By Mitchell Willetts
NYSSA – That first date at the rodeo brought Donelle and LaVern Widmer closer, and a love of horses has kept them close ever since.
That shared passion has been reflected in their contributions and involvement in all things rodeo related in Nyssa, and is why they’ve been selected as the 2017 grand marshals of Nyssa Nite Rodeo.
“I think it’s a good deal,” Donelle said.
“My family thinks it’s a good deal,” LaVern said, less enthusiastic about his new marshal duties than Donelle. “It’s a great honor. I’ll put it that way.”
LaVern would rather be manning the rough stock gate at the rodeo, as he has in years past, than waving from a parade float. He’s not much for having his personal life under the spotlight either, he said.
“All I really want them to know is that we’re long time residents of this valley. I know Vale probably as well as I know Nyssa,” he said. “I cowboyed the early part of my life, worked for the irrigation district and still done quite a little roping, riding even.”
Both have been active members of the Owyhee Riding Club for many years, which has often been helpful to the rodeo, providing horses and extra hands as needed. LaVern even served as its president for several years in the late 1980s.
He’s got some rodeo credentials as well, having competed in team roping and wild horse racing in his day, winning the Vale Suicide race in 1968 and 1969.
Donelle always preferred riding for pleasure rather than competition, never feeling the need to prove her passion for horses.
Donelle was from Vale, LaVern was from Nyssa, but they found each other on Main Street in Ontario, on what they called “the cruise.”
Weekends in Ontario saw the younger crowd come out from all around just to drive up and down that main drag in whatever car or truck they had.
It was amid all that traffic almost 47 years ago the two first spoke. They made plans for a date, and met up again at the Vale 4th of July rodeo.
They fell fast for each other, meeting in June 1970 and marrying by December. She was 18 and he was 21.
“We had things in common – horses mainly,” Donelle said.
Not long after the wedding they left Nyssa, never knowing they’d return, and found a new home in Westfall. For six years the two stayed put, with LaVern cowboying at a local ranch. They loved the place, they said, but when the ranch sold, it was time to go cowboying elsewhere.
It took a long time for them to settle down. Nowhere they went wound up being the right spot to put down roots, and for years they moved from place to place.
They moved back to Nyssa, then made stops in Imnaha and Jordan Valley before returning to Nyssa in 1981 for good.
LaVern got a job “riding ditch” for the irrigation district that left him enough time to do all the cowboying he wanted. Their two sons were becoming school aged, and Donelle wanted to make sure they got a decent education. Nyssa, it seemed, was the place to be all along.
Whether it’s selling tickets or getting down in the mud with the bulls, the Widmers always play a part when the rodeo’s in town.
Donelle admits she isn’t as big of a rodeo fan as LaVern. But they’ll always have horses in common.
“We’ve had horses all our lives,” LaVern said. “We still got one.”