On May 8, 2007 Rocky Rockabar died of heart failure at his home in Medicine Hat, Alberta. He was 73 years old.
Rocky Rockabar was an accomplished cowboy. He competed in rodeo mostly in the U.S. amateur circuit until 1958, before joining the professional ranks in 1959, participating in saddle bronc, bull riding and steer wrestling. Rockabar qualified for the National Finals Rodeo in the bull riding in 1962, the same year he won his first of three Canadian High Point Championships, an honour he earned again in 1964 and 1966. Rockabar was also crowned the Canadian Saddle Bronc Champion in 1964. As for the bull riding he finished the runner-up to the Champion four times, in 1962, 1965, 1966 and 1971. In 1964, Rocky also captured titles in the Southern Circuit and Saskatchewan – Manitoba circuit for saddle bronc riding, then again won the Southern Circuit Saddle Bronc title in 1971.
Accomplishments continued for Rocky Rockabar when he set the Canadian scoring record when he was 40 years old with an 89 point ride on stock contractor Harvey Northcott’s bull, “Stubby” at Killam, Alberta rodeo in 1974. He broke his leg mid season of that same year and retired after that.
Rocky Rockabar had a lengthy career and he taught what he knew to up and coming students at rodeo schools. He served on the Board of Directors of the Canadian Rodeo Cowboys Association from 1965 to 1971, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1999.
Mr. Rockabar was one of the most popular cowboys amongst both the Americans and the Canadians who rode and everyone who knew him still talks highly about him to this day.
Because it was hard to quit, Rocky entered an Old Timers Rodeo at Ponoka when he was 50 years old and drew a bull of Wayne Vold’s called “Goggles.” The bull threw him off, but two years later Rockabar’s son Kevin won his first professional rodeo on that same bull at Hobbema, Alberta.
Rockabar was born in Prelate, Saskatchewan and always regarded the Maple Creek area as home. His last public appearance was at Maple Creek Cowtown Rodeo when a reunion was held for all former members of the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association from the Maple Creek District. 32 of the 38 “old timers” invited showed up! Twenty-six rode in on horseback; six, including Rockabar, entered in a wagon where each was introduced, Kevin reported that it was the best day his dad had in years. Seven years earlier, Rockabar suffered a debilitating stroke that took away his voice, leaving him unable to speak but he knew where he was on that day and was truly enjoying the honour.
The “Hamley” saddle that Rockabar used to ride broncs with back in his glory years, the same “Hamley” saddle that he used to win his Canadian Championship on is displayed in the “rodeo room” at the Maple Creek Museum. “It’s been out of the museum only once since Rockabar donated it, that was when it was taken to the Seven Persons Hall for Rockabar’s public memorial service.
Rocky Rockabar was a legend, not only to the cowboy community but to his son Kevin, who reported to a Medicine Hat News journalist that “It was like having Wayne Gretzky for a dad, He was my greatest hero.”
By Kelley Byrne