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Santa Maria Elks Set To Mark 75th Rodeo with Denim and Diamonds

Annual event planned for May 31 through June 3 at Elks/Unocal Event Center as new leader takes helm

A limited edition belt buckle will mark the Santa Maria Elks Rodeo 75th anniversary this year.
A limited edition belt buckle will mark the Santa Maria Elks Rodeo 75th anniversary this year. (Courtesy photo)

A Santa Maria tradition will mark its 75th year in 2018 with the theme of “Denim and Diamonds” when the Elks Rodeo rides into town this spring.

“We’re getting our bling on for the 75th anniversary,” said Tina Tonascia, chief operations officer.

The event held at the Santa Maria Elks/Unocal Event Center will run May 31 through June 3 with the parade traveling south on Broadway June 2.

The milestone year comes as organizers mourn the death of leader Phil Harwick and announce a new president who has deep roots in the event.

Peter Sterling, a longtime leader of the Elks Rodeo Queen Contest, has been elected president of Elks Recreation Inc. 

Sterling is the community banking manager for Community West Bank in Santa Maria and has worked in banking since 1980. 

He has been a devoted Santa Maria Elks Lodge member and will receive his 30-year pin in March. He began his rodeo career as the Queen Contest Chairman where he has held the position for a total of 15 years. 

The new president succeeds Harwick, 73, who died Jan. 18 after five years of leading the rebuilding of the annual rodeo to achieve record-breaking attendance, national recognition and network television coverage. 

Harwick will be remembered with a celebration of life service at 2 p.m. Feb. 15 at the Elks Lodge, 1309 N. Bradley Road. 

“His passion and drive was to not only develop the Elks Rodeo into the premier event for the Central Coast, but ensure it was a vehicle for economic and fundraising opportunities for the communities it served,” rodeo organizers noted on social media. “Phil will truly be missed by all, but we are dedicated to continuing the legacy he began.”

To remember Harwick’s role, a hill near the VIP tent at the rodeo grounds will be designated Harwick Hill to serve as a scenic outlook in honor of him. 

Peter Sterling has been elected president of Santa Maria Elks Recreation, Inc, which organizes the annual Elks Rodeo. Click to view larger
Peter Sterling has been elected president of Santa Maria Elks Recreation, Inc, which organizes the annual Elks Rodeo.  (Courtesy photo)

“That was one of his favorite places because he could see the whole rodeo,” Tonascia said. 

As they gear up for the milestone event, rodeo organizers have unveiled a limited edition belt buckle, noting the 75th year and featuring the logo.

The belt buckle is available for $225 via special orders only by March 30. Santa Maria Elks members can buy buckles for $200. Pre-orders must be done at the Elks Rec office available at 113 S. College Drive or by calling 805.925.4125.

Organizers gathered to make their announcements days before one of the signature events — a whisker-growing contest — kicks off growing season Monday morning.

Entries for the Beard-A-Reno and Miss Wrangler contests start at 9 a.m. Monday and close at 5 p.m. April 6 at the new rodeo office at 113 S. College Drive. 

Winners from multiple categories will be plucked from the field of entries at a May 19 dinner starting at 5:30 p.m.

Registration for all entrants is $25 and includes a barbecue beef rib dinner, beans, salad, and entertainment. 

Later this year, the Elks Rodeo Queen contest, which has raised more than $10 million for youth recreation and other youth programs, will launch with five contestants representing Guadalupe Kiwanis Club, Santa Maria Noontime Kiwanis Club, VTC Enterprises, Orcutt Youth Soccer League and United Way. 

A kick-off dinner on April 14 will start the six-week fundraising campaign and reveal the five girls vying for the crown.

The Santa Maria rodeo again will be carried on Wrangler Network website for Saturday and Sunday performances, with highlights to be shown of the Friday night action.

This year’s rodeo will feature many popular performers including the Flying Cowboys, showing off their aerial motorcycle riding skills.

"Bull Ball" will entertain the crowd with beefy animals batting around inflatable orbs with men tucked inside.

To mark the diamond jubilee, organizers boosted the purse per event for winning competitors and a diamond dig is planned.

Organizers also continue to expand activities for children inside and outside the arena.

For more information call the Elks Recreation Office at 805.925.4125 or visit the website

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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