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Holding the reigns

First Miss Rodeo American reminisces on her turn in the pageantry saddle

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Posted: Tuesday, December 14, 2010 12:00 am

SOUTH DAKOTA — Miss Rodeo America serves as an official spokeswoman for the sport of professional rodeo, and she's been doing so since 1955.

“I was very honored to be the first Miss Rodeo America,” said Marilyn (Scott) Freimark. Representing the state of Wyoming, Freimark now makes her home in South Dakota.

Growing up in Cheyenne, Wyo., she said that she loved horses from the first moment she first saw them and added that she could ride before she could walk. Following her love of horses and western wear, she got a job when she was 13 at an upscale western store, where she met people from all over the United States.

Freimark began modeling, and when she went to college at Colorado State University, she was asked by her employer if she would like to compete in a rodeo pageant. She thought it might be fun and agreed, and her employer sponsored her, beginning the journey that eventually led Freimark to the first ever Miss Rodeo America competition in 1955 in Casper, Wyo. She competed against nine other contestants, and she remembers being awed by the beautiful trailers, groomsmen and training that came along with many of the other contestants. However, Freimark was just as apt and able, and won all three categories in the competition.

“I loved it,” she said, remembering the first Miss Rodeo America competition.

As a resident of Wyoming and student in Colorado at the time of winning the crown, Freimark said that she felt the support of two states behind her. In fact, she was the first rodeo queen ever allowed to ride in the Denver Stock Show. The lights were turned off, and a spotlight lit up the first Miss Rodeo America as she rode into the arena. Besides the pounding of horse hooves, the sound of a standing ovation lasting 10 to 15 minutes filled the arena.

“There must have been a lot of people from Wyoming and Colorado there who were really happy!” she added, thrilled with the response of supporters.

Freimark noted some changes in how the competition has grown in its 55 years; there are far more contestants, sponsors and fanfare, and contestants can now win scholarships, whereas her rewards came in other forms of gifts and meetings. She was offered a contract with Paramount Pictures and a contract for a television show, among other travel and appearance offers, but, dedicated to her studies, Freimark turned down the offers and concentrated on her education. She did as much traveling in her role of Miss Rodeo America as possible, but school was her priority. Looking back, she said she wishes she would have taken the offers and done as much traveling as possible. However, Freimark and family remain active in rodeo.

“It's in our genes,” she said. Her four children and 10 grandchildren are all involved with rodeo, and while Freimark has missed the national finals rodeo a few times so that other family members are able to compete, she is glad to be involved and hopes to continue to be involved. She appeared at the 25th, 50th and 55th anniversaries of the Miss Rodeo America competition and saw the newest Miss Rodeo America, McKenzie Haley, of Winner, crowned.

“She will represent not only South Dakota, but also Miss Rodeo America, beautifully,” Freimark said.

South Dakota held its first Miss Rodeo South Dakota pageant at the Rapid City Range Days in 1956. The pageant moved to Belle Fourche in 1963 and has since been held in conjunction with the Black Hills Round-up.

Haley is South Dakota's fourth representative to hold the national title: Pat (Koren) Sanmartin was Miss Rodeo America 1965; Donna Keffeler was Miss Rodeo America 1982; and Leslie (Patten) White was Miss Rodeo America 1985.

The concept of Miss Rodeo America was developed as a way to select a young woman to serve as official spokesperson for the sport of professional rodeo, as well as provide educational opportunities for the pageant competitors, and organized under International Rodeo Management. It moved between a few different cities before finally settling in Las Vegas, Nev., where it annually takes place.

“I don't believe the role of Miss Rodeo America has changed a lot over the years, but I do believe the opportunities that come with the title have changed with the times,” said Cindy Wilk,  the national director from South Dakota to Miss Rodeo America. “Miss Rodeo America has always had the role of being the spokesperson for the sport. She is a cowgirl who works all year to educate the public and raise awareness of rodeo and its related industries. As the sport has grown and the recognition of the title of Miss Rodeo America has grown, so have the opportunities available to her.”

The contestants come from around the country, and each has a year of experience as the reigning state Miss Rodeo under her belt when she arrives at the weeklong competition in Las Vegas to select the next year's Miss Rodeo America.

Contestants are judged on categories that include personality, appearance, horsemanship, rodeo knowledge and presentation.

Once crowned, Miss Rodeo America travels approximately 100,000 miles to different rodeos, schools, civic group meetings and special events to raise awareness about the sport of rodeo during her yearlong reign. She is the official spokesperson for the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.

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