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Oskie Rice Arena moved, rebuilt

Descendants of Rice have big plans

Director of Facility Operations Maile Masada looks over the new Oskie Rice Arena being built near the site of the former rodeo arena in Olinda on Friday morning. The new arena’s covered bleachers will be on an elevated pad located over Masada’s left shoulder. The stands are sited to shield spectators from trade winds and rain. The announcer’s booth and bucking chutes are to be located across the arena to the far right. In the distance, the former concessions building and arena are visible in the top right. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

While Oskie Rice Arena is going through some physical changes, ranch owners and rodeo organizers — descendants of the arena namesake — said that the paniolo culture and traditions will remain the same.

Family-owned Kaonoulu Ranch, which dates back to 1916, is rebuilding the arena and renovating surrounding structures while rebranding the iconic Makawao Rodeo to the Makawao Stampede after ending ties with the Maui Roping Club earlier this year.

“The changes aren’t going to change the event. The event is still going to be a great rodeo. It’s just a matter of all these renovations and revitalizing the whole facility,” said ranch General Manager Ken Miranda on Wednesday. “The past leadership with the whole facility, they were very passionate about the Makawao Rodeo, and so we wanted to compromise and adopted the name the Makawao Stampede.”

General partners Charlie King and his brother BK, as well as Wendy Rice Peterson, also help manage ranch and farming operations.

Oskie Rice Arena, which is one of three Kaonoulu Ranch-owned Upcountry arenas, has brand new custom-built Priefert fencing and spectator seating in the making, as well as a remodeled clubhouse with an added 24- by 90-foot outdoor covered lanai area.

Harold “Oskie” Rice stands with his favorite horse Blackjack in this photo taken in1960. — Photo courtesy of Wendy Rice Peterson

With the improvements being made, Miranda said that the arena in Olinda will “hopefully last for generations beyond me.”

Facility manager Maile Masada told The Maui News on Wednesday that the arena is designed to host events ranging from 100 to 1,000 competitors.

The clubhouse, once completed, will be able to accommodate an event of up to 500 people and can be extended with tenting. Masada said a full Wi-Fi system will be added to the facility for media presentations.

The first phase of seating construction at the arena will accommodate about 2,500 people. Eventual plans are to increase seating capacity and to add shelters to protect spectators from the weather.

A new septic system and grease trap in the kitchen and electrical and plumbing repairs, as well as renovations of all bathroom facilities also were done.

This photo shows the 1970 Makawao Rodeo at the Oskie Rice Arena and with the clubhouse in the background. — Photo courtesy of Wendy Rice Peterson

“If you kind of visualize the original roping facilities that started in the late ’50s, they have gone through 65 years of different evolutions,” said Henry Rice, Oskie Rice’s son. “Just from an arena to an arena with a clubhouse — the clubhouse burned down so we then had to rebuild — and what you’re seeing now is the re-expansion and evolution that includes so much more of the ranching community and the Maui community as a whole.”

The original arena was torn down and relocated nearby. The rebuilt arena faces north toward Makawao, enhancing views for spectators and competitors, Miranda said. The original arena could be challenging for competitors to see during certain times of the day.

Renovations were slated for completion by the July Fourth Makawao Stampede, but work stalled due to COVID-19 emergency protocols. It is “almost done,” ranch officials said this week.

The Stampede, as well as the annual parade, has been canceled.

Through decades of rodeos, cattle ranching and youth programs, the arena complex is believed to have undergone two major renovations — one to the clubhouse and the other to the arena, which originally was made entirely of wood.

The renovated clubhouse includes an expanded outdoor area with covered concrete pad. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

The loading chute is the only original piece that remains intact through all the construction.

Miranda, who is a member of the Rice family by marriage, said that all general partners are looking to “revitalize” the space and continue the event’s rich history, while also moving forward without the Maui Roping Club.

“We’re trying to get it upgraded and back to where it was good and usable and safe for the public,” he said. “One thing to understand is that rodeo has transformed over 65 years . . . Rodeo has transitioned a lot of things with the way competition happens.”

The new name “Makawao Stampede” was created after analyzing various event names across the country, such as the Houston Rodeo, Cheyenne Frontier Days and the annual Calgary Stampede.

However, these changes and the sudden severing of ties with the Maui Roping Club remains raw for many club supporters and members.

Makawao Rodeo bull-riding champion Matthew Gouveia sits on an Oskie Rice Arena fence as he waits for his score in this photo taken in 2014. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

“A lot of people are sad and upset,” club President Roland Kehano said Friday night. “A handful of members and people in the community still don’t know what happened, they don’t know the truth.”

He said that the nonprofit club and its board members were not notified until Jan. 16 of the ending of the lease. Kehano claims that the club performed all the necessary improvements to the arena, made compromises and only wanted what was best for the small-town paniolo community.

“It’s really unfortunate, but there’s nothing we can do, you know,” he said. “When we move, everything is history. It’ll be different. They can rebuild, but it won’t be the same Oskie Rice Arena.”

Makawao Rodeo sponsors and local community members still are supporting the club event no matter where they go, and Kehano said he is planning a separate rodeo next year.

“We have one smoking event coming up,” he said. “We will be back. July Fourth is still our day . . . We’ll continue the Roping Club history.”

Venues, permits and other specific event details still are being worked out, he said, adding that he hopes to solidify plans when the COVID-19 pandemic bypasses.

Paniolo remembers

“It’s definitely hard to let go of the past; you know, I left a lot of stuff behind on that sand up there, so it’s definitely hard, but change happens for the better,” said local paniolo Matt Gouveia on Thursday. “I think everybody’s intent here is to better things.”

Through the evolution of Upcountry, Gouveia said the rodeo represents “the last little bit of Makawao.”

Gouveia has been bull riding since the age of 5 and started competing shortly after. Multiple top-three finishes and several injuries later, Gouveia said he has only missed a couple Makawao Rodeo contests in the last 30 years.

While some in the community are unsure about the remodeled Oskie Rice Arena and rebranded rodeo, Gouveia said the changes pose a sustainable future for the next generation of ropers and riders.

“It’s all about the kids, the next generation, and that’s what it’s about really,” he said. “It’s not about us, our days are done already. It’s about the kids coming up and the kids after that.”

He added that each July is “rodeo time” while recalling the many practices and preparations involved with the parade and rodeo festivities.

Nearing the end of his own bull-riding career, Gouveia wants to finish strong in the new Oskie Rice Arena.

“I’m excited, I can’t wait,” he said “My plan is to win the first Makawao (Stampede) this year in the arena, maybe I’ll call it good after that.”

Evolution of Makawao Rodeo 

Sugar, pineapple and ranching were Maui’s main industries around the time Kaonoulu Ranch was purchased by Harold W. “Pop” Rice in 1916.

After marrying Charlotte Baldwin, daughter of Henry Perrine Baldwin, Rice expanded the ranch and ran meat markets in Wailuku and Honolulu. Kaonoulu Ranch bred and trained ponies for sale and raised cattle.

In the early 1930s, Rice’s son Harold F. “Oskie” Rice became the new manager of the ranch. Oskie Rice and brother-in-law Garfield King purchased the land in 1955.

Rodeo was brought to Hawaii in the early 1950s, and the story goes that paniolo George Manoa Sr. and Benji Rowlands collaborated with Oskie Rice to bring rodeo to Maui.

That same year, Maui Roping Club was established “not just for the cowboys, but for the Upcountry community etceteras, all family connections,” said Henry Rice.

“And so my father said ‘fine, mark off the area you want and for $10 a year, I’ll give you a licensed agreement to use that,’ “ he said. “We weren’t in it for much of the money as far as our family ranch went. Obviously, Maui since the ’40s and ’50s has grown quite a bit, and everybody saw it as the cowboys and the ranch families and communities coming together during certain times of the year to have roping events and competition and a lot of laughs.

“It was more done for humor and laughter among the ranches and getting together.”

The first official Makawao Rodeo debuted one Sunday afternoon in July 1956, when about 2,000 fans watched paniolo from three islands compete at the arena, according to the Makawao History Museum. The number of spectators was four times more than organizers anticipated.

To open the rodeo, Oskie Rice led 50 paniolo competitors on horseback into the arena to the sound of the “Star Spangled Banner” while carrying the American and Hawaiian flags.

“Grandpa Oskie just loved the rodeo and bringing families together where they can enjoy their heritage of cattle ranching and competition,” said Rice Peterson, daughter to Henry Rice.

Henry Rice and brother, Freddy, naturally grew up bull riding, roping and playing in polo tournaments with the Maui Polo Team.

And naturally, because the Oskie Rice Arena and Kaonoulu Ranch were family-run operations, Henry Rice became the managing general partner in 1989 after retiring as a senior executive at the Bank of Hawaii in Honolulu.

In 2014, Kaonoulu Ranch bought the Miranda Fence Co. and hired Miranda as the general manager. Miranda is married to Morag, Freddy Rice’s daughter.  

Every Fourth of July for the past 64 years, the Makawao Rodeo has been held at the iconic Upcountry arena. On Friday, Rice Peterson recalled her childhood days watching her family compete in the rodeo and is passionate about the next generation experiencing the same.

“Oskie Rice has always wanted a place for the community to gather, and so we’re excited to continue that and to do the renovations, it was time for a change,” said Rice Peterson. “I think what we’re most excited about is bringing the community together to enjoy our paniolo heritage here that has really gone back decades.”

Makawao Stampede

K Ranch Roping now operates as a cattle-ranching, farming and fencing company and has rebranded its rodeo to the Makawao Stampede. Ending the contract with the Maui Roping Club will not change the roots of paniolo culture, Henry Rice said.

The rodeo continues to adapt and change with the Maui community, which has “grown so much from the ’50s that the sport of rodeo has not just been for the excitement of the individual participants of the ranches, but it has now grown as part of the various ranching communities Upcountry and has reached into the growth of youth rodeo, young people, families,” he said.

“We were quite excited that the demand was there for us to take the next step to do that.”

In lieu of the historical rodeo this July, Masada said that the Stampede will be hosting a virtual contest that will be broadcast from 5 to 7 p.m. July 4 via Zoom (Ring Central).

Paniolo from any generation can enter by submitting past or present photos or videos of themselves tie-down roping, team roping or in other rodeo events. Entries for the virtual contest are due Wednesday.

Those who want to watch the event, visit meetings.ringcentral.com/j/1499140614. 

Contestants statewide and from the Mainland have already entered, she said. They have a chance to win Makawao Stampede engrained cowgirl and cowboy saddles.

“At least from our side, this will be the first of its kind,” Masada said. “We’re going to take those photos and videos and put them together to make a movie based on, I’m hoping, from photos as early as today and going back 50, 60 years ago to bring in not only past competitors from their prime of their life, but also to incorporate history that rodeo has been in the islands among our competitors for many, many years.”

Once renovations are complete, the Stampede has an Oskie Rice Memorial event planned for Dec. 19 and 20. It will be called the Merry Makawao Miracle, which will open with qualification rounds, Bull Bash entertainment, music and rodeo championships.

The 55th annual Makawao Rodeo Parade, organized by a separate group, was canceled due to COVID-19. Masada said the ranch partnered with parade Chairman Duane Hamamura to include a Christmas-themed parade on the same weekend.

Details are still pending, but the holiday Makawao parade would end at the Oskie Rice Arena and serve as the opening to the rodeo.

* Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com.

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