ENTERPRISE, Ore – History was made this weekend when Kylie Willis of Enterprise became the first Wallowa County woman named Pendleton Round-Up court queen.
Willis, a junior at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho, was publicly announced queen Saturday, Nov. 28, at a brunch where the court of five women met for the first time.
Willis was the Chief Joseph Days Rodeo queen in 2012 and is one of eight members of her family to earn her way onto the court. She’s also one of six family members to serve on the Pendleton Round-Up Court, but the only one to earn the title of queen.
“I’m excited to represent Wallowa County – I come from a great community,” Willis said.
Her first year on the Round-Up Court, she said, was a big jump from the hometown court experience. “It’s a bigger rodeo; bigger atmosphere.”
This is Willis’ second go at the Round-Up Court; she was a princess on the court in 2014. No time for a job that summer after her freshman year in college, Willis said being on the court was her job.
“We were gone every week from April through August for four days at a time,” Willis said.
On the up side, serving on the court earns the court members scholarship money.
Chief Joseph Days Rodeo Court members are typically girls who started riding when they were four years old and competed in 4-H horse shows from the time they were nine. The girls are judged on riding, public speaking and earn points through selling rodeo tickets. Willis said the Pendleton court is quite different.
“They are mostly looking for qualities of the person. They are not necessarily looking at horse skills – that can be developed,” Willis said.
She said the court has jumping practices once a week for 12 weeks and gains a lot of riding experience from the parades and rodeos they attend.
A ranch girl and accomplished rider, Willis tried out for the 2014 Round-Up Court with strong horse skills and experience as a public figure, but said she didn’t focus as much on leadership.
“After my year as a princess I matured a lot. I realized you are representing something so much bigger than yourself,” Willis said.
Since then she has taken communication, leadership and management classes in college, skills necessary on the court.
Willis said, “I’ve developed my skills so much more and feel like I’m much more mature and ready for this position.”
Chief Joseph Days Court tryouts are held in public and the coronation is a well-attended event, but the Round-Up court tryouts are much more exclusive, Willis said. Each girl tries out alone and doesn’t know who any of the other contestants are until they meet at a brunch in late November. Willis said she found out she earned the title of queen over the phone, not on the stage in front of a live audience.
At the court brunch, each member is presented with a silver name tag, necklace and ear rings, she said.
Willis’ connection to the Pendleton Round-Up goes back to when her great-grandfather Harley Tucker, founder of Chief Joseph Days, was the stock contractor for the rodeo and her grandmother, Bonnie Tucker, was the rodeo’s secretary. Both were inducted into the Pendleton Round-Up Hall of Fame, she said.
“It’s something that is so special to be a part of, for me,” Willis said.