Inducted in 2004
In 2002, the world of professional rodeo was shocked to learn that respected saddle bronc rider, calf roper, and bulldogger Kenny McLean had died on horseback at a Taber (Alberta) Rodeo. McLean was waiting his turn at a Senior ProRodeo Association calf roping event when he suffered a massive heart attack. Interestingly, McLean’s mount was standing near the bucking chutes, a spot the sixty-three year-old McLean knew well in the world of 1960s North American Rodeo.
Kenny McLean was born in Okanogan Falls, British Columbia, in 1939; he started riding colts at age twelve and entered his first rodeo at age seventeen. As an RCA (Rodeo Cowboys Association, predecessor to the PRCA) cowboy he competed across North America in prime Canadian and American venues, including Calgary, Pendleton, Cheyenne, and Ellensburg. A true all-around cowboy, Kenny McLean worked both ends of the arena, regularly winning buckles and day-money in calf roping and bulldogging (timed events) as well as saddle bronc competitions. He was a Canadian calf roping and bulldogging champion (1972) and placed among the top 15 calf ropers and bulldoggers in the World (1972). This breadth made McLean the first Canadian recipient of the prestigious Bill Linderman Trophy, an award he won twice.
Yet it was primarily as a saddle bronc rider that McLean gained notoriety at the World level. Kenny McLean was named 1961 RCA Rookie of the Year, a distinction he followed by winning the 1962 World Saddle Bronc Championship. McLean is the only rodeo cowboy named an Inductee to the Canadian and British Columbia Sports Halls of Fame; he is also the only rodeo athlete to belong to the prestigious Order of Canada. Kenny McLean is an Inductee to the Canadian Rodeo Hall of Fame and the Indian Rodeo Hall of Fame. “Kenny has won just about every honor professional rodeo has to offer and was a true all-around cowboy,” ERHOF Board Member and bronc riding expert Bertha Morrison recently noted.
In the Ellensburg Rodeo, McLean was popular both in the arena and behind the chutes, and Ellensburg became an annual stop for him. He won the Ellensburg saddle broncs in ’61 and ’64, also capturing the Ellensburg All-Around title in 1964. Deb Copenhaver, two-time Saddle Bronc Champion of the World and ERHOF Inductee (’99) is lavish in his praise of McLean, who he considers “one of the best bronc riders I ever saw.” “He was the greatest in the business,” Copenhaver says.
After his bronc riding days ended in the early 1970s, Kenny McLean kept competing for three decades in timed events, eventually following the senior rodeo circuit with his wife Paula Jo. They moved from British Columbia to Hamilton, Montana, raising horses and running Paula’s family’s ranch before Kenny’s untimely death. “Kenny’s last days, especially dying behind the bucking chutes…” said Paula Jo recently, “well, you couldn’t have written a script more befitting his life. He absolutely did it all.”
800 of Kenny McLean’s friends and admirers attended his 2002 Okanogan Falls memorial service in Centennial Park. ProRodeo Sports News reported McLean’s “paint mare…was led into the park…a pair of McLean’s boots set backwards in the stirrups and his 1962 World Champion’s Buckle dangled from the saddle horn.” Across Canada and the United States, thousands mourned the passing of this World Champion cowboy.