Lue Harris’ Dream was “About Doing Something for the Kids”

Published 9:07 am Wednesday, May 18, 2016

By Mike Louviere

The Orange Leader

Lue Harris told her family that she had a dream about helping kids. Naturally her family wanted to know the details. Lue said that God had appeared in her dream and told her she needed to do something for the “Special Kids”.

The Harris family has operated Farmer’s Mercantile for decades and have been involved with the Orange County Sheriff’s Posse Rodeo and been members of the posse mounted drill team, so it was no surprise that Lue decided to stage a rodeo. Dan, Lue’s husband, was pessimistic at first. Dan has been a businessman all of his life and could only see problem after problem. However, Lue, Jo, their daughter and Bubba, their son won Dan over and the dream that became the Special Angels Rodeo was born.

“We started putting the first rodeo together in January, 2014. It took until November to stage the rodeo,” said Jo. “One of the first things we did was to have a meeting after church one Sunday with a group of people from church and we talked it over. We decided on some tentative events and figured out we could partner with the sheriff’s posse and get under their umbrella and use the arena on Highway 105.”

The first thing and for a while the only thing they had was a “Mighty Bucky”, a manual bucking machine that approximates the ride on a bull. There were several fundraising events and more meetings and finally by mid-November the rodeo was ready to go.

“We were planning on putting down plywood and rubber mats on the arena dirt. We knew it would not be ideal, but it was all we could think of. Then one of the mat companies stepped up and told us they would furnish the heavy interlocking plastic mats,” said Jo. “Those were wonderful, they gave us great surfaces for pushing the wheel chairs and for the ones that have to use walkers and crutches.”

The first rodeo was a success with 94 entrants and a host of volunteers that were rewarded by seeing the smiles on the faces of the kids who were doing things they never thought they would be able to do.

As soon as the 2014 rodeo was over, work began on the second rodeo for 2015. That rodeo saw an estimated 300 contestants, more than they had expected, but due to the generosity of Chad Havens donating the use of the T-2 arena, they had a facility that could handle the unexpected overflow.

“We want every Special Angel to be able to participate. We do not “age out”. We do not care how old someone is. We want them to be able to participate in the rodeo and have fun. We have the arena covered with the mats, so that we can take anyone, no matter what makes them “special”. One lady told us about some carnival games that were for sale. The person that had them ended up donating them. Our rodeo is totally free for the contestants. We have individual donations, corporate donations, donations of some of the things we need for the rodeo,” said Jo. “Local companies give us support and help by reducing the cost of services. We get a lot of work done at OCARC. They do our banners and make our gold medals.”

Every contestant that is registered is awarded a gold medal. All of them are treated like winners even if they do nothing but register and walk around looking things over. The fact that they have come to the rodeo is all that matters to all the volunteers.

Lue and Jo Harris cannot estimate the number of hours they volunteer for the Special Angels. They conduct the meetings held the third Monday of each month. There are all the details connected with the rodeo, arranging with the vendors everything from the large plastic mats to the cowboy hats, bandanas, tee shirts, special plastic cups and backpacks that are given to each contestant. Putting together the Special Angels Rodeo is a mammoth job. For the Harris family and the other volunteers that work year round to make the rodeo a success, the smiles on the faces of the hundreds of Special Angels is all the reward they want.

“The more contestants we have the more partners and other volunteers we need. Anyone interested in finding out about the Orange County Special Angels is invited to meet with us on the third Monday of the month at Robert’s restaurant. If you want to eat, come at 6 p.m. Our meetings start at 6:30 p.m.,” said Jo. “The rodeo this year (2016) will be held November 12, at the T-2 arena. We will be having fundraisers. Right now there is a link sale scheduled in May and our big fish fry and auction in September.”

One interesting thing that happened at the 2015 rodeo was that a lady from Montgomery County attended and saw what was happening and how great it was for the kids. She went back home and began talking about the rodeo and now Montgomery will have its first rodeo for Special Angels in 2016.

One of the biggest supporters of the effort his wife started is Dan Harris. He pessimism was won over and now spends all day at the rodeo pushing and pulling on a Mighty Bucky. His smiles are almost as big as the Special Angels he helps.