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MARSHALL: Korkows: A rodeo family legacy

Published 6/11/2012 in Beef Empire Days-Sports

Jim Korkow remembers when he was just a young boy and he recalls the Sunday afternoon gatherings in Pierre, S.D., when all the young cowboys from the surrounding area would show up to show off for Jim's five sisters.

"Dad (Erv) would charge a little admission to the neighbor kids and they'd show up for my five sisters. All the boys, it was the place to be to come and ride, the place to show off for the girls."

That was the late 1940s, and America was still coming out of the World War II era.

Erv Korkow eventually grew his small ranch into a nationally-renowned rodeo stock producing company.

Erv started his ranching company in 1947, and every year since 1958, when he joined the then Rodeo Cowboys Association (now Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association), there have been Korkow horses and/or bulls ridden at the National Finals Rodeo (each December in Las Vegas).

Only one other stock producer can make the same claim.

Sunday morning, just before the clock struck 9 o'clock., there was Jim, his son T.J. and their few ranch hands loading up the big trucks with their 30-plus horses and nearly 20 bulls for the long ride back to Pierre from Garden City. The BED is the only Kansas rodeo that the Korkows work.

Their 10th visit to the Beef Empire Days PRCA Rodeo was over and for the group it had once again been a week of renewing friendships with the BED committee who have now become like extended family.

"The happiest part of coming here is seeing the committee and how they feel about the rodeo," Jim said as he was preparing to jump into his pickup and head north. "Garden City has a hard working committee. We've been coming here 10 years now and it's kinda sad when we leave."

Jim said his crew arrived at 7:30 a.m. Sunday to begin their loading of the horses and bulls. BED committee people were already there, tearing down pens around the Finney County Fairgrounds Arena proper. "They're here working to get the fairgrounds back in shape. It's phenomenal the way they work for the community event."

Already, one truck full of bulls was on the road by 7:45 a.m. The remainder of the trucks, full of horses and more bulls, would be rolling north on U.S. Highway 83 by 9:30.

The crew had arrived early that prior Tuesday morning after a 10-hour overnight drive south into a stiff southerly wind. That southerly wind would dominate the rodeo for all four days of competition.

Saturday night, when the final event was over, T.J., the third generation family member to be part of the storied Korkow ranch, said he wouldn't be surprised to see a northerly wind on Sunday for the trip home. He became a prophet, as from 7 to 8 a.m. Sunday the wind switched from 15 mph out of the south to 15 to 20 mph out of the north.

"Dad said he could probably have made a $100 on bets Saturday night that the wind would switch, and he was right," T.J. laughed. "It makes for a tougher trip home."

For Jim, though, this schedule is old hat.

"We get in some long hours," Jim said. "If you think you're gonna get weekends off around my outfit, that won't happen. Rodeos happen on weekends. We'll get home tonight (Sunday), and there's ranch work that has to get done so we can leave again. We just don't have days off. That's what pays the bills. This is what we love. It's a way of life, not necessarily a job."

There's no rest for the Korkow group. Next up is another one of their favorite rodeos — the Crazy Horse Stampede in Custer, S.D. They leave Thursday for the three-day weekend event.

"The setting there is spectacular," Jim said. "People sit on a hillside and look down on the arena. They can look over the tops of the trees and see the carving of Crazy Horse monument in the distance. It's unreal. It's just a picturesque setting."

Jim, who just turned 70, can outwork many men half his age and showed his agility by climbing the fence to escape bulls and horses on a few occasions during evening performances. T.J., who is 39 for a few more days (happy birthday on Father's Day), has a personality that rarely slows down. He's learned the rodeo business well from his dad.

The biggest grin on Jim's face came when he was asked about the family business. He talked about the next, the fourth, generation of Korkow boys.

"I've got a couple of grandsons coming up and it looks like we may be going for 100 years," Jim said, smiling. "Yes, that makes me very happy."

The Korkows have had many honors bestowed upon them through the years — first Erv, then Jim, and T.J. will land some as well down the road. Jim's wife, Carol, works as a timer at many rodeos and oversees the bookkeeping of the family business. T.J.'s wife, Brie, coordinates many of the activities for the ranch's extended family who come to help out.

The biggest honor, though, comes to those who are fortunate to know the Korkows and count them as friends.

Garden City's Beef Empire Days Rodeo committee are some of that group.

And so am I. For that, I consider myself to be one of the lucky ones.

Sports Editor Brett Marshall can be emailed at bmarshall@gctelegram.com.

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