Bob Mitchell: ‘Lonesome Me’ almost sunk Rotary Club

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

With an interest to bring a budding country-western personality to this area, Cassville Rotary Club once scheduled a singer whose trademark song was “Old Lonesome Me” and nearly put the local civic organization out of business, financially that is.

The occasion was the1972 Rotary Rodeo, and the performer was Don Gibson.

The Rotary Club took a big chance on contracting the entertainer for a one-night performance during the three-night rodeo event. So far as can be determined, the cost was about $5,000, in addition to what Rotary had previously obligated for the rodeo producer, which was substantial.

Everything rocked along well, the Rodeo Caravan, which travelled throughout the region that year was the largest one ever, and rodeo fever was running high in the community. It seemed like about everyone wanted to put a sign on their vehicle and join the advertising effort that swung around in the region. There probably wasn’t a business in town that didn’t have its front window decorated in the rodeo theme whether they were fans of the sport or not. Kenneth Corn might have nearly exhausted his paint supply getting people in the swing of the event.

Rotarians had tickets

The easiest way to gain entrance to the Gibson performance was to get tickets from a Rotarian, each of them had a number of tickets that they could either sell or promote their business with customers.

Most of the club members were choosing the latter and making the tickets available either to family, employees or those who were in their business.

There were even non-Rotarians who purchased a few tickets to help promote this extensive effort of the local organization.

Mother Nature spoke

Everything went well until the Saturday night performance of the rodeo and Gibson as an early warning appeared from weather forecasters that storms were a possibility that evening. Thinking of this in advance, the Gibson event was moved to the Cassville gym and everyone settled back for an evening’s entertainment, either at the rodeo or to the concert.

Never did anyone think there would be such a storm blow through this area just at the time doors opened at the gym, and those who were there early thought better of staying there while the skies turned the blackest that stood in anyone’s memory. All kinds of weather conditions were headed toward Cassville with people ducking for the best shelter they could find.

Needless to say, that shelter wasn’t the Rodeo grounds or the gym. Even some of the Rotarian ticket takers who arrived early, sought shelter in the basement of the structure.

Neither event happened

The darkest of skies in memory seemed ready to spawn whatever kind of storm that could have been a disaster. Instead high winds and torrential rains washed out both events costing the Rotary Club’s membership all they had invested in the annual entertainment event.

Then came the task of what to do about the bills payable to the producer and the entertainer.

Cool heads on the rodeo committee, three of which were Dr. Eugene Miekley, Joe Ellis and Cherry Warren, promptly used available funds and signed notes at the two banks—all that was in town at the time—and paid the folks what their contracts had stipulated.

Payback time

What is borrowed must someday be returned or paid, so the Rotary club devised a plan where members would sign notes for a stipulated amount figured as their part. As funds became available there would be a drawing at the regular club meeting and the member’s name that came out of the hat got his (at that time it was an all male club) note paid to satisfy the debt.

My memory doesn’t serve well enough to recall how long it took to pay off the total sum, but it wasn’t overnight.

This could have swamped the Rotary Rodeo, and it certainly put a stop to extra, costly entertainment events that could have really sparked the event to a more prestigious annual event for Cassville.

“Old Lonesome Me” was never performed in Cassville and Gibson’s career never did reach the level of others in his profession, which might leave one to think that going on stage here might just have sent him off!

Rain continued to plague

Rain never did seem to stay away from the rodeo event, often it was credited with being a drought-breaker for a number of years.

Availability of tractors among the members was always a significant factor, especially when the event was on the American Legion Grounds. Lowland parking areas became quagmires with significant showers making it necessary to get stuck vehicles back up on the highway.

For the most part, people were understanding when they were grabbed by the mud and waited patiently for Rotary personnel to get around to them in the crowded parking area.

Bob Mitchell is the former editor and publisher of the Cassville Democrat. He is a 2017 inductee to both the Missouri Press Association Hall of Fame and Missouri Southern State University’s Regional Media Hall of Fame.