Back in the spring of 1983, Skirvin Farms leased 21 acres of property to the Philomath Frolic committee to move forward with the idea of establishing a rodeo.
This week, the Philomath rodeo will be staged for the 37th time since volunteers built the original arena over a six-week period all those years ago. The inaugural rodeo in June 1983 proved to be a success among competitors and evolved into a Northwest Professional Rodeo Association-sanctioned event.
Paul Skirvin, who died July 1 at age 89, will have a permanent association with the rodeo. Not only did he and his brothers, Carl and Walt, offer the land to get the rodeo going but he volunteered for more than three decades.
In recent years, Skirvin and the family donated the rodeo grounds to the city with the important stipulation that a long-term lease be maintained with the Frolic. In November 2016, voters approved in favor of the property being annexed into the city.
The lease agreement between the city and Frolic (at a rate of $1 per year) became official in August 2018.
"It's the only thing Philomath's got during the summer, it keeps them going," Skirvin said during a 2017 interview with the Philomath Express. "We did well in Philomath, so we decided to give something back."
Skirvin’s earliest rodeo memories dated back to when he was a young boy in the 1930s in Molalla. He moved to Philomath in 1958 and 15 years later married Lola, another important contributor to the rodeo through the years.
Lola Skirvin, who died Aug. 19, 2018, remembered how the community would come together each summer to get the Frolic rodeo grounds ready.
"We used to have big potlucks down there every Saturday and sometimes they'd be through at noon and we'd eat and everyone would bring food,” Lola recalled in 2017. “We had huge crowds, I mean, between 20 and 30 people.”
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A graveside funeral service for Paul Skirvin has been planned for 1 p.m. Monday, July 15, at Maple Wood Cemetery in Scotts Mills in Marion County. Earlier in the day, visitation will run from 9-11 a.m. at McHenry Funeral Home in Corvallis. (Leave condolences at www.mchenryfuneralhome.com).
The family plans to hold a celebration of life at a later date.
Chris Workman, of the Frolic & Rodeo executive board, said the couple will be remembered during each rodeo performance with the riderless horse tradition, which remembers those who have fallen in the past year. The Frolic had already planned to honor Lola in that way and now Paul will join her.
“To be able to honor them with the riderless horse, I think, will be a high point of the rodeo for me this year,” Workman said. “I think for most people in the community that knew Lola or Paul, they will be able to appreciate that and again it’s a small gesture, really, in the scheme of things, but I think that will be a nice, kind of reverent moment for friends and family, and friends of the Philomath rodeo, to be able to appreciate their contributions over the years.”
During the summer of 2017, the Philomath Frolic & Rodeo honored Paul and Lola Skirvin as grand marshals of the festival’s popular parade down Applegate Street.
“Paul and Lola meant a lot to the Frolic community and, I think, to the Philomath community,” Workman said. “The donation they were able to make a couple of years ago of the grounds to ensure the Frolic & Rodeo continues to have a home and continue to be a part of the Philomath tradition really sealed their lifetime of dedication to the Philomath community.”
Those attending the rodeo will surely notice a new horse sculpture that now sits in a spot near South 13th Street off a road that leads in and out of the rodeo grounds. The Friends of Skirvin Park group donated the sculpture to the community.
Artist Bud Thomas, Paul’s nephew, Darin Skirvin, and other volunteers moved the piece of artwork — created out of horseshoes — to the site on Friday. The sculpture had been temporarily sitting on Paul Skirvin’s residential property until final arrangements could be made to relocate it.