Jennings family still in business providing stock.
By BECKY MALEWITZ
LAKIN — It's mid-morning on Thursday, and Deke Jennings pulls on his boots and puts on his hat before heading out to the 85-acre pasture next to his Lakin home.
From inside his pickup, he reads a list of names and points out the corresponding bulls in the pen.
The bulls stare at the vehicle, stamping their hooves into the ground and kicking up dust to keep away the flies. They almost look peaceful, but will change when they enter the bucking chutes at the Kearny County Fairgrounds for this weekend's rodeo.
"I always cheer for the stock. Most people cheer for the cowboys," Jennings said. "The bulls are way tougher than the cowboys. I mean, if you get one ridden out of 20, the cowboys have done pretty well because these bulls really buck."
Jennings, the second generation owner of J-J Rodeo Co. based out of Lakin, has been working to provide rodeo stock to Little Britches, high school, KPRA, and ranch rodeos since his parents started the company in the late 1970s. The company is still family run with the help of Jennings' brother, Bud Jennings, and an assortment of nieces, nephews and in-laws.
"I appreciate all of them, and I enjoy having a family reunion every weekend," Deke said with a laugh. "Of course, after you go through 35 weekends, that's most of the year, you get a little sick of each other towards the end."
As time passes, members of the Jennings family have played different roles in the business.
"We all had a turn at bullfighting. It's one of them young man things, though," Deke said. "As the years went by, the siblings all got away from that part. We do more of the management part. I've got nephews now that stepped up, and they're doing the bullfighting now."
For the Jennings family, it doesn't matter what role they play in the company, there is always work to do.
"The work has got to get done. The stock has to get to the rodeo," Bud said. "It doesn't matter what part you're in. That's the bottom line."
Luke Grusing has been working at J-J Rodeo since moving back to Lakin four years ago.
"It beats having a real job," he said. "You get to go to a different place every weekend, and the whole family's there."
The Jennings have gotten to know a lot of cowboys and cowgirls through the years. Some have even moved on to bigger and better things.
"As far as guys going on to the professional ranks in rodeo that kind of passed through our way, I mean, we didn't do anything to help them. Really, they came to our rodeos, road on our stock and you know ... you get to know them. Of course, you like to think you take a little bit of credit down the line, but probably not really," Deke said. "It makes you feel proud. You're glad for them. They go on and do well, and you sit back and cheer them on."
Bud also has enjoyed seeing athletes move up through the ranks.
"It just does your heart good to see them on TV, (in the) NFR (National Finals Rodeo)," he said. "There's going to be a crop coming. That's part of the fun, getting to see them take that other step."
Thursday night, the Jennings crew was hard at work unloading stock at the Kearny County Fairgrounds.
Everyone agrees that the hometown rodeo is one of their favorites, and not just because the commute is short and they get to sleep in their own beds. This weekend's rodeo will hold a memorial ranch style bronc riding contest in memory of Otis Jennings, Deke and Bud's father.
"Really, you just get on, hold on with both hands and both feet, you might be smoking a cigar and drinking a beer — and you know they, do kind of crazy stuff when they are doing that — it's just all for fun," Deke said with a chuckle as he described the contest.
Deke said he's not certain what the future in store for J-J Rodeo Co.
"Well, it's hard to say," Deke said. "I haven't really seen any of my relatives getting too excited about buying me out. I'm getting up there towards that retirement thing here. In another few years. I don't know if I will just let it die or somebody will step up and get going."
Regardless of what happens, the Jennings continue to enjoy their jobs after all of these years.
"Well, it's really not boring. It's not one of the deals where you make a lot of money; it's where you break even. It's just wanting to go around with all the people, all the family, doing what you do. It's better than sitting around the house all weekend," Deke said, although he later added, "It plays heck with my golf game."