Former Santa Barbara County Supervisor Joni Gray, who was a Santa Maria Elks Rodeo queen contestant in her youth, has been chosen as grand marshal for the June 4 Elks Rodeo Parade (Noozhawk file photo)

A former queen contestant has been selected to ride in a place of honor in the Santa Maria Elks Rodeo Parade, an event she participated in as a young girl, and had announced many times in recent years.

Rodeo parade organizers picked former Santa Barbara County Supervisor Joni Gray as the grand marshal for the June 4 procession that is part of the 73rd annual Santa Maria Elks Rodeo.

The theme of this year’s parade is “Patriotism Red, White and Blue.”

“Joni’s involvement with the rodeo goes back to when, at 4-years-old, she rode her horse, Ol’ Ace, in the Elks Rodeo Parade,” the Parade Committee said. “From then on, the Elks Rodeo and Parade became a family event. Her dad Joe, mother Norma, and sister Dorothy did not miss a parade for decades to follow.”

Starting in the late 1950s, the family served as the official color bearers for the parade, growing to nine riders carrying flags while atop horses. 

In 1960, Gray appeared twice in the parade — first with her family on horseback and then as an Elks Queen contestant. 

She represented the Elks in the Sweetheart of Salinas Rodeo contest, where she was chosen Miss Personality and Appearance.

With eight other young horsewomen, she organized and rode with the first Elks Color Guard, which represented the local lodge around the arena — a standard rodeo activity that continues to today.

Gray isn’t the first in her family to serve as grand marshal of the rodeo parade as her father, Joe, had the honor in 1998, which also marked Joni’s last year on horseback in the procession.

Since then, she has served as an announcer of the Elks Rodeo Parade along the parade route, a stint she has performed “for so long no one remembers when she started,” the Parade Committee said.

“She holds being grand marshal this year as a great honor,” parade organizers said. 

Gray was a teacher at Santa Maria High School and Allan Hancock College. She also was involved in youth activities, including 4-H and the North County Round Table.

The attorney entered political office, serving as a member of the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors, representing the Fourth District from 1998 to 2012.. 

She also has been active in the Santa Maria Elks Lodge 1538, and was recognized with the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year Award in 2014.

The parade kicks off at 9 a.m. June 4, traveling south on Broadway from Main Street to Enos Drive.

The rodeo begins June 2 and runs through June 5, with performances at 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 6 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Santa Maria Elks/Unocal Event Center.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.