J.W. Stoker, legendary trick rider and roper, passed away at the age of 94 on April 21, 2022, in Weatherford.
J.W. was born on September 30, 1927, on the Stoker Ranch near Colorado Springs, Colorado. Four years later, the family moved to Overland Park, Kansas. J.W. and his two younger sisters, Frankie and Bessie, developed an interest in trick riding and roping when attending a Tom Mix Circus performance in Kansas City.
In the winter of 1938, a cowboy named Pinky Barnes came to Kansas City to teach kids how to rope. From that point on J.W. knew he wanted to be a trick rider and roper. In the spring of 1939, J.W. got his first job in the Clyde S. Miller Rodeo Show. Miller also hired J.W.’s parents to help with the show, and his two sisters joined J.W.’s act; it was truly a family affair.
At the age of 12, J.W. appeared on the Wheaties cereal box as Juvenile World Champion Trick Rider. J.W. turned pro in 1942 and rodeoed steadily until the United States Army needed him. He served with the Soldier Show Section during the Korean War, entertaining the troops.
Upon his discharge from the Army in 1953, J.W. went on the road performing with black lights. His use of invisible ultraviolet lights was the first such use in professional rodeo.
Not only did J.W. work the biggest rodeos – Cheyenne, Madison Square Garden, Calgary, Boston Garden, Denver, Fort Worth, Houston, and Salinas – but his talents of trick riding, blacklight rope spinning, and fancy horse catches have been witnessed all over the world, including Dominican Republic, Cuba, Korea, Finland, France, Australia, and Venezuela. In 1973, J.W. spent seven months working for the Casey Tibbs’ Wild West Show in Japan. He once performed for the Queen of England.
J.W. trick roped in President Harry Truman’s inaugural parade in 1948, and entertained President Ronald Reagan and future President George H.W. Bush at the 1984 Republican Convention in Dallas.
J.W.’s talents also caught Hollywood’s attention. He trick-roped and rode in The Kansan in the late 1940s and in 1956 performed stunts for the movie “Bus Stop” starring Marilyn Monroe. In 1980, he was a stunt double in the Clint Eastwood movie, “Bronco Billy.”
J.W. also performed as a stunt rider for Roy Rogers, and Roy even rode one of J.W.’s favorite horses, Punkin, at the Houston Rodeo in 1969. J.W. was honored to share the horse with his friend.
J.W. won the Will Rogers Centennial Trick Roping Contest in 1979, and began his 1988 season performing at the Calgary Olympics Rodeo. He was a featured guest on NBC’s Today Show, was an entertainer at the Smithsonian Institution, and appeared from 1990 to 1999 in Michael Martin Murphy’s West Fest. In 2003, J.W. entertained at The Great American Wild West Show in Las Vegas.
In his later years, J.W. made numerous appearances at the Rose Bowl Parade with Trish Lynn and the All American Cowgirl Chicks, a trick-riding team from Parker County that travels the rodeo circuit. J.W. was instrumental in coaching the team and developing them into trick riders. The Cowgirl Chicks were his pride and joy. He loved to brag of their accomplishments and was immensely proud of the work they do to keep the art of trick riding and roping alive.
J.W. continued to perform special engagements and make appearances into his nineties, he even taught a roping lesson from his bed a couple days before he went to be with the Lord.
J.W. broke tradition by being honored two consecutive years (1985 and 1986) by the prestigious Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association as Specialty Act of the Year. He was inducted into the National Cowboys Hall of Fame in 1999, the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame in 2007, the J.W. Stoker in 2011, and the Texas Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame in 2015. In 2019, J.W. was the recipient of the Lane Frost Award in honor of his contributions to the image and growth of Rodeo. J.W. was recognized by the cities of Weatherford, Texas, and Overland Park, Kansas with mayoral proclamations of “J.W. Stoker Day” in both locations.
J.W. called Parker County home since 1969 and spent his final years working his beloved horses Romeo, Hollywood, and Blanco. While his trademark was white horses, Romeo, a paint stallion, was truly his favorite.
J.W.’s dream was to keep the western culture alive through teaching kids and young people the art of trick riding and roping. Throughout his life he quietly coached dozens of trick riders and ropers, and was willing to teach anyone who asked. He considered this his greatest career achievement. J.W.’s legacy will endure through the lives and careers of those he so graciously shared his immeasurable talents and gifts with.
J.W. is preceded in death by his parents, Frank and Wilma Stoker, and his sisters, Frankie Hill and Bessie Fugate, and nephew J.C. Hill.
He is survived by six nieces and nephews: Karen Krehbiel, Donald Hill and wife Sondra, Ronnie Hill and wife Gina, Wallace Hill and wife Rhealene, all of Canadian, Texas; Debbie Miller and husband Brad, and Hunter Fugate and wife Geri, all of Emporia, Kansas. J.W. is also survived by 15 great nieces and nephews, and 27 great-great nieces and nephews.
A funeral service is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday, April 30, at Parker County Cowboy Church, 5050 FM 5, Aledo, Texas.
J.W. will lie in state from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday, April 29, at White’s Funeral Home, 130 Houston Ave., Weatherford, Texas.
Interment will be at 11 a.m. Wednesday, May 4, at Johnson County Memorial Gardens, 1200 Metcalf Ave., Overland Park, Kansas.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations in J.W.’s memory be made to All American Cowgirl Chicks, a 501(c)(3) organization, 4101 William D. Tate, Suite 100, Grapevine, Texas 76051 for the purpose of creating the J.W. Stoker Memorial Scholarship, to be used to assist young people in attending trick riding and roping camps.
The Community News
April 29, 2022