Maurice Palmer hasn’t missed a Clearwater Rodeo since it started 51 years ago.
Palmer, who celebrated his 100th birthday in March, attended the 51st annual Clearwater Rodeo this weekend with his granddaughter, Alison, and her family.
However, he has been going to rodeos even longer than that.
Before the Clearwater Rodeo, Palmer went to the Burwell Rodeo with his family and said he has attended rodeos for about 62 years.
“I can’t tell you just when we started, but my oldest boy is 65, and we probably took him when he was 3 years old,” he said. “So, we’ve been going for a long time.”
Palmer used to take his late wife, Marjorie, and three children, Mark, Tracy and Renee, to the rodeo. As the family grew, he took his three grandchildren, Alison, Ryan and Whit, and now he brings his great-grandchildren. Palmer has eight great-grandchildren: William, Connor, Amelia, Madiline, Lucas, Sarbestian, Kane and Sloan.
When the Clearwater Rodeo started in 1967, Palmer, who resides near Albion, said they decided to go to it instead of Burwell since it wasn’t as far away.
“We had been interested in rodeos, and we had gone to Burwell. So, the Clearwater Rodeo is closer, and we kept going to that,” he said.
Not only has he been to the same rodeo every year, but he has also sat in the same location, the top of the south side bleachers. According to Palmer, he sits there so he can get more air on hot days and it keeps him from facing the sun. It’s also close to the handicapped parking area.
Although, on Saturday night, he said he decided to switch things up so he could watch his great-grandchildren as they hung out by the fence.
“Saturday night, we were on the fourth row because my great-grandchildren were sitting down on the fence line, so we wanted to be close to them,” he said.
On Friday, the rodeo announcer described Palmer’s apparel and pointed him out in the crowd for his dedicated attendance at the Clearwater Rodeo.
“It was a great honor. I had no idea I was going to be honored,” he said. “I felt good, it made me feel real good. There was a lot of shaking hands and people were very polite.”
Since his first time there, Palmer said he has appreciated the enthusiasm of people who attend, as well as the set-up of activities.
“In my first experience, it was such a well-run rodeo, it seemed to have all of the facilities that it required for a good rodeo,” he said. “The people were great and very friendly. It was very interesting and there were large crowds.”
Over the years, Palmer said the events have remained mostly the same, but its facilities and number of contestants have improved.
He said people in the audience are “very attentive and they show a great interest in the events.”
While the crowd is great, what Palmer said he really enjoys is watching the horses and roping events. This interest goes back to when he rode horses with his family.
“In my days, in our horse shows, we did a lot of barrel racing and had a lot of family events. I had all of my family on horseback and we rode in a family class,” he said.
On his farm, 7 Hills Ranch, which he started in 1974, Palmer raised quarter horses for horse shows. He also has a team of draft horses that he said he shows in the Albion Boone County Fair Parade.
“I bred and raised quarter horses; I trained them. I put my entire family in the saddle and we showed quarter horses around the area – family style – my wife and my three children,” he said. “We raised cattle also. It’s been a family operation from the beginning and still is a family operation.”
Palmer was born and raised in Fairfield in Clay County and then went to college in Chicago at Northern Illinois College of Optometry, where he studied and entered the field of optometry.
From there, he started Eye Associates, which is now called Eye Physicians, in Albion in 1949 and worked part time in Neligh’s location. He is now retired, but his business remains in the family and was passed down to his son and now granddaughter.
“I operated it in ‘49. My son, Mark, took over in ‘94 and Alison took over in 2016. So, it’s a three-generation office,” he said.
While he has retired from Eye Physicians, his work on the farm hasn’t ended.
At 100 years old, Palmer continues to go strong in helping Mark with the farm’s cattle and pasture ground.
“I help my son with calving. We have about 100 head of cows to calve and I was up every morning this spring helping to calve,” he said. “We began in February and it was kind of cold and stormy then, but I was up every morning helping.”
When he’s not working, Palmer said he enjoys spending time with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, including taking them to the rodeo.
In this year’s rodeo, there wasn’t anyone who he was especially rooting for, but he said he knew two of the people participating.
Palmer also said he was pleased with the Clearwater Rodeo Queen crowning of Macy Zentner on Friday, as her family is close to where he lives in Albion.
“Cedar Rapids is just 6 miles from here,” he said. “I felt good about it; it’s a good family. And, her brother is a race fan. He puts cars on our race track every Friday night.”
With steer wrestling, barrel races, rodeo queen announcements and many other activities, his time at all 51 of the Clearwater Rodeos has made for an interesting experience, he said.
“It’s a complete rodeo,” Palmer said. “They have everything necessary, and they have the manpower to put it on.”