If ever there was a ‘larger than life’ character in pro rodeo, it was Hoover Hays.
This well-known steer wrestler, who made his home in Rocky Mountain House, was a friend to all. That was evident when he was given the prestigious honor of Cowboy of the Year by his peers in 2013. So his sudden passing last week at the age of 58 has the rodeo family in mourning.
Steer wrestling was Hays’ game, and he used his size to great advantage.
A second generation cowboy who was actually born in Florida, Hays tried riding bucking horses for a short time before finding his calling in the bulldogging box.
Hays won the FCA steer wrestling championship in 1980, and turned pro the next season. He made it to the Canadian Finals in 1991, and injury prevented him from getting another trip to Edmonton a year he’d qualified.
Hays tasted rodeo success both sides of the border. For many years, he held the record for the fast time at the famous Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo (5.4 seconds in 1997) – a great source of pride for him. He was also in the record books for the number of times (13) he’d qualified for the Finals at Pendleton.
He was also a regular at the Calgary Stampede, and was thrilled to be presented with the Guy Weadick Award in 2000, an honor which is given to a cowboy who best exemplifies the spirit of the Stampede.
Even after he’d quit climbing off the back of the horse himself, Hays was still a regular on the rodeo trail, as he was a popular hazer.
Then, to his great delight he was able to help his two sons Rowdy and J.D., as they launched their own pro steer wrestling careers, and accompany both of them to the CFR.
Although his real name was Gerald, we all knew him as ‘Hoover’. That was a nickname stuck on him in his early days in the sport, and he’d chuckle as he’d relate how the name was related to his ability to make great quantities of food disappear at a rapid rate.
Hoover loved to tell stories. He loved to laugh, and he loved to help people.
Hays was a go-to guy for information. And that wasn’t just for the cowboys.
He’d help rodeo announcers know the trades and splits in the steer wrestling line-up, after all the horse and rider arrangements had been made just before the performance.
In the days of our producing our television show ‘Makin’ 8’, Hoover went out of his way to help whenever and wherever he could.
Everybody on the crew knew him, and loved saying hello to him at the rodeos we covered.
He was never without a mile-wide grin and a hearty handshake. He was a great interview and we all have memories of the stories he told around the campfire we couldn’t air!
But Hoover was also a great encourager, for all young and aspiring cowboys. A quick search on Twitter in the days after word of his death came out revealed that.
There were comments like “There was always an encouraging ‘good run’ when Hoov was at the arena”; “Thanks for all the advice and support”; “He never said no to anyone”; and “He made me a better cowboy and person”. Straws Milan of Cochrane won a saddle last week at a major steer wrestling jackpot in the U.S., and dedicated it to Hoover Hays. His brother Tanner, the current Canadian steer wrestling champion tweeted he was ‘cheerful in all weathers and an uncle to me’.
Murray Milan is President of the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association. He was a competitor alongside Hays, and a close friend.
“It doesn’t matter whether you’re in Corpus Christi, Texas, or Luxton, British Columbia, mention the name ‘Hoover’ and people know who you’re talking about,” stated Milan. “If you’re at a rodeo and you need a truck, Hoover would give you his and find a way to get home.”
“Whatever the circumstances, or the kind of day he’d been having in his own life, in the thirty plus years we were friends, I never, ever, ever heard him say a bad word about anybody or anything,” insisted the elder Milan.
“This really hits home to me. It makes you appreciate people like him because there are so few of them around. It’s hard to move forward, but we have to. I’ll dearly miss him.”
Another legendary cowboy, Will Rogers, once said ‘You must judge a man’s greatness by how much he will be missed’.
It’s clear Gerald ‘Hoover’ Hays will be much missed by all those in the world of rodeo.
A celebration of life for Gerald Hays will be tomorrow, February 13th at the Calnash Ag Event Centre in Ponoka, at 2:00 pm. To help his wife of 31 years, Kathy, and the boys at this difficult time, a Facebook Hayes family benefit auction has been set up, or donations can be made at the Rocky Mountain House Credit Union.
Memorial donations can also be made to the Cowboy Benefit Fund at the CPRA.