By Sarah Tucker
The most eagerly anticipated event of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo™ is not the release of the top-secret entertainer lineup — it is when volunteers finally receive their gold badges. Although committee members do not receive their badges until just before the Rodeo starts, the process for determining the new badge’s design actually begins a year earlier. In fact, it starts before the previous year’s Rodeo has even begun. By the time the 2020 Rodeo season ended, the badge design for 2021 was already set.
Each year, the badge design changes. It not only helps prevent duplication but also is used to reference significant events.
“We try to make them a reminder of something important,” said Johnnie Westerhaus, retired director of production and presentations. In 2002, the badge featured the Astrodome because it was the last year in that venue. The subsequent 2003 badge featured NRG Stadium. The 2019 badge reflected the new star-shaped stage.
Westerhaus’s personal favorite is the 2001 badge that featured a construction hard hat and girders, which are support beams used in construction. “We were trying to remind people the grounds were under construction and to ride the bus – that parking was limited,” Westerhaus said. “It’s my favorite because it’s different, and we were trying to make a point with it.”
Ideas for badges come from all over and sometimes include previously unused designs, artwork or general Western themes.
“In the last few years, the executive office has provided the concept,” said Melissa Hernlund, recently retired director of membership who oversaw the badge design process.
Once the design is approved, Hernlund orders more than 45,000 badges for all the volunteers, board members, auction contributors, donors, judges, champion buyers and others approved to receive a badge. Then, each is customized by number and 44 different titles and distributed to the appropriate groups.
With a new design each year, the badge remains a point of pride for volunteers and a sign of the hard work that earned them the gold badge. “Regardless of the position or the job a person may hold, everyone gets that badge for volunteering,” Hernlund said. “It means so much to them.”