What you don’t know about the Sheriff’s Posse Arena

By Gerre Joiner | Published Saturday, June 10, 2017

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I went to the Wise County Fairgrounds recently to attend a wonderful bull riding competition.

Gerre Joiner

WC Challenger Charities is a non-profit organization that has been raising funds since 2004 for local civic and charitable organizations. Saturday night’s Professional Bull Riders (PBR) event was a spectacular picture of what five men (the late Roy Young, Andrew Rottner, Wendell Berry, Calvin Jackson and Alan Sessions) with a common vision can do to make things better for their community. In the past thirteen years, the organization has raised and dispersed over $950,000.

Another non-profit organization with a presence at PBR was A Thousand Miles Till Home. Conceived and maintained by local businessman Wendell Berry and a small group of dedicated friends, this organization has given homes and vehicles to wounded veterans for years. In Wise County alone, we have raised and dispersed over $5 million for this worthy cause.

Today’s story is about the arena in which last Saturday’s wonderful event took place. The details of the story I’ll tell today come from retired banker/pretty fair roper (in his day) Jimmy Cunnius. I have complete faith that my friend Jimmy isn’t making stuff up, but it’s going to be hard to verify. Chock Longmire (Jimmy’s uncle, but more like a brother) was the only man who could back up or contradict Jimmy’s story. He died in October of 2004.

Back in the early ’50s, a group of ambitious men got together with the idea of building an arena in which they could host rodeos and such. All areas of skill needed to build the arena were represented in the original group. They were civic leaders, dairy farmers, welders, service station owners and interested folks from the city.

Jimmy’s memory isn’t what it used to be. Chock’s gone. The guys at the coffee shop added to Jimmy’s short list of folks who were either in the initial group or came to work on the arena after the start-up. Among them were Jim Tom Young, Gordon Perkins, George Cunnius, Speck McDaniel, Pat Goodger, Ross Mueller, Smokey Sherman, Eldon McCurdy and Jeff Meador.

In those early planning stages of the work, the men had some pretty animated discussions regarding the proposed size of the arena. During one of the meetings, a vote was taken regarding the measurements of the arena. The men came to an agreement regarding the size of the arena and drove stakes in the ground regarding the proposed size. Then most of them left.

Jimmy and Chock lagged behind as the group dispersed that evening. Then they moved the stakes. They removed evidence of where the stakes had originally been placed. They had set the new boundaries to reflect, in their minds, a bigger and more visionary arena.

The others in the group arrived the next day and went to work on the arena. They did so for several weeks until the work was done and there was an arena where a grassy patch of Wise County dirt had been. Nobody knew (or at least never mentioned) that the stakes were moved.

An interesting side story regarding the building of the arena involves longtime Sheriff Rook Ramsey. Rook told the guys that when there was a need for some pipe, they should call him. He knew just the place where they could get plenty of free pipe over near the Jack County line. Someone called. Rook told him where the men could go and pick up the pipe.

Then one day while the men were working, Rook came by and looked at a stick of the pipe they were using. He paused for a moment and then asked, “Where did you guys get this pipe?” Someone described the place from which the pipe had come. Rook then said, “You were across the road from the free pipe! You got it from the wrong place.” Rook assured the men that he would try to make things right between the arena builders and the unsuspecting pipe donor. Rook made it right. He did mention several times before his death, though, that the arena had been built with stolen pipe.

It’s hard to imagine how many events have taken place in the arena since those men finished building it. Recently, our Wise County Commissioners were tasked with the upkeep and improvement of the arena and the other buildings that now surround it. They’ve done well.

Some interesting facts rise in my mind:

  • The arena would never have been built without the vision and dedicated work of a small group of men.
  • The PBR event began much like the idea for the arena. There was a small group of dedicated people with a vision for making things better.
  • The size of the arena would be just a bit smaller if Jimmy Cunnius and Chock Longmire hadn’t stepped off new measurements, moved the stakes and kept their mouths shut.
  • The arena probably would have been delayed if they hadn’t stolen quite a bit of pipe.

Gerre Joiner is a semi-retired church musician and has lived in Decatur since 1999.

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