By Katy Nesbitt, CJD Senior Staff Writer
Reprinted from the 2019 CJD Rodeo Program
Chief Joseph Days Rodeo draws crowds from all over the world to watch four action packed PRCA rodeos at the foot of a 9,000-foot mountain named Mount Joseph. The crowds come for the excitement and the beauty, but they return for the hospitality.
Advocating that hospitality is job number one for the Chief Joseph Days Rodeo Court as they travel the Northwest promoting Wallowa County’s premier event.
Back home during the last week in July, rodeo contestants and their families, sponsors and many visiting committee members get the true, down home treatment at the Hospitality Room run by CJD director Shelley Marshall and her incredibly talented husband Tim.
On a Sunday in May under skies threating to rain, Tim and Larry Bellamy fire up charcoal on a Traeger barbecue behind the Hospitality Room to cater a private event as Shelley goes over its history.
“Al Slinker started the Hospitality Room in the mid-90s serving sandwiches and booze to sponsors during the rodeo under an old Safeway tent,” Shelley Marshall said.
The Marshalls, parents of two previous rodeo court members, got into the rodeo hospitality business in 1999 when they prepared the court coronation dinner. From there the couple took on an open-sided, metal pole barn and turned it into the heart of the Joseph Rodeo Grounds.
“Tim and I stuck it out and in 2020 it will be our 20th year,” Marshall said.
The Hospitality Room’s galley style kitchen runs along one wall of the steel building. Most of the rest of the room is lined with tables and chairs, allowing just enough space for a bar and two bartenders.
“At least 15 people come in to help each day,” Marshall said.
Two or three people come in to cook and serve breakfast starting at 7 a.m. One team of volunteers bake the desserts at home while others come in to make salads and plate the cakes and cookies. Still more come to serve dinner.
Shelley Marshall said, “And some of those who help me also serve beer or take tickets.”
From this makeshift kitchen hundreds are fed during the rodeo each summer and at other events throughout the year. While Shelley Marshall tells the story of the Hospitality Room, Tim Marshall pulls out great triangles of beef from their marinade bath and slaps them on a Traeger barbecue for a sheriff’s dinner in the Thunder Room. Tim’s cooking is well loved among the rodeo crowd.
Shelley Marshall said, “When we first started I felt bad that Tim was outside cooking by himself, so I’d go out to visit with him and there would be women sitting out there drinking beer and watching him!”
“They were learning how to barbecue!” Tim Marshall explained.
When they started out, Shelley Marshall said they made tacos and spaghetti, but the fare got “fancier” over the years. Each night Tim barbecues ham or chicken, pork ribs or tri tip while Shelley oversees preparation of the sides, rolls and desserts. Volunteers serve beer during dinner and until 10 p.m. after the rodeo, out come the biscuits and gravy.
“We go through two cookers of gravy a night and 90 biscuits,” Shelley Marshall said.
The popular dish is also served at breakfast along with sausage, fruit and even parfaits. Lunch is typically cobbled together from the previous dinners leftovers.
As the menu expanded, the building’s amenities improved. In 2000 walls and windows were added to the pole barn-style structure. Four years later a concrete floor was poured and plumbing installed.
Shelley Marshall said their first food prep tables were old doors propped up with sawhorses and the cabinets were salvaged from someone remodeling a kitchen. She said she puts down cardboard on the floor to soften the impact of walking on concrete all day. She can be seen after the official hours of the Hospitality Room, carrying a tray of sandwiches back to the directors and PRCA staff who worked through their dinner hour.
Mostly, the Marshalls are paid in compliments, but their hard work has been recognized. They both received the John Justin Standard of the West Award, embroidered Justin boots, for serving as volunteers and committee members. Shelley Marshall also received her PRCA Gold Card, commemorating her 20 years of volunteer commitment.
As Tim flipped smoking hunks of beef on the barbecue, Shelley thumbed through a handful of photos and said, “We couldn’t do it without all the great people who volunteer every year.”