State Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward of Portland got her first cowboy hat Tuesday night.
Bill Hansell of Athena, her colleague in the Senate, bought her a hat as a gift, but it was too small.
Good thing, then, Steiner Hayward’s friend Kimberly Lindsay of Lexington met her at D&B Supply in Pendleton to help her shop for some Round-Up outfits. Lindsay is the mother of Round-Up Princess Kaelyn Lindsay. Steiner Hayward came away with the hat, shirts and jeans with some bling.
She already had the boots.
Hansell is Christian, Steiner Hayward is Jewish. He’s Republican. She’s Democrat. She’s from Massachusetts, went to Harvard and is a medical doctor. He’s an Eastern Oregon native, University of Oregon alum and former county commissioner.
Their political careers brought them together as allies and friends. And Round-Up brought them to Eastern Oregon.
The Round-Up brings ’em from all over the state. For a few days every year, Pendleton is not just home to one of the biggest outdoor rodeos, the town becomes Oregon’s political and cultural hub.
Plenty of communities in Oregon have festivals and events. But Pendleton developed the infrastructure to host the Round-Up throng, from the stadium and arena to the multitude of hotels and restaurants. But Steiner Hayward said the draw goes deeper:
“I think the Round-Up speaks to Oregon history better than any other event.”
And coming here, she said, is “an opportunity to connect with the part of the state we don’t get to connect to very much.”
That “we” means folks from the Willamette Valley and Portland-metro area. Steiner Hayward said she is big on meeting people where they are.
“You get a totally different appreciation for what people are facing,” she said. “There’s stuff we can learn from each other. To think the Valley has all the answers is hooey.”
Steiner Hayward is not a total newbie to Eastern Oregon. She did 10 weeks of a medical residency in John Day and eight more in Pendleton. She was a member of the Senate Committee On Health Care that toured the state last year, including Morrow County, where she met Lindsay and county commissioners. Hansell aims to expand her experiences with an agenda that includes a swing through Wallowa County, judging the Jr. Indian Pageant and the VFW’s Cowboy Breakfast.
Hansell called Round-Up the magnet that helps bridge the notorious rural-urban divide.
That magnet draws Oregon university presidents and state politicians of all stripes. They have become regulars in the Friday morning Westward Ho! Parade through downtown Pendleton. Steiner Hayward will ride with Hansell and his wife, Margaret. Republican Rep. Greg Barreto of Cove will be there. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and her Republican challenger Knute Buehler are in the parade. Jamie McLeod-Skinner will be on horseback. She’s the Democrat looking to oust Republican Greg Walden as U.S. representative for the 2nd Congressional District. Walden is not in this year’s parade.
Mike Thorne, a former Round-Up board member, state senator from Pendleton and Port of Portland director, said the Round-Up is increasingly vital to Pendleton’s economic future and has grown beyond a mere local event.
“You talk to anybody in the state about big events, and the Pendleton Round-Up gets on everyone’s schedule or agenda or bucket list,” he said.
The Urban League of Portland put Round-Up on its list three years ago. Members of the 73-year-old African-American service, civil rights and advocacy organization will participate in the Westward Ho!
Urban League President and CEO Nkenge Harmon Johnson said she attended Round-Up with her family as a child, then years later she and her husband attended with friends. When she became president of the Urban League in 2015, the organization published the “State of Black Oregon,” she said, and that created “an opportunity with the public to highlight the vibrant past, present and future of Black people in Oregon,” such as the stories of cowboy George Fletcher and businessmen Leon Ransom.
“So we decided to Let ’er Buck,” Harmon Johnson said, “and add our own touch to this fun, cultural tradition.”
The visits also helped the Urban League move forward with more advocacy and engagement in Pendleton and elsewhere in Eastern Oregon.
“We are increasing the visibility of sometimes overlooked communities with lawmakers and service providers,” Harmon Johnson continued. “Beyond that, the Urban League is also signaling that events like the Pendleton Round-Up, and Oregon State Fair for example, are not only fun but safe, welcoming options for Black families to enjoy. Given the tense, scary, and sometimes dangerous incidents that are too often directed at Black people and other people of color, we understand that our presence is a powerful signal.”
Many people would love to come to the rodeo or other events in the area, she stated, but the Urban League and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation are the two organizations she knew of that are driving a concerted effort to make these events more inclusive.
Real estate mogul and art aficionado Jordan Schnitzer said he has been coming to Round-Up “37-38 years now” and each year enjoys bringing people “who don’t know anything about the way of life in Eastern Oregon.” He said the value of the Round-Up is the window it opens to something gone from many places.
Pendleton’s children work with other children during Round-Up, he said, they work under the guidance of adults who are not their parents, and they see adults working together to make Round-Up a benefit for the community.
“And that’s an expectation and that’s a critical thing that I think many of us that come and see the Round-Up recognize and admire,” Schnitzer said. “But it certainly is lost in the bigger cities.”
For Hansell and Steiner Hayward, the Round-Up helps cement their friendship. He also pointed out crossing the urban-rural divide requires two.
“It’s not just they come here, someone needs to invite them,” he said. “You invite, you set up a forum to make it worth their time to come.”