Sometimes, all you have to do is ask. Charlie Geren did just that almost a half century ago and he’s been loving the answer ever since.
A young delivery driver for Coca Cola at the time, the now Texas State Representative for District 99 found himself in the right place at the right time and asking the right question when making a delivery to the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo.
“I saw what was going on and thought I want to do some of that,” Geren recalled. “I went to Mr. (W.R.) Watt Sr. (legendary Stock Show general manager) and he said, ‘We’ll put you to work on the steer show’ – and he did. I’ve worked there 49 years since. It would be 50 this year, but COVID got us last year and we didn’t have one.”
Another source of pride – and history: 2022 is the 45th year Geren has ridden in the rodeo’s Grand Entry. Fans recognize him in the rodeo’s opening parade each night not only as one of Fort Worth’s most prominent citizens but as the rider with the biggest smile on his face as he participates in a treasured ritual he has loved ever since he first saddled up for the entry in the mid-1970s.
He still vividly recalls the day he was asked to ride in the prestigious event.
“I was in a function at my parents’ house and Mr. (John) Justin said, ‘Charlie, now that you’re on the board, why don’t you ride in the Grand Entry?’” Geren said. “Another guy then said, ‘You’ve got to wear a coat and tie.’ I said okay and I’ve been doing it ever since.
“It’s still special and I love it. I’m a lot older now and so are my aches and pains, but not enough to keep me out of this.”
Geren owns a horse but doesn’t ride it in the Grand Entry. For that he uses one from the rodeo contractor.
“It’s better when the horse is used to doing this. There’s a lot going on out there,” he said.
Geren knows from experience what can happen if a horse gets spooked during the ceremonies. Folks have fallen off, as he himself did once.
“It was kind of a freak deal when I fell off – and it hurt,” he said with a chuckle. “You have to be careful doing this. You don’t just jump on a horse and go out there.”
Geren does not come from a horse family, nor has he ever competed in a rodeo. In fact, until participating in this year’s Grand Entry, he hadn’t even been on a horse since 2019, the last time the FWSSR was held.
“It was exciting to get back on that horse,” he said. “Last year was pretty lonesome. I was able to stay in Austin, but this is certainly worth making the trip back for.”
Geren’s first job with the FWSSR was on the stock committee, which he stayed on until three years ago. Thirty five years ago he and the late Marty Richter started the popular calf scramble event at the rodeo. At one point he was also on the junior heifer committee, but he found he didn’t have time for all three, so he surrendered his spot on that committee.
“I’ve done a lot and I’m proud of it all,” he said. “We’re very fortunate to have this in our great city and I’ve enjoyed so much being a part of it all these years.”
FWSSR president and general manager Brad Barnes said Geren’s Grand Entry tenure ranks him among Stock Show legends alongside the likes of John Justin, Bob Watt and Neal Gay.
“Heavy demands on his schedule never deter his dedication and commitment, often traveling between Austin and Fort Worth on a daily basis when the Legislature is in session,” Barnes said. “Charlie sets the bar high, not only for our Grand Entry, but his other important roles over the years including superintendent for our junior steer show, calf scramble committee, executive committee and vice president, to name a few.”
“The Grand Entry would not be the Grand Entry without Charlie,” said Richard Connor, president and publisher of the Fort Worth Business Press and a former Stock Show & Rodeo executive committee member who has ridden in many Grand Entries along with Geren.
“Before you ride out in the arena you’re sitting on your horse in the alley waiting and there is lively banter and cowboy talk,” he said. “Charlie is the smiling face, the welcoming handshake, and master of ceremonies back there.”
“The Grand Entry is under the big top,” Connor said, “but Charlie’s real contributions have been in the barns with kids and cattle and on the arena floor with the calf scramble. He’s the real deal with the Stock Show.”
Geren was elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 2000, a job that keeps him quite busy. Before he ran, however, he made something clear to then House Speaker Pete Laney.
“I said, ‘Mr. Speaker, I won’t run for the Legislature if I can’t do the Grand Entry,’” Geren said. “He said, ‘Charlie, that’s business in the district. You take care of that.’ I’m glad he said that because I was serious.”
Geren doesn’t know if his 45 years in the Grand Entry is a record. He’s not even sure such records are kept, but he believes there is only one other person who might have done it longer.
“Who knows how long Mr. Justin rode in it? Rumor is he got married and rode the next day,” Geren said. “This isn’t about a record, it’s a tradition that I plan to keep going.
“It’s been really an honor to do it as long as they’ve let me. I don’t have any intention of quitting.”