In the annals of the Woodlake Rodeo, one name everyone knows is Johnny Jackson. Jackson expanded the original Lions Woodlake Roundup, established in 1953, and from the 1950s to the 1990s, helped the Lions grow their event into a world-class professional rodeo.
A former all-around contestant, Jackson was the real deal when it came to rodeo. In the 1950s, Jackson searched for property near his wife’s home in Tulare, but eventually settled on 546 acres near Woodlake that is today the Woodlake Lions Rodeo grounds. It was and remains a working ranch with oranges, avocados, olives, and cattle.
In 1961, Jackson became a rodeo announcer and soon was working 35 to 40 rodeos annually. He was active in the other area rodeos too — Springville, Visalia, Porterville, Fresno, and Delano.
Jackson, who did much to establish the Woodlake Rodeo, will be remembered for his outgoing personality but anyone who ever heard him announce a rodeo will never forget his voice. When he passed away in 1998, the Woodlake Lions knew Johnny Jackson would be a tough act to follow.
The Chad Nicholson era
Chad was raised in the part of Texas north of Dallas and Fort Worth that was sprawling unbridled during the oil boom of the 1980s. He had a high school friend who introduced him to rodeo.
“The only thing bigger in Texas than rodeo is football,” Chad said. “In Texas, football is like religion.”
From 1983 to 1991, Chad rode bareback broncs on the rodeo circuit. He was also a team roper from 1988 to 1992 so he’s no stranger to the sport or the profession.
In high school, Chad was active in FFA, was an Eagle Scout, and just assumed that one day he would be an ag teacher. He attended Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas.
During those college years, he worked in radio, attended an announcer school, and interned with Rick Perry, future governor of the state who was then the head of the Texas Department of Agriculture. For a time, Chad thought he might pursue a career in politics.
As fate would have it, a junior rodeo asked him to announce their event. Chad describes what happens next as “stumbling” into his true calling.
During the 1990s, Chad lived in an RV and followed the rodeo circuit. In 1993, he landed in Redding and in his spare time fished the pro bass events on Lake Shasta. But then he began to get more rodeo jobs.
In 1998, Chad Nicholson, the young Texan in his late 20s with a golden voice, announced his first Woodlake Rodeo. Except for some schedule conflicts in 2012 and 2013, he has been the voice of the Woodlake Rodeo for almost two decades.
But it was something that happened in 2003 that was life-changing for Chad. John Wood, longtime Woodlake Lions Rodeo chairman, asked Chad to pay a visit to Riata Ranch, then based outside of Exeter.
The Lions were thinking of inviting the Riata Ranch bunch back to Woodlake so Chad paid the famous Cowboy Girls a visit. It was during this visit that Chad met Jennifer Welch.
They came to Three Rivers on their first date and, five months later, Chad proposed to Jennifer under the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. They were married in September 2005.
Today, Chad couldn’t be happier with his life’s path, which now includes straddling his busy career as rodeo announcer, seminar host, and voice-over personality while also helping Jennifer and the Riata Ranch Cowboys Girls, now settled in Three Rivers, to achieve their claim to international fame.
On August 8, Chad will emcee the induction ceremony at the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs, Colo. But this Mother’s Day, Chad will be announcing via horseback at the Woodlake Lions Rodeo.
Just listen for the voice.