Littrell, 81, worked his way from bank teller at Colorado National Exchange Bank to bank president, to bank owner/chairman and CEO of Air Academy National Bank in 1986. All the while, he was involved in numerous local nonprofit organizations.
His bright blue eyes and easy way with words make you want to hear all the stories of Colorado Springs and the people, like his former boss and mentor Jasper Ackerman, who helped shape the city into what it is today.
Nearly all of Littrell’s stories lead back to a passion he discovered in Colorado Springs: the rodeo.
He was instrumental in bringing the Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association from Denver to Colorado Springs and has been on the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame board of directors since its beginning in 1979.
This month, it’s the cowboys who will celebrate Littrell. He will be inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame alongside the likes of bull riders Lane Frost and Ty Murray, who already are ingrained in rodeo history, and along with this year’s fellow inductees, cowboys Robert and Billy Etbauer, Frank Schneider and Jon Taylor.
When Jasper Ackerman volunteered you to be treasurer of the Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo, what did you know about the rodeo?
What I knew about it was that I had been to a rodeo. Jasper said, “You’re from Lubbock.”
“OK, you’re the secretary and treasurer of the rodeo.”
The good thing about that is that it helped me with the things that I was studying, bookkeeping and accounting. And working with these guys, it was year-around. You are doing something with it year-around.
I got to sit in the meetings with these most powerful people — Jasper Ackerman, William Thayer Tutt — you don’t say anything unless you are asked to speak. When those guys got together and said we need to get something done here, it happened.
What did you like about the rodeo that kept you coming back for more than 50 years?
I liked the rodeo. I grew up with cousins … they lived on a farm in Texas that’s just 10,000 acres; you didn’t call it a ranch, it was a farm. Two (cousins) became part of PRCA. I went out to work with them, and they put me on some animal — a steer or a calf. They had horses and they taught me how to ride.
You know at the local high school you wore a white T-shirt with a box of Lucky Strikes rolled up in your sleeve, blue jeans and cowboy boots — that was the uniform. So, western issues were not really strange to me at all.
Tell us a rodeo story.
The first meeting (of the year) was in January, usually at The Broadmoor. Back then you tried to sign big acts. On one occasion … there is a show called “Doc and Festus,” someone had said they’ve been pretty good. No one had heard of them. Someone said, “They are performing in Odessa, Texas, at their rodeo. We need to get someone down there to see Doc and Festus and see what they do.”
None of the big guys wanted to go. Mr. Tutt said (Leon) Wilmot can go; Wilmot worked for him. Jasper said, Hal can go. Wilmot called, there were no flights to Odessa.
He called out here to the airport and one of those little planes said, “Yeah, we can get you down there. We can leave at 10 o’clock this morning.”
We get down there, and there is a little slim guy in cowboy boots and cowboy hat in a Cadillac sittin’ there waitin’ for us and he turned out to be the chairman of their rodeo and owned about 9 million acres down there.
We saw (the show), couldn’t believe it. These guys are pitter-patter. Festus, if you watch John Wayne movies, you’ll see him in almost every one. Doc was a character actor in a lot of movies back then.
We came back and told them kind of what they do — not everything, we wanted them to be as surprised as we were. We said, “They want to come here and we think they will be great.” So, sure enough we signed them.
You are being inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame with the likes of World Champion Robert Etbauer and Saddle Bronc Rider Billy Etbauer. What do you think about that?
Let me assure you that my feelings, my respect for rodeo cowboys, and certainly the Etbauer brothers, they are honestly the most truest American-type people — kindest, family people you could ever meet. They are so impressive.
Rodeo people have a lot of fun. They are not different from anyone else in terms of having fun. They are up here on Thursday, be at another rodeo Friday. And they are in a pickup driving back and forth and sleeping on hay in the barn.
They are fun to talk with. They survive one way or the other, always doing the right thing or making the right decision. It’s just the way that they do things. They get to be successful. They continue to shake your hand and be your friend. I’ve never met any of them that wasn’t really about as nice a person as can be.
You brought your financial expertise to the rodeo and to the Hall of Fame. Of what are you most proud?
Anything that I’ve done, that attempts to honor them, see them get honored at the Hall, I can’t think of anything when I look back on my life that’s been more precious to me, other than my wife and my children, than knowing some of these people and knowing something about them and them personally and what they do and to see them be honored. The western way of life, where I was born, and certainly in Colorado, is the backbone is what is really great and wonderful about the United States of America. I really, really feel very strongly about that.
How do you feel about being called “Mr. Rodeo?”
It’s absolutely overwhelming.
I’ve loved every moment of it, even though a lot of it was very difficult and took a lot of time and effort. But I feel privileged that I was able to work that into a regular working schedule and have backing on it. And over the years as treasurer, I was approaching $3 million in checks that I wrote to military charities in the Colorado Springs area.
2012 Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame inductees: saddle bronc rider Billy Etbauer; world champion Robert Etbauer; rough stock cowboy Frank Schneider; bareback horse of the year Khadafy Skoal; barrel man Jon Taylor; rodeo administrator Hal Littrell; and the Dodge City, Kan. Roundup.
Induction ceremony: 10 a.m. July 14 at the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame. General admission is $10; Hall of Fame members is $8; children 12 and under, $5.