Howard Harris III, a former national collegiate all-around champion who co-founded the historic Cowtown Rodeo series with his dad, Stoney, and later owned it for nearly 20 years, died Nov. 18 at a hospice in Claremore, Okla. He was 78.
The Cowtown Rodeo in Woodstown, Pilesgrove, N.J., is the oldest weekly series in professional rodeo, dating back to 1955, and it has always been a Harris family enterprise. Stoney and Howard Harris started the event just after Howard returned home from winning the 1954 College Nationals Finals Rodeo all-around title while competing for the University of Idaho rodeo program he founded.
Howard Harris bought the rodeo from his father in 1961 and operated it with his wife, Irene, and their family until 1978, when he, in turn, sold Cowtown Rodeo to his son Grant, who runs it still, with his wife Betsy.
In 1959, Howard Harris was the first in the United States to bring rodeo to television. The Cowtown Rodeo was televised weekly and syndicated nationally again in 1969 and 1970 by Philadelphia’s ABC affiliate.
Cowtown Rodeo was well-known throughout the United States for the quality of its livestock and was featured in Madison Square Garden in New York City, the Capital Centre in Washington, D.C., the Spectrum in Philadelphia, and in a command performance for President Reagan and his administration, members of the U.S. Congress, and U.S. Supreme Court in 1983.
The family supplied roughstock for the National Finals Rodeo six times (1969-71, 1975-77), a tradition that has been maintained by Grant and Betsy Harris.
Howard Harris also led international rodeo productions, introducing rodeo to Europe and Argentina, and served on the PRCA Board of Directors. In 1988, he retired to Claremore, Okla. In 2005, he was inducted into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City.
The Harris family tradition in rodeo actually extends back to 1929, when the Cowtown Rodeo was created, then an annual event held in conjunction with the Salem County Fair, by Howard Harris Sr., and his son, Howard “Stoney” Harris Jr. It continued until 1937 before shutting down through World War II and was resurrected in 1955 as a weekly series.
Howard Harris III served on the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Board of Directors in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
He is survived by his wife of 57 years, Irene; daughter, Kathleen Harris of Tulsa; son, Grant (Betsy) of Woodstown, N.J.; sisters, Henrietta (Jim) Boland of Idaho Falls, Idaho; Katherine Henthorne of Great Falls, Mont.; and Blanche Harris of Culpeper, Va.; and brother, Bart (Sheila) Clennon of Wenatchee, Wash., daughter-in-law, Mary Ann (Rodney) Heaney; six grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by son Anderson (Andy).
A memorial service to celebrate Harris’ life is scheduled for 10 a.m. Nov. 27 at Kirk of the Hills Church, 4102 E. 61st St., Tulsa, Okla. The family requests that memorial contributions may be made to Ranch Hope for Boys, Sawmill Road, Alloway, NJ 08001 or to Clarehouse, 7617 S. Mingo Road, Tulsa, OK 74133.
Cards and notes may be sent to Irene Harris, 10302 E. Hwy. 88, Claremore, OK 74136; Kathleen Harris an