Elks Recreation was formed by B.P.O.E. #1538 on November 18, 1943. Its first activity was a dance held on December 4th at the Veterans Memorial Building with a horse as a door prize. With C.C. Marinus Nielsen as chairman, a large committee was named by Exalted Ruler Fred O. Sherrill to handle the dance. Other committee members included: Andrew B. “Andy” Hanson, John F. Adam, Frank W. Shields, M.W. Hickman, Roy Gallison, Oliver Ames, J.S. McDonell, Henry L. Tilley, Charles Ferini, Frank Tognazzini, William Luton, Dominic “Nick” Ardantz, Milo Ferini, P.H. Mahoney, Charles Maretti, Charles Campodonico, Charles Cossa, R.F. Knotts, Floyd Watson, Al Stone, B. Russ Griffith, William Snowden, C.L. Kyle, E.T. Sanders, and Kenneth E. Trefts.
The dance was a success, netting $1177, and the lodge officers decided to hold a rodeo, a possibility which had been mentioned in a November 19th newspaper article.
Who started the rodeo? This question was posed many times over the years. Much credit should certainly go to 1943-1944 Exalted Ruler Fred Sherrill, the December dance committee and the 1944-45 Exalted Ruler B.R. Griffith who was administrative chairman for the first, and many other rodeos, over the years. The cooperation and guidance of the Santa Maria Valley Roping Club and its members also provided major contributions to the success of the rodeo.
A.B. Hanson, Grand Marshal of the 21st Annual Rodeo and Parade and first president of the Elks Recreation Foundation, discussed who he thought had started the rodeo in a June 5th, 1964, edition of the Santa Maria Times. Hanson said, “The whole idea of putting on this show was the brainchild of Frank Shields. It seemed that Mrs. Haslam, when she bought the horse, had a little girl in her arms, not much over a year old, and she wanted the horse for the girl to ride when she grew old enough. Later, after realizing how many years would pass before this would happen and her already mounting feed bills, she offered the horse for sale for $150. Frank Shields heard about this and approached me, ‘Let’s buy that colt from Mrs. Haslam, raffle it off, make enough money to hold a rodeo and race meet, and give all the profits to youth recreation programs in the area,’ Shields had said. I told him the idea sounded good. We interested the officers of the Elks Lodge in the deal, purchased the horse and started selling tickets. I can’t remember who put up the money for the horse, but it was probably on the cuff.”
According to Hanson, they almost had a catastrophe while tickets for the horse were being sold. “The little filly became very sick and the vet almost despaired of her life. Believe me, there were many Elks praying for her to live, and our prayers were answered. She recovered and was in perfect health when we had the drawing which was won by Leo Scaroni.”
It was reported that “Scaroni eventually gave it to his son-in-law, Frank Harrington, who was then residing in San Luis Obispo. His thirteen-year-old son, John Harrington, was considered to be the horse’s owner.