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FRED PALMIERO

Inducted in 2011

03Life on the farm was never boring. There was much work to be done…We had bees (honey), we hunted, we fished, we bootlegged, we worked, we lived….”  Fred Palmiero, History of Kittitas County

Fred “Freddy” Palmiero (1916-2006) exemplified the volunteer spirit that fuels the Ellensburg Rodeo. In 1910 Fred’s parents, Italian immigrants John and Maria Gracia Fiorella Palmiero, settled an eighty-acre farm in the Woldale District of the Kittitas Valley. Fred was born December 6, 1916, and, alongside five siblings, spent the first seven years of his life on their Woldale farm. In 1923, the Palmieros moved to higher and better ground in the Manashtash District. There, Fred attended the two-room Cove Schoolhouse, where he mastered the English language while his parents spoke Italian at home. The family attended Ellensburg’s Saint Andrews Catholic Church at the corner of Pine and Eighth Street.

Fred worked hard on his parents’ farm, and he remembered doing everything by hand: “Cows milked, milk separated, wood sawed and chopped, garden hoed, water pumped and hauled….the only running water we had was Keach Ditch.” Like many Kittitas Valley farmers, Fred also learned the skills of a ranch cowboy and worked as a “cow herder” during summers.

Following his graduation from Ellensburg High School, Freddy recalled that he did “some rodeoing. Brahma bulls and bareback horses, then we used a loose rope for horses, as well as bulls. YaaHoo!” Ellensburg Rodeo day sheets show Palmiero competed in the wild horse race from 1935-39; in 1936 he competed in all three (Saturday, Sunday, Labor Day) wild horse races. Freddy always downplayed his rodeo skills, joking that he “never finished a bronc ride” in the Ellensburg arena. He rode bareback broncs in the 1945 Ellensburg Rodeo but was soon thrown from a bronc at Walla Walla Frontier Days. A September 5, 1945 Spokesman Review article reported Fred was “recovering from a brain concussion.”

It was apparently time for Fred Palmiero to quit rodeoing and settle down, for on October 1, 1945, he married Francis Joy Urquhart, a Burien girl he met at the Lazy F Dude Ranch. They moved to Kittitas and started a family. Fred and Joy had two sons, Francis (Frank) Ralph and Fred (Freddy) Joseph. Both attended Lourdes Academy, Kittitas High School, and Washington State University; both served in the U.S. Army. Joy worked at Mills Saddle and Togs for twenty-two years. An avid horsewoman, she raised, trained, and showed her prize-winning Palo Tequila and belonged to several riding clubs she helped to form. Fred went to work for the City of Ellensburg’s utilities division in 1951.

Palmiero’s most important contributions to the Ellensburg Rodeo came as a volunteer. The late Lee Scott, a tireless rodeo supporter and ERHOF Honoree, once described the crucial importance of rodeo volunteers: “Somebody has to chop the wood and carry the water.” Palmiero was such a man.

Beginning in 1954, Fred assisted in various capacities, most notably as an usher, or “ticket taker.” “I enjoy the opportunity to assist and working with others in the community,” he said in a 1984 Daily Record interview celebrating his thirtieth year as a volunteer usher. Fred worked under Rodeo Board Directors Jimmie Smith, Bob Neeley, and Chuck Scott. Some of his fellow volunteers were Orrie Pratt, Kurt Linder, Ernie Hadley, Jean Kuhn, Wendell Saville, Chris and Loretta Marshall, Bob and Andy Cooper, and Dee Waters. Together, Fred estimated, volunteer ushers seated “24,000 fans” per rodeo weekend. To this day, many Ellensburg Rodeo fans remember Fred working near the bucking chutes where he had once competed.

Always a talkative jokester, Freddy Palmiero was a popular volunteer known to all. His love of western apparel—“duds”—and trademark handlebar moustache brought him instant recognition. Freddie even enjoyed a very brief brush with fame, acting out a “bit part” in a Dick VanDyke movie filmed in upper Kittitas County, The Runner Stumbles.

Fred retired from the City of Ellensburg water department in 1981, after thirty years of service. But even in retirement, “I never forsook the sod,” Fred recalled. “I am a volunteer with the rodeo and other community organizations.” Fred Palmiero lived out his days with Joy on their acreage on No. 81 Road, near Kittitas. “Palmiero Park,” Fred and Joy’s gift to the city of Kittitas, stands at the corner of No. 81 Road and the Kittitas Highway. Fred died August 3, 2006, a few months shy of his 90th birthday and only a few weeks away from the annual rodeo that he loved so well.