“He was a real pioneer, not only for his sport, but for all sports in Kansas.”
-Ted Hays, Secretary of the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame, describing Gerald Roberts.
Gerald Roberts was born on October 5, 1919, in Council Grove, Kansas. Gerald became a legendary bronco and bull rider in rodeos all over the United States. His parents, E.C. and Clara Roberts encouraged their six children to pursue the “cowboy lifestyle”. At the age of five Gerald knew he wanted to be a rodeo cowboy. By the age of 13 he rode the truck-loads of colts his father bought. When he turned 17, Roberts followed footsteps of his brother, Ken, and sister, Marge, by joining the professional rodeo circuit. As Gerald traveled and competed, his family started the Flint Hills Rodeo, the longest-running rodeo in the state of Kansas. Held in 1938 as the First Annual Chase County Rodeo, it was renamed the following year. In 1942, at 22, Gerald earned his first All-Around World Champion title. Six years later he earned his second; making him the only cowboy to earn world titles under two different rodeo associations – the Cowboy Turtle Association and the Rodeo Cowboy Association. During his career, Gerald became close friends with another famous bronc rider, Casey Tibbs. The two men traveled together and were the first cowboys to fly on airplanes when competing on the circuit. They also crossed over into the Hollywood entertainment industry together. Roberts served as a stunt double. Turning down a role in the TV series “Rawhide”, Roberts introduced Europe to American rodeos. Gerald’s rodeo career spanned three decades and won him sixty-seven championship belt buckles. He also won all-Around titles at rodeos like Cheyenne Frontier Days, the San Francisco Cow Palace, Reno and Madison Square Gardens. In 1948 Gerald became the first cowboy to wear and promote Wrangler jeans when he modeled for the Blue Bell Company. The Kansas Sports Hall of Fame nominated Gerald as a charter, and the only rodeo inductee, in 1961. In 1964, Gerald moved to Abilene, Kansas, where he established the Chap-parel Manufacturing Company. Two years later, Roberts married Pat Hershberger, who helped operate the company. He invented a nine-plait bull rope, which soon replaced the traditional five-plaited rope previously used by most bull riders. The company also made custom-made chaps, gear bags and rope bags used by rodeo contestants. As his rodeo career wound down and his business progressed, Gerald and Pat enjoyed life around Abilene with their children – Jim, Lala, Geri, Kasey, Claudette, Joye and Jaye [deceased]. In 1990, the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association inducted Gerald into their Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs. He is also featured in the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City. A lifetime member of the PRCA and the Western and English Sales Association, Sports Illustrated named Roberts one of the Top Fifty Kansas Athletes of the Century. In 1994, the Flint Hills Rodeo honored the Roberts family with a mural. On December 31, 2004, Gerald Roberts passed away at the age of eighty-five; leaving behind a legacy steeped in rodeo and cowboy traditions. Ted Hayes, of the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame recalled, “When you think of rodeo in Kansas as a sport, the first name that comes up is Roberts, not just Gerald, but the entire family.”
Year inducted: 2005