Making the rodeo go round

Volunteers dedicate thousands of hours to fishing rodeo

Annie Blanks | 3154450 | @DestinLogAnnie |
Ann White, who has been a volunteer with the Destin Fishing Rodeo for 23 years, helps a guest at the T-shirt trailer Wednesday afternoon. ANNIE BLANKS/The Destin Log

It takes a village.

Specifically, it takes the world’s luckiest fishing village to put on the Destin Fishing Rodeo every year. The event requires volunteers to coordinate everything from T-shirt sales to weigh-in judging.

“There would be no rodeo if it weren’t for the volunteers,” said associate rodeo director Marion Palmgren, who is a volunteer herself.

In fact, the only paid Destin Fishing Rodeo staffers are executive director Helen Donaldson and weighmaster Bruce Cheeves. Any other people required to make the rodeo go round do so on their own dime and time.

That adds up to four judges each day Monday through Thursday, six judges Friday through Sunday and up to 14 each day in the merchandise trailer.

Roger Porter is one of those volunteers. The retired fisherman was a rodeo judge on Wednesday.

“I’m volunteering so I can give back to this fishing community that has given so much to me,” he said. “If you can volunteer, why wouldn’t you?”

Ann White is no stranger to volunteering. The decorator and interior designer has taken a break from her job each October for the past 23 years to help out at the rodeo.

“I do a little bit of everything,” she said. “I’m here all day every day for 31 days straight. I see a little bit of it all.”

One of the biggest jobs White has is manning the merchandise airstream trailer, which requires keeping up with stock and inventory, helping to design new T-shirts and coordinating “shirt folding parties,” where she lays hundreds of T-shirts on the tables outside of AJ’s and folds them along with other volunteers.

“When I’m done with my shift, usually around 2 o’clock each day, I like to go down to the weigh-in barge and help the guys weigh the fish,” she said. “And all day I’ll go out there and check on the judges, check on Bruce (Cheves, rodeo weighmaster), and see if they need anything.”

White is a jack of all trades, and though it keeps her very busy, she says there’s nothing she’d rather be doing during the month of October.

“I love it more than anything,” she said. “Even if my feet hurt at the end of the day, I don’t dread getting up the next morning.”