Rodeo royalty

CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks Wilma Fulgham displays the key to the city she was award by the city commission in honor of her selection to the Miss Rodeo America Hall of Fame. She is wearing the Stetson hat she earned as New Mexico state fair queen in 1950.

By Eric Butler: CNJ correspondent

Locally, Wilma Fulgham is known for her constant supervision over rodeo pageants, trips to radio

stations and the like, with contestants in tow, to promote them.

Statewide, she’ll always have a place in rodeo queen history — she was selected as New Mexico’s first state fair queen back in 1950.

Now, in a sense, the Clovis woman has gone national. Fulgham learned she was selected for induction into the Miss Rodeo America Hall of Fame during December’s National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, Nev.

“It was such a surprise. I knew there was something happening because information was being gathered for another purpose,” said Fulgham, who thought biographical info on her was being sent to the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame. “There’s such a long waiting list for that, it’s sort of a pipe-dream, but I thought Ernie (Kos, of the Clovis Chamber of Commerce) was gathering photos for that.”

The Miss Rodeo America Hall of Fame is a relatively new development and Fulgham is the sixth inductee since it began four years ago. Displays for this “floating” Hall of Fame, as Fulgham calls it, are located at other sites: the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs, the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City and the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame in Fort Worth.

Back in Clovis, Fulgham’s friends and working acquaintances think no one is more deserving of recognition.

“Let me tell you about Wilma, she’s probably the hardest working person in Curry County for other people,” said Joe Rhodes, owner of Joe’s Boot Shop. “She does more for other people — the church, of course the queens, the mounted patrol, rodeo. We knew Wilma when we were in Muleshoe, but we never really knew what Wilma did until we moved over here.”

Fulgham is a fixture at the Curry County Mounted Patrol Arena at a rodeo event of any kind. She’s also been a fixture of the area her whole life. She was born in Farwell and spent much of her childhood in Melrose before moving to Clovis and graduating from high school.

Only 19 and about a year shy of marrying husband Benny Fulgham, Wilma Vaughan was persuaded in 1950 to enter what would become the first state fair queen pageant in New Mexico.

“It changed my life. I was known as a little country girl and I had no self-confidence,” Fulgham recalled. “The president of the fair board here, a veterinarian named Dr. E.E. Kraus, said they were starting a competition over there and I needed to run for it.

“Of course, I didn’t have a clue what it was about, but I had always ridden horses,” she added. “It thrust me into the spotlight where it gave me confidence that, hopefully, I’ve maintained.”

Many of the elements of pageant competition, particularly for those in rodeo, were in place back then. Fulgham, however, said that the whole competition took only a single day a half-century ago.

Teaching the kind of confidence she developed has been Fulgham’s hobby since the mid-1970s. As the chief organizer for the local Pioneer Days rodeo pageants, and as the director of the statewide Miss Rodeo New Mexico pageant, Fulgham has seen many young women follow in her footsteps.

Fulgham has been the Miss Rodeo New Mexico state director from 1974 to 1986 and, in a second stint, from 1998 to the present.

At her Hall of Fame induction announcement, she was also lauded for her tireless help at the annual Miss Rodeo America pageant.

“I enjoy seeing them develop their personalities and be given the opportunity to develop traits that will help them all their life,” said Fulgham, who is a member of Central Baptist Church. “I also feel like I have a motive to minister to these young women.”