Story by Heather Johnson NPCC Communications
A longtime Miss Rodeo Nebraska member has been inducted into the Miss Rodeo America Hall of Fame.
Mardee Swanson was honored Dec. 6 during the Miss Rodeo America Pageant fashion show in Las Vegas, Nev. for her hard work and dedication to the rodeo queen world.
“When I started this journey with the MRA program in 1991, I had no idea I’d still be here,” Swanson said of the recognition. “This program tends to give you a passion to try and help young women obtain their dreams. I feel so much pride in where this organization is today.”
The early days
Swanson didn’t grow up surrounded by rodeo and pageants, but rather developed a passion for them after marrying her late husband, Swede Swanson, in 1960.
Swede began steer wrestling in the late ’60s. He eventually joined the Mid-States Rodeo Association, became a gold card member of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and competed as part of the Nebraska State Rodeo Association, through which he won state championships in 1969 and 1972.
“As a little girl, I always wanted a horse, but lived in town, so it didn’t happen,” Mardee said. “When Swede started steer wrestling and bought a couple of horses, I, at the age of 26, really wanted to learn to ride. So, I became a charter member of a newly formed women’s riding club, the Velvet Spurs.”
From there, she was smitten. Mardee was elected president of the Velvet Spurs in 1972, 1973, 1995 and 1996 and co-president in 2018.
Sequins and tiaras
Mardee has been involved with NEBRASKAland Days, Nebraska’s official state celebration, since its inception more than 50 years ago. She joined the Buffalo Bill Rodeo Queen Committee in the early 1980s.
When the NEBRASKAland Days board was approached about moving the Miss Rodeo Nebraska Pageant to North Platte, Mardee was instrumental in helping with that move and the formation of the current Miss Rodeo Nebraska Association in 1992.
Mardee spent the next decade as the MRN Association’s state delegate in addition to terms as president and chair of the scholarship committee.
She was also asked to join the NEBRASKAland Days board of directors in 1990. She served a four-year term and was elected board president in 1994.
In 2005, Mardee and Swede were honored with the Trail Boss Award from The Buffalo Bill Rodeo Committee, and in 2009, she was presented with the Dale Studley Award for her support of the NEBRASKAland Days celebration.
At the national level
As for her MRA involvement, Mardee has both been a part of and chaired numerous MRA Pageant committees. She completed her sixth year on the MRA Executive Board in December of 2018. She is currently a Gold Member of the MRA National Advisory Council.
She has judged several state pageants over the years and the National High School Rodeo Queen Contest twice.
“Mardee is one of the hardest working people we have ever had in Miss Rodeo America,” said Tracy Damrell, fellow MRA Hall of Fame inductee. “Need help on a committee? Ask Mardee, but more likely, you won’t have to ask - she’ll volunteer.”
Damrell said Mardee’s motives for volunteering are never for accolades or attention.
“She doesn’t seek recognition. She seeks roles and responsibilities where she can make a difference,” Damrell said. “She does it because she believes in the program and the ideals of Miss Rodeo America. I can think of no more deserving honoree than her.”
Mardee believes the most precious thing she has gained through her involvement with the MRA is friendships. Those friendships, along with the satisfaction of knowing she’s helping to put young women on the path to success has made all the time and effort worth it.
“My daughter gives me a calendar every year called, ‘Women Who Do Too Much’.” Mardee said. “It has many good thoughts, and recently one day it read, ‘If I am going to do too much, I want to be sure it is about the things that matter.’ MRA does matter, and I’m proud and very humble to be selected to be inducted into the MRA Hall of Fame.”