“The word ‘cowboy’ and the name Otis Jennings are synonymous.” – Jo Vanatta describing Otis Jennings.
Otis Jennings was born March 4, 1923 in Burr Oak, Kansas. Otis lived his virtually all his life in Kansas. As a child, he moved to Garden City with his parents, Roy and Mae Jennings. Soon after, Otis met and worked for a man who owned racehorses and worked as a horse trader. This started his lifelong interest in working with horses and cattle. In 1943, Otis married Shirley Haflich and worked on her family’s farm east of Garden City. During this time, he kept a few ponies and began working with colts from neighboring farms. He also started working as a “contract cowboy” looking after others’ cattle for pay. In 1962, Otis and Shirley purchased a quarter section of land west of Lakin.
After moving, Otis vowed, “They were going to do whatever they had to do make a living in the horse and cow world.” The State of Kansas hired Otis as a Brand Inspector. Besides the brand work with feedlots in Kearney County and the sale barn in Syracuse, the couple kept busy riding neighbors’ colts and continuing Otis’s business. In 1972, Otis and Shirley built an indoor arena at their home in Lakin. Otis performed all of the construction on the building’s interior. In 1978, the couple purchased a string of rodeo stock; creating J-J Rodeo Company. When they started producing rodeos, there were only three Little Britches Rodeos in western Kansas. Their hard work and dedication led to twenty Little Britches Rodeos being produced in the area.
When asked why he never worked the pro-rodeos, instead working with children, Otis always replied, “Kids have to start somewhere.” In 1995, Otis received the Bob Payne Memorial Award at the Kansas Ranch Rodeo Championship as a tribute to his dedication to his family, his job, his integrity, his honesty and his willingness to help others. Otis suffered a debilitating stroke in 1996. He had spent the day before in the saddle, just as he had everyday before that; he then worried about whether or not he would be a cowboy anymore. All who cared about Otis quickly reminded him that once a cowboy, always a cowboy. Otis passed away on Saturday, January 11, 2003 in Lakin, Kansas.
Throngs paid their respects to Otis “Pappy” Jennings, the man who had led many of the town’s rodeo parades and had provided many years of entertainment for rodeo fans.