Chris Boleman, Ph.D., a Bryan native and Texas A&M University alumnus, was recently named head of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, HLSR.
Boleman joined the HLSR as the executive director of agricultural competitions and exhibits in 2017 after serving nearly a decade as the state leader for Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service’s 4-H program, involving more than 600,000 youth and over 30,000 volunteers annually. He was also elected to the National 4-H Council.
Following his time with AgriLife Extension, he served as executive director of the HLSR Agricultural Educational Competitions and Exhibits Division and helped reorganize the structure of the event.
Boleman ’96, was a professor in the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communications, ALEC. In addition to his bachelor’s degree, he also earned a master’s degree from the university in 2000 and a doctorate in 2003.
Boleman recently shared information about the rodeo, his new job, and how it has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
Q: Can you give some quick stats on the HLSR?
A: Established as the Houston Fat Stock Show in 1932, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo has grown into the world’s largest event of its kind. The HLSR promotes agriculture by hosting an annual, family friendly experience that educates and entertains the public, supports Texas youth, showcases Western heritage and provides year-round educational support within the community. Since its beginning, the rodeo has committed more than $500 million to Texas youth and education. In 2019, the rodeo drew more than 2.5 million visitors.
Q: What is the most fun part of this job, and what is the toughest?
A: The best part of the job is the great people I work with, the volunteers, staff, the whole team. They are awesome people fully committed to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo mission. The toughest part? Nothing yet, because I am still learning and loving all of it.
Q: It must have been very frustrating to be named head of the HLSR and have the entire event canceled because of the pandemic.
A: All of us at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo were deeply saddened to close early. However, the safety and well-being of our guests and our community is our top priority. We planned for 20 consecutive days, so without the final 12 days of grounds attendance and concert performances, the financial loss is going to be significant.
Q: Entertainment is a huge draw for the event. How are entertainers selected and who have been the most popular?
A: The entertainer lineup represents a wide range of musical genres. Each year, we strive to offer a star-studded lineup that reflects our country roots, as well as the diversity of our community.
The top three rodeo performances on HLSR’s list of top 25 paid rodeo/concert attendance records include:
March 10, 2019 – Go Tejano Day – Los Tigres del Norte – 75,586
March 1, 2019 – Black Heritage Day – Cardi B – 75,580
March 18, 2018 – Garth Brooks – 75,577
The top concert-only performance, George Strait on March 17, 2019, set an attendance record for any event in NRG Stadium with 80,108 people. The performance marked Strait’s 30th performance in his 22 years at the rodeo.
Q: Volunteers are a big part of the livestock show and rodeo. Can you give some details?
A: The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo would not be the well-run success that it is today without the vision, dedication and hard work of its volunteers. The rodeo is powered by more than 35,000 volunteers and 135-plus full-time employees who work year-round to prepare for our annual event. Our total operating expenses were more than $146 million in 2019.
Q: You come from a family of Aggies, is that correct?
A: My wife Randi, who works for the Bryan Independent School District as a nutrition expert, and I have a total of six degrees from Texas A&M. My dad, Larry Boleman, Ph.D., was a professor there in the Department of Animal Science, and my grandfather, T.D. Tanksley, Ph.D., was also a professor in the animal science department. Needless to say, we love Aggieland.
Q: What classes did you teach at Texas A&M?
A: I taught in the ALEC department and had an appointment with AgriLife. I taught in the areas of program development and evaluation, community leadership and volunteer development. I also was the AgriLife Extension program director for Texas 4-H Youth Development from 2008-2017.
Highlights from the Houston Livestock and Rodeo:
- In 1942, the Houston Rodeo welcomed its first-ever entertainer, Texas native and Hollywood star Gene Autry.
- The board of the rodeo has 18 vice presidents elected to one-year terms. They supervise the activities of the rodeo’s more than 35,000 volunteers serving on 108 different committees. Each vice president may serve up to three terms.
- In 1970, Elvis Presley performed at the Astrodome.
- In 1974, the Houston Rodeo held the first World Championship Bar-B-Que Contest.
- In 1990, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher attended the event during an economic summit meeting in Houston.
- In 2002, the final rodeo was held at the Astrodome and was then moved to what is now NRG Stadium.
- In 2003, rodeo awarded more than $1 million in scholarships to Texas FFA and 4-H clubs.
By Keith Randall, Texas A&M University Division of Marketing & Communications.
This story first appeared on Texas A&M Today.