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Helldorado parade, rodeo links Las Vegas to its past

Las Vegas is fixin’ to celebrate its western heritage.

This week’s Helldorado Days festivities include the rodeo, the parade and a farewell tribute to Mayor Oscar Goodman as he rides off into the sunset.

Cowpoke Goodman will hang up his spurs after 12 years because of term limits.

What began as an event in the 1930s to keep Boulder Dam workers coming to Las Vegas, Helldorado Days since has transformed into a charity event — where money collected from ticket sales is distributed among the city’s charitable groups from youth camps to homeless causes and everything in between.

“That’s the beautiful thing about having sponsorships,” said Duane LaDuke , executive director of Helldorado Days. “Our ticket sales go to charity. Whatever we raise, 100 percent of it goes to charity groups. That’s why it’s so important for people to come out.”

This year’s beneficiaries include the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, among others.

About 20,000 people are expected to attend the rodeo at 7 p.m. Thursday at the downtown rodeo grounds, which are near Las Vegas Boulevard and Stewart Avenue. An estimated 30,000 to 35,000 people are expected to attend the Helldorado Parade at 7 p.m. Saturday along the Fourth Street parade route.

Councilman Steve Ross, who represents Ward 6, reminisced about heading to the event as a young boy.

“I remember as a little kid, my parents would drag me down to the western village,” he said. “It’s where I got my first six-shooter.”

Ross said he was grateful that sponsors stepped up to help fund the event as the city struggles with limited resources.

“It was special for me these past few years to stand down in the arena with the mayor to point out the fact there were cattle in downtown Las Vegas,” Ross said, laughing. “… What a big success it has been certainly for the local economy. That’s what it’s all about.”

Ross and his wife plan to ride horses in the parade.

Community response has been overwhelming, LaDuke said, as pre-ticket sales have doubled what they were last year.

As the dirt is laid down and the bleachers are installed, LaDuke said event planning has run without a hitch. But it hasn’t been easy getting funding in this economy, he added.

“Because the economy has been the worst since the Great Depression, it’s been very challenging to find sponsorship dollars,” he said. “This is a very expensive endeavor. Luckily, even when the bad times, we’ve rearranged budgets to get enough sponsorships to do it. We’ve raised $70,000 to $100,000 to do it.”

The annual festival ended in 1999 after several money-losing years. In 2005, the event was brought back during the city’s centennial celebrations. The first parade was in 1935, and the first rodeo was in 1944.

Clyde Zerby, a member of the Protective Order of Elks Lodge No. 1468, started Helldorado Days in 1934 at Las Vegas Boulevard and Bonanza Road.

“Now, it’s a civic event that celebrates our western heritage,” LaDuke said. “It’s about the good old days and western lifestyle with the parade and the rodeo. This has been a mainstay here a long time, and it brought a lot of people into town as the town grew.”

For more information about Helldorado Days and ticket prices, call 870-1221 or visit elkshelldorado.com or lasvegasnevada.gov/information/13057.htm.

Contact Downtown and North Las Vegas View reporter Kristi Jourdan at kjourdan@viewnews.com or 383-0492.

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