Editor's note: This story was originally published in The Oklahoman on Sunday, November 18, 2007. Clem McSpadden is a rodeo legend. A rodeo announcer for 60 years, McSpadden was the first person from the United States to announce Canada's famous Calgary Stampede. He has been honored by almost every major rodeo organization in the nation. In April, he will receive the Chester A. Reynolds Memorial Award during the annual Western Heritage Awards at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. The general manager for the National Finals Rodeo during 18 of the 19 years it was in Oklahoma City, McSpadden is the man most instrumental for turning it into the major sporting event that enticed Las Vegas to lure it away in 1985. A state senator from 1955 to 1972 and president pro tempore for two years, McSpadden was a U.S. Congressman for two years, then won the Democratic primary for governor before losing to David Boren in the runoff. At age 82, McSpadden is still announcing rodeos. He wants his funeral to be his retirement party. He also owns a consulting firm (a nice way of saying you are a lobbyist, he says) with his son and grandson. I was born in the little town of Bushyhead, five miles south of Chelsea. We've kept a ranch together that my grandparents started in 1885. I've told a lot of people that we've never made enough money to leave the county. My great grandfather had a trading post in what is now Rogers County before the Civil War. We have been around awhile. I grew up around ropers. My father was an old-time steer roper, and roped with people like John McEntire, Reba's grandfather. My father was a nephew of Will Rogers and was the foreman on the old Rogers ranch in Oologah where Uncle Will was born. I roped as a kid, then I got in high school and started entering some rodeos that paid money. I announced my first rodeo in 1947. At a little place called Story City Iowa, the announcer had to go home before the rodeo was over and somebody said, ‘Well, hell, McSpadden's got a big mouth, he can talk.' So I blundered my way through the last performance. Then we went from there to Davenport to enter a three-day rodeo and the announcer had to cancel at the last minute so I got that job. I started announcing and kept roping for the next four or five years. It (National Finals Rodeo) came here in '65 and stayed through '84. The fans kept it here. I was the hired man. They say I was the general manager but I was really the guy who gets the cussings. Losing it to Vegas was was like losing a member of your family. The old fairgrounds arena will always be the ‘Mother Arena' of the National Finals Rodeo. It came here homeless, in debt almost a quarter of a million dollars. Oklahoma City brought it back. I was in politics 20 years, either the state Senate or the Congress. Every time I came to the capital, they would say ‘Here comes that derned cowboy.' And I would go to the rodeo and they would say ‘Here comes that derned politician.' I enjoyed politics because it is a people business. But as I have said many times, two arenas I have been in, the political arena and the rodeo arena. They are very similar. A bull in each profession. But the bull in the rodeo profession starts out more genuine than the hallowed halls of the state Senate, House of Representatives or the Congress. Jim Shoulders was the toughest cowboy I have ever seen. He was completely impervious to pain. I have seen him ride bareback horses with a knee swelled up as big as a pumpkin. I played basketball against Jim's older brother, Joe, four years in high school. We walked on for Mr. Iba in 1943. The greatest feeling I ever had and will keep 'til I die is the fact than in my unsuccessful race for governor, Mr. Iba endorsed me. As the cowboys say, what a hell of man he was. He commanded your respect. Everybody called him Mr. Iba. It wasn't coach. Freckles Brown was the nicest, most genuine human being I have ever known. When Freckles rode Tornado at the finals here in '67, it was the greatest happening. This bull had been out 233 times and Freckles had never drawn him. Freckles would come up four or five days early and I would send him to a Kiwanis Club in Cushing or Lion's Club (somewhere else) to help me sell tickets. I was standing with Freckles the night they drew for the stock, and he drew Tornado. He looked at me and the first thing he said was, ‘Hope it sells some tickets.' He realized if you didn't have fans, you wouldn't have a rodeo.
Clem McSpadden is still announcing rodeos at age 82.