Frenchmen At The Rodeo

by Ruth Nicolaus
French firefighting students attend Shrine Rodeo, intern with fire departments.

OVERLAND PARK, KAN. (May 21, 2018)  – When the Shrine Rodeo kicks off on Thursday, May 24, in Tonganoxie, there will be special guests in the crowd.

The first night of the rodeo honors first responders (firefighters, police, and emergency medical service people) and military (active, veterans and reserved.) Admission for those people and for their immediate families is free on that night of rodeo.

It’s a way to honor and show appreciation for those who put their lives on the line for the public, said Bennie Smith, 2018 Abdallah Shrine Potentate. “They do so much that goes unnoticed,” he said. “We want to give them some recognition” on that night of rodeo.

Among the first responders in the crowd at the rodeo are some extra-special guests.

Several French firefighters will be in attendance.

They are interns at fire stations in the area, part of programs at fire departments in Overland Park, Shawnee, Leawood and Olathe.

For the past 25 years, students from the IUT Bordeaux University in France have come to the United States, spending ten weeks in internships at various fire departments. Of the last 25 years, the Overland Park Fire Department has hosted interns 23 years, said Keith Murry, captain of the Overland Park F.D. Station No. 2 and coordinator for the interns.

The French students learn about the U.S. fire service as they learn English, going on calls with firefighters.

While they’re in the U.S., they take in the culture of the area. Murry tells the students to research the area and decide what they’d like to see and do. “The students that come to us say we want to see a rodeo,” he said. Murry, members of the Overland Park Fire Dept. and the students visit the Shrine Rodeo.

They love it, he said. Last year, the French students took selfies with the rodeo queen. “They thought they were royalty,” Murry said.

Murry appreciates the free admittance and recognition given to the first responders and military. “Sometimes this job can be depressing, with the calls we make. It’s comforting to find out that people really do care. It’s cool to see the outpouring of generosity people extend to us.”

The Shrine Rodeo and Demo Derby is held in Tonganoxie at the Leavenworth County Fairgrounds on May 24-26, with rodeo action on May 24-25 and the demo derby on May 26.

Tickets are $15 for adults for both events. Children’s tickets are good for the nights of rodeo only and are $5.  Tickets can be purchased online at, at Brothers Market in Tonganoxie, and at the gate. For more information, visit the website or call 913.352.6300.

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