserving. The year Kylie made the NFR, Cassie worked all of Kylie’s horses while she was on the road. You have to have someone like that in order to make it to the NFR.”
That’s nothing new to the family. When Massey was making the finals, the twins stayed at home. In fact, they’d never been to the NFR together until Weast earned her trip five seasons ago; they were busy with school, basketball practices and basketball games.
“I didn’t think it was a big deal,” Ambrose said. “It’s Janae; I’ve always looked up to her. It was a pretty big deal, but Mom had to tell us we weren’t allowed to go to Vegas. We couldn’t let our team down.”
Fifteen years later, she was part of the team as Weast followed the family tree to Sin City.
“It was pretty stinking cool to have a twin sister that can accomplish that,” said Ambrose, who is a minute older. “My little family got to be part of it and support her. Kylie and I have obviously been best friends since we were in the womb. I want nothing but the best for her, and she wants nothing but the best for me. To see her excel like that was amazing, and we got to be right there with her.”
Weast gives all the credit for her NFR qualification to her twin – “If it wasn’t for Cassie, I wouldn’t have made the NFR; she kept my colts going so I could still have a job when I got home.” – and understands how special it is to be involved in this family business.
“It was the best possible childhood anyone could ask for,” Weast said. “With Cassie, I had a built-in best friend, and Janae was the best big sister ever. I had great parents and grandparents; no matter what we did, they supported us.
“They put in a lot of effort to let us succeed.”
That’s an ongoing theme, one that dates back more than half a century. Massey and her husband, Ty, have a 14-year-old daughter, Chazli, that is already involved in the family business, and she’s pretty good at it. It will likely be the case for Weast’s daughter, Marlie, should the 3-year-old choose that route when the time comes.
“Chazli has a horse that is a full brother to the one that Kylie made the finals on, and Chazli is training it herself,” Youree said. “She loves it.”
Chazli also has ridden Hell on the Red, the sorrel mare that carried her aunt to the NFR five seasons ago. Reddy was sired by JL Dash Ta Heaven, which guided Benette Barrington-Little to the 2013 championship; the stud is out of Dynas Plain Special, a speedy red racer that Massey called DeeDee and jockeyed to rodeo’s gold in 2003. It’s all in the family.
Success takes work, but each member of the Youree clan is driven by passion, one that has developed through the generations, one that is packaged by the love they share with one another. Ward and her daughters were taught to keep God first in their lives, a ringing endorsement of faith by their mother and grandmother.
“My Nanny rode the other day,” Massey said. “She had been wanting to ride with her great-grandkids. Every great-grandkid was on a horse, and we led the ones that needed to be led, and Nanny got to be out there with them. It was awesome.”
There’s something about a horse that’s good for the soul, and nobody knows that better than a 90-year-old cowgirl and living legend.
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