We are sharing information on a few of the men and women who were Clovis Rodeo Grand Marshals during the Rodeo’s 105-year history.
The first Grand Marshal (1916) was Charles H. Atkinson. Minutes from the Clovis Board of Trustees addressed him as the volunteer Fire Chief.
George Phebus joined the Rodeo association in 1928. George was Grand Marshal in 1934. His son Rex Phebus was Grand Marshal in 1994. Rex joined the association in 1938 and served on their board for more than 50 years.
Dr. Jim Pendergrass was Grand Marshal 1937, 1938 and 1942. He served as mayor from 1928-1930. Duane Wamsley and Carl Larson shared the title of Grand Marshal in 1942 with Dr. Jim. Dr. Jim’s daughter, Erma, was Rodeo Queen in 1940. Duane Wamsley married Erma in 1945.
No Grand Marshal was selected or parade held during World War II.
Lawrence “Shorty” Sassano was Grand Marshal in 1963. His son Leslie was selected Grand Marshal in 2004. Shorty’s father Aniello Sassano established a shoe repair business in Clovis. It is the oldest family owned business in Clovis. Sassano’s Men’s Wear is now owned by Les’ son Greg Sassano.
Bob Simpson was selected Grand Marshal in 1969. His 4-month-old great grandson Gary Hill shared the saddle with him during the parade. Bob was born in Academy in 1894 and would spend his life as a cattle rancher there. His grandfather John Greenup Simpson donated land in 1868 for the Academy Church, 1872 Academy School and the Academy Cemetery. Members of his family are actively involved in preserving the historical church and school.
Ted Forbes was Grand Marshal in 1976 and served as Rodeo President 1954-1955. His son Dan served as Grand Marshal in 1997 and as Rodeo president 1965-1968. Dan was honored as Fresno County’s Cattleman of the year in 1977. The Forbes cattle ranches were in the Piedra area.
Jay Robinson (1923-2010) was Grand Marshal in 1995. He is quoted in a 1982 Fresno Bee article that he began helping at the Clovis Rodeo when he was five. Jay served as Rodeo President, 1957-1959. His brother Bob was born in Academy (1926-2012) and was the 2009 Grand Marshal. The brothers learned their livestock skills while working with their dad (Jay) at their Sierra pack station.
Four women have been selected Grand Marshals. Lucretia McMurtry (age 92) was the first woman honored in 1982. Lulu and Mrs. H. E. Armstrong organized the first Spring Festival Day in 1914. Lulu’s father (A.P. Smith) was a wheat rancher in Academy. Lulu would drive her four sisters in a horse and buggy to Clovis to attend school. She graduated from Clovis High in 1909 and married the dashing Dr. McMurtry in 1911.
Beth Crabtree was the second woman honored in 1990. She married Rae Crabtree (1974 Grand Marshal) in 1931. They operated Crabtree’s Pack Station from 1931 to 1965. Their 6-month-old granddaughter Tish Wilhite rode in the 1962 Clovis Rodeo Parade with her mother Jo. In 1982 Tish was Miss Rodeo California and was among the ten finalist in Miss Rodeo America that year.
A 2008 Clovis Independent article reported that Tish held the eighth place national ranking in the National Reined Cowboy Association. She buys 2-year-old untrained quarter horses and after training and showing them, they are sold, and the cycle begins again.
In 2003 Betty Mouliot became the third woman to be honored. She and her husband Martin (Grand Marshal in 1991) arrived in Clovis in 1943. They bought a ranch on Copper Avenue and lived in a house that was originally a stage coach stop. They owned Mart’s Grocery store (1948-1956) at the northwest corner of Pollasky and Fifth streets. Their son Pete joined the Rodeo Association in 1988 and has served on the Rodeo Board of Directors.
In 2017 Jodie Simpson Everett became the fourth woman to become Grand Marshal. As reported earlier, in 1853 her great grandfather John Greenup Simpson arrived in the Academy area. The Simpsons and other pioneers in that area would foster the city of Clovis. Jodie’s father Edwin W. Simpson was Grand Marshal in 1956.
The traditions of the Clovis Rodeo Association are a part of our rich heritage.
*Update: There are now six women that have been selected Grand Marshals. The 2023 Clovis Rodeo Grand Marshalls are Judy Hedrick and Susan Frantizich.