Inducted in 2009
Rodeo clown Butch Lehmkuhler has been an Ellensburg Rodeo crowd favorite for nearly two decades. Born in 1954, Lehmkuhler attended Chadron State College in western Nebraska, earning degrees in Physical Education and Psychology in 1976. He joined the PRCA in 1977 and throughout his rodeo career has simultaneously worked as a high school drafting and woodworking teacher and coach. He resides in North Platte, Nebraska with wife Melanie and their children Bailey and Dean.
Rodeo aficionados call Lehmkuhler a “contract performer”—an entertainer who performs in-between rodeo events. Costumed in clown garb, he jokes with the crowd and cowboys, and performs acrobatics on a trampoline. During the bullriding finale, however, he performs one of his most important duties as a barrelman, assisting the bullfighting clowns in protecting thrown or dismounting bullriders. The term “barrelman” is derived from the clowns’ use of a barrel to protect themselves in tight situations, confuse the animals, and create comic effects when ‘hiding’ inside. Some call the barrel a “can,” and Lehmkuhler has won several of the prestigious annual “Coors Man in the Can” awards.
Retired Ellensburg Rodeo Arena Director and ERHOF Board Member Dr. Ken MacRae remembers, “Butch Lehmkuhler really set the bar for rodeo funny men during his career. His banter with the late announcer and ERHOF Inductee Phil Gardenhire throughout the 1990’s rodeos proved to be some of the most funny, memorable moments in the history of the Ellensburg Rodeo. This man is gifted in spontaneous chatter, and filled those slow times during the rodeo performance. They were a very important part in our success for the many years they worked together here. They both were very special to me and it was Butch who called me to let me know of the tragic accident that took Phil Gardenhire’s life.Butch was always willing to suggest ways of improving our show for both the fans in the seats and the rodeo athletes participating in our events. Their knowledge and support were greatly appreciated.”
Hall of Fame Board Member Nip Tucker echoed MacRae’s sentiments: “Our children came of rodeo going age during the Lehmkuhler years. Butch’s unique form of entertainment, especially his trampoline act, was one of the highlights of the Ellensburg Rodeo for our kids. Butch Lehmkuhler exemplified the Ellensburg Rodeo theme of family fun.”
Joking about his dual status as a professional rodeo clown and public school teacher, Lehmkuhler says, “I go back to the classroom and learn for nine months, and [then] get to go back out and get paid to do all those things the kids get in trouble for doing at school!”