By Will McClure
For 60 years, the Stamford FFA has had an annual tradition that has allowed numerous FFA students from Stamford, Lueders-Avoca and Paint Creek to be able to have an opportunity to show off their hard work and give their community a chance to show their support. A product of a collaboration between then-Ag teachers Brad Rowland and Weldon Holbrooks, the Tri-Area Stock Show has grown year after year into the large annual event that it is today.
At the beginning of the 1955-56 school year, Rowland and Holbrooks had been talking to their students about how productive their projects had been, leading to a discussion between the two teachers on where they discussed the possible idea of a local livestock show. After presenting their idea to the Stamford Chamber of Commerce agriculture committee, Rowland and Holbrooks received their full support, even offering to furnish the placing ribbons and rosettes for the show. Thus, the first Local Stamford FFA Livestock Show was held on the first Saturday in January 1956. While the current stock show takes place in an arena, the first stock shows were originally held on the square, under permission from the Stamford City Council. Then-City Water Department superintendent Bob Dickenson volunteered his department workers to haul wood shavings and sawdust from the Vaden Planing Mill to cover the area inside the median for the inaugural event and even cleaned up the area after the show was over.
Weldon Holbrooks, in a self-written article reflecting on the stock show, said that with the success of the first 1956 event, enrollment quickly increased from the 60 entries at the first show, allowing for a larger show each and every year. In preparation for the larger shows and rising costs, Holbrooks and Rowland traveled to Fort Worth at the beginning of the 1957 school year to purchase 90 ewes and mutton lambs to use for a cooperative sheep feeding project as well as purchase a commercial feed mix from the Stamford Cotton Oil Mill.
"Each student wanting sheep through the coop paid a set amount for the number of head he wanted," Holbrooks said. "When the student picked the lambs they were ear tailed and assigned to students using the tag number. At the end of the feeding period the sheep were sold to the Fort Worth Stockyards; all the bills were paid and each student shared equally in the profit or loss the project made."
After three more years on the town square, the show moved to the quarter horse barns at the Texas Cowboy Reunion grounds, due to the continued growing participation and the inclusion of swine projects due to its popularity. It was also at this time when former Congressman Charles Stenholm began teaching vocational agriculture at then-Avoca ISD. Holbrooks said that at that time it was decided to include students from the Avoca FFA and Paint Creek FFA, since they were in the Stamford trade area. Originally only including enrolled 4-H Club members from the three schools, it was eventually changed to allow any student enrolled at any of the three school districts to participate as long as their entry was signed by one of the vocational Ag teachers or a county agent. It was not long after that the stock show would receive a new name: The Stamford Tri-Area Livestock Show.
By 1974, the show committee decided to raise funds for a permanent show facility after occupying the quarter horse barns for nearly 15 years. Initially having $5000 in a savings account, Stamford Young Farmers and the show committee would raise another $5000 for the estimated $22,500 project. Holbrooks stated that “the amount was raised and the Texas Cowboy Reunion loaned the rest of the money at no interest for 10 years. The facility was ready for the 1975 show and the final payment was made on time in February of 1985.” That facility, along with additional add-ons throughout the years, has continued to be the home of the show ever since, and was named the “Weldon Holbrooks Show Arena” in 2011 in honor of the man who helped bring the stock show to life.
Now entering its 60th year of existence, the Tri-Area Stock Show has continued to be an annual tradition to help FFA students kick off the new year with the support from their communities. Part of this tradition is current stock show treasurer James Decker, who first attended the show as young as five before participating in his first show in 1994.
As someone who has seen first-hand the show expand, Decker related how the show has continued the traditions set forth by Weldon Holbrooks and Brad Rowland in 1956, relating how he saw the new barn where the animals are now held before the show being constructed after the quarter horse barn, a former location for the show, had burned down. Decker said that, much like when the arena had to be constructed, money had to be borrowed to help build the new facility, with the show helping to pay off the note over the years. However, thanks to the generosity of the communities of Stamford, Lueders-Avoca and Paint Creek, the show has continued to change tremendously over the years.
When asked about how the show has grown, Decker said that the stock show board has always tried to make it better each year while still adapting to the trends of student enrollment at the three schools.
“Enrollment in the show has changed with the trend, but we always have three really strong programs headed by four teachers,” Decker said. “The show has really grown in strength and quality over the years. Enrollment may change, but the quality is always there.”
Decker went on to talk about the remarkable support the communities have given to the show each and every year, making it an event that is always geared toward the kids and all of their hard work. He mentioned that the fundraising effort put forth every year is always the smoothest with countless donations being given through an annual letter sent out asking for donations as well as the annual cake auction held during the show. Credited to Stamford Ag teacher Brad Bevel when he first arrived in Stamford in 2003, the cake auction has grown with the show as a fun way to help with the stock show, raising as much as $15,000 at the 2015 edition. Decker said that every dollar raised goes straight back to the show, whether it is to improve the facilities or add to the prize money given, which Decker said has raised from $5-$10 for placing, to at least $50 for each participant.
As the 2016 Tri-Area Stock Show prepares to get underway, Decker said that it is an event that people always look forward to. From the days when it was held at the town square to its current location at the Weldon Holbrooks Show Arena, the stock show has continued to build on the traditions set forth 60 years ago by two Stamford Ag teachers.
“Weldon Holbrooks was an integral part of the stock show from the very beginning,” Decker said. “He’s the reason why people are so serious about it and supportive of what we do. It has and always will be ‘Mr. Holbrooks’ show’ and we try to preserve that. We want to build on his legacy and it gives us a lot of reasons on why we do it.”
Congratulations to the Tri-Area Stock Show for 60 amazing years and here is to many more to come!