Larry Burgess

by Siri Stevens
Larry Burgess

Because of his daddy’s dreams, Larry Burgess became a cowboy. The former National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association contestant and alumni member was born in Poplarville, Mississippi, the son of Ray and Nell Burgess. But his father, who had grown up in Colorado and wanted to be a cowboy, sold the home place in Mississippi and took his young family west to Wyoming, where they lived on a ranch. And Larry became a cowboy.

He grew up in the Powder River Valley, competing in high school rodeo, and winning the National High School Bull Riding title in 1961, the same year he graduated from Midwest (Wyo.) High School. Larry got a rodeo scholarship to ride bulls and saddle broncs at Casper College, so he went to school forty miles from home, where he competed for three years, from 1961 to 1964, finishing with two associate’s degrees. He then attended the University of Wyoming, where he served as president of the rodeo team in 1964-1965.

He graduated from Wyoming with a double major in chemistry and mathematics, and put his degree to work teaching high school. He taught in Shoshone, Wyo., then Glenrock, then went back to Laramie to work on a combination master’s degree in mathematics and physics.

It was there that a friend planted the seed for Larry’s next career move. It was the perfect job for a “cowboy math teacher,” the friend said, and it fit Larry to a T. The Orme School, a college preparatory boarding school was located on a remote ranch near Mayer, Ariz. and emphasized education alongside western living. The school had a rodeo team, an arena, and roping stock, with students from all over the nation. The situation was perfect: it was located in the Southwest, with good rodeos within driving distance, a teaching job, just right for “someone who still wanted to do some serious rodeoing, needed a job, and could practice and ride every day,” Larry said.

So Larry moved his family to Orme, where he taught for six years. It was while he was at the Orme School that the time came to quit rodeo. His good friend, Claude “Whip” Wilson (the ’65 NIRA bareback riding champion) also taught at Orme, and the two buddies rodeoed together. In 1976, at a rodeo over the Fourth of July, Claude was killed when a bareback horse flipped over on him. That was the end for Larry. “It wasn’t fun anymore,” he said. “I said, ‘I think that’s enough,’ and I didn’t ride actively after that.”

The family moved to Phoenix in 1977, where Larry taught high school for ten years. Then he took a teaching position at Paradise Valley Community College, where he taught for 23 years, serving as chairman of the math department and president of the local faculty association. He retired in 2010.

In his rodeo days he was the Western States Rodeo Association Saddle Bronc Riding champion in 1965, and the Western Slopes Rodeo Association champ the next year. He even got involved in rodeo photography, working with his friend Bob Core, and their photography company, Spur Photo.

Larry and his wife of 52 years, DeEtta, have three children: Dee Ann, Larry, and Brian, and nine grandchildren. He remembers most fondly from his rodeo days his friends, who are still friends today. “You make friends, that even if you haven’t seen them in twenty years, it’s like yesterday. I have friends from fifty years ago.”

1 comment

Alison Swihart November 26, 2014 - 3:01 pm

Claude Wilson taught history and sociology during my senior year in high school. He taught me how to think. I never had a chance to thank him.

Comments are closed.

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