By Sarah Tucker
Photos courtesy of Harry Miller
Every day during the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo™, Joe Fidler, 91, wakes up at 3 a.m. to cook for the Horse Show. By 5 a.m., he is at NRG Park, firing up the pit and the ovens and the deep fryers. With help from the Horse Show’s Chuckwagon Committee, he will prepare breakfast and lunch for nearly 4,000 Horse Show contestants and committee members each day.
Joe Fidler is one of the Rodeo’s longest-serving and most dedicated volunteers. A member since the 1960s, he awakes well before dawn from the Saturday before the World’s Championship Bar-B-Que Contest starts to the Tuesday after the Rodeo ends.
He’s also mentored hundreds, if not thousands, of fellow volunteers on the World’s Championship Bar-B-Que Contest and Horse Show committees. Harry Miller, a member of the Rodeo’s board of directors and past chair of the Horse Show, is one of those mentees. He considers Fidler one of his best friends, calling him “Joe Dad.”
“Joe calls everyone ‘dad,’” Miller said. “And, if he says ‘hey dad,’ there’s a project coming in the next breath.” Miller vividly remembers when they met at his first volunteer shift with the World’s Championship Bar-B-Que Contest Committee on an early morning some 30 years ago. “I had literally just sat down with my coffee, and Joe comes up saying, ‘what the heck are you doing sitting down? We have work to do!’”
The rest is history, and Miller credits Fidler with teaching him and so many other volunteers all they needed to know to serve massive amounts of food to people daily during the Rodeo.
Fidler also was essential in helping the recently formed Chuckwagon Committee start. Miller had people follow Fidler around to learn his techniques, as well as all the recipes he had memorized. “If he hadn’t taught us what he knows, there would be a Horse Show Chuckwagon Committee, but it would have been nine miles of rough county road getting there,” Miller said.
Fidler does not necessarily see himself as critical to the operations of the committees with which he volunteers. He simply enjoys staying busy, working wherever he is needed. “I just enjoy doing it, and it gives me something to do,” Fidler said. Up until recently, Fidler would live on-site during the Rodeo, ready to operate the pit and cook for crowds at a moment’s notice. “I don’t want to be sitting at home. I’ve got to be doing something,” he said.
Because of his dedication, the Rodeo made Fidler a member of the board of directors, but he was “too old for that,” he said. Fidler is now an ex-officio member of the board.
Miller jokes that he is going to teach Fidler how to say no one day because he always says yes, giving selflessly to the Rodeo year after year and never asking for anything in return.
“I think if there were a perfect volunteer marriage with the Rodeo, it’d be Joe Dad Fidler,” Miller said. “He’s the embodiment of a Rodeo volunteer — it’s not about you today or tomorrow, it’s about the Rodeo.”