From Iowa to Oklahoma, Kansas to Hawaii, Garrett Nokes had friends all over the country. If there’s one thing his student athletes can agree on, it’s that any friend of his was a friend for life.
“He definitely had the gift of gab and never met a stranger,” said Riley Weehler, former Mid-Plains Community College Rodeo Team member. “It always amazed me how he could know all these people from all different backgrounds and have a bond with each of them. He found a way to relate to everyone. When you were with Garrett, you felt like you were home.”
Nokes, legendary timed event competitor and head coach of the MPCC Rodeo Team, passed away Sunday while recovering from a horse-related accident sustained Jan. 28. He left behind a legacy of kindness, strength and integrity that lives on in all of those who knew him.
“One thing Garrett used to say all the time to me was, ‘It’s a great day to have a great day,’ I think that speaks to the kind of person he was,” said Marshall Still, current MPCC Rodeo Team member. “Garrett was extremely positive and super driven, and he was a huge mentor of mine not only in the arena but also out. He gave me so many opportunities to be successful. He was a one in a million type of guy.”
Nokes began coaching Still in steer wrestling when Still was in the sixth grade. By the time Still joined the MPCC Rodeo Team in 2018, he felt like part of the Nokes family.
“Garrett was one of the funniest guys to be around,” Still said. “He was always cracking jokes and having fun – even though, more often than not, I was the butt of the jokes. He did so much for the MPCC Rodeo Team. Everybody who rodeoed for him has the biggest respect for him.”
Nokes introduced Still to his fiancé, Mykelsi Schnose, of Oelrichs, S.D. Like many members of the rodeo team, Schnose also found Nokes’ farm to be a home away from home.
“I spent probably half a summer at the Nokes’ house just traveling to rodeos with them,” Schnose said.
Over the years, Nokes helped her cope with the loss of her father, brother and grandfather. He offered support and encouragement no matter how many times she wanted to give up.
“Halfway through my first year at MPCC, I was homesick, six hours from home and had no points for the rodeo team,” Schnose said. “I was in tears and told Garrett I wanted to quit. He told me to give him one more semester, and he bet I would make the college finals in the spring. That spring, I did.”
In doing so, Schnose made history as the first woman to represent MPCC at the College National Finals Rodeo. Nokes couldn’t have been more proud.
“Garrett believed in everyone more than they believed in themselves,” Schnose said. “He could also make people believe in themselves more than I’ve seen anyone do before. There was just a way about him. There were so many times when I didn’t think I could handle life. Garrett taught me to leave everything in the arena – to just get in there and do what I was supposed to do.”
Current MPCC Rodeo Team member Landon Sivertsen had a similar experience.
“Garrett picked me up when I was down,” Sivertsen said. “I didn’t do well in school, and he got me going again. If not for him, I probably wouldn’t still be in school. He took me from rock bottom to the Dean’s List.”
Sivertsen said that’s because Nokes expected the best out of him. Nokes taught his student athletes to be winners in everything they did.
“He passed his love of rodeo on to all of us,” said Sivertsen. “I learned about the business side of the sport from him – everything from how to enter rodeos, to how to care for my horses and myself on the road. I have plans to rodeo professionally, and there are so many things I wish I could still learn from him. He knew what to tell you and when to tell you. Garrett knew who wanted to be the best and who really wanted his advice. If someone didn’t, he would back off. But, for those who were all about it and all in, he was there every step of the way.”
Sivertsen met Nokes while attending one of Nokes’ calf roping schools. Sivertsen learned so much in three days that when he decided to start steer wrestling there was only one coach he wanted.
“I didn’t begin steer wrestling until college, and now that’s my best event,” Sivertsen said. “Garrett taught me everything I know. Then, I started working for him and learned a lot about training horses, horsemanship and life in general. He showed me what it means to be a good person, a good friend and a man of ambition. I know how to treat people because of him.”
Like Sivertsen, Weehler also worked for Nokes on his farm and benefited from his knowledge and experience.
“Garrett had a work ethic second to none,” Weehler said. “He did whatever it took to get a job done. He was an excellent horseman and helped my horsemanship tremendously. I rode better, I roped better because of it.”
Like so many others, Weehler also found himself impacted by Nokes’ positive mindset.
“Garrett was a winner, and I fed off that,” Weehler said. “He was mentally very strong, and in life, that counts for a lot. Even if he was having a rough day, he talked his way out of it and finished on a good note. He never stayed negative. He had that ‘Go get ’em’ mentality.”
One of his favorite memories of Nokes stemmed from a fencing project. He and Nokes were building fence in Maywood, and Weehler had gone on ahead and dug all the holes.
“Garrett was coming along with the wire and fell in one of those holes,” Weehler said. “I looked up and he was doing the splits. So, I did what anyone would do in that situation – I got my phone out and sent a Snapchat of him to all the other rodeo team members.”
Fun was a key element to the MPCC Rodeo Team. Several of the rodeo team members recounted Nokes’ old, bright blue semi he used to haul the trailer of rodeo horses.
“We called it the ‘Blue Whale’,” said Kaile Jacobson, former MPCC Rodeo Team member. “We would cram in there, and he would make us watch ‘Lonesome Dove’ the entire way. I hate that movie to this day because I saw it so many times. We also had a chair/table thing in the middle of the truck, and we would crowd around that and play cards.”
She and her brother, Koby Jacobson, were among those who traveled the furthest from home to train with Nokes – all the way from Makawao, Hawaii. Kaile competed on the rodeo team for four years while earning both nursing and business degrees from MPCC.
“Garrett gave me his personal horse to use the first three years that I was there,” Kaile said. “I came in the middle of winter, which was something I had never experienced. Garrett had to explain how to dress warmly for practices. He was pretty much like my dad. His family took me in instantly. I would stay at their house and sleep on the couch. I spent holidays with them, and during the summer, Garrett would take me to amateur rodeos. He raised us all through our toughest moments.”
Koby visited Kaile in Nebraska during those summers. He made the National High School Rodeo Association Finals twice in steer wrestling, but because the event wasn’t as popular in Hawaii as on the mainland, Koby would train with Nokes ahead of time.
When Koby did join the MPCC Rodeo Team, Nokes found him a horse as well. Although he had success in the timed events, Koby’s strength has proven to be in roughstock. He is currently the top ranked collegiate bull rider in the nation.
“What I appreciated about Garrett was that at the end of the rodeo, instead of going home or to the hotel like a lot of other timed event coaches would, he was always at the bucking chutes cheering me on,” Koby said. “Bull riding might not have been his specialty, but he was there, and it was the most awesome thing to know that my coach was on both ends of the arena with me. His support got me to where I am today.”
For Kaile, that support came in the form of Nokes standing beside the roping chute.
“There was never a time that I backed into the box when he wasn’t there watching me,” Kaile said. “He would tell us ahead of time how calves would run. He would help get the box ready, and our horses set, and he always watched the barrier for us. If we heard him yell, “Yeah!” from behind us, we knew we had to get something done because we had cleared the barrier and were set up for a great run.”
Nokes gave lots of praise and encouragement, but he also wasn’t afraid to give constructive criticism where needed.
“That’s what made him so motivational,” Kaile said. “Nobody got special treatment. If we needed the extra help, we could go to his house on the weekends and practice. He was always available. That’s just how he was. He was incredible.”
Kaile ended up at Mid-Plains in the first place because she followed her friend and current assistant MPCC Rodeo Team coach Aukai Kaai. At that time, Nokes was the assistant coach, and the head coach was former world champion bull rider Dustin Elliott.
A bull rider, himself, most of Kaai’s training was with Elliott. However, he had the opportunity to work with Nokes extensively this past year when he was promoted to assistant and Nokes took over as head coach July 1.
“Garrett was a great ambassador for the sport,” Kaai said. “He gave me, along with many others, the opportunity to become better both in and out of the arena. No one cared more about the future of the sport and the kids than Garrett. He was truly an amazing person and knew how to light up any room he walked into.”
Elliott and Nokes’ history went back way before their time at MPCC. The two traveled the same rodeo circuit and both competed at the 2005 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. They each finished fourth in the world that year in their respective events – Nokes in steer wrestling and Elliott in bull riding.
“I’ve known Garrett for most of my rodeo career,” Elliott said. “He has always been a top-notch guy willing to help anyone. He was a competitor, too, and he passed that on to our college athletes. He always had a passion for sharing his knowledge of the sport, and he did such a great job. He was awesome.”
It was Elliott who talked Nokes into coaching for Mid-Plains.
“He was the only phone call I needed to make,” Elliott said. “I knew his timed event knowledge paired with my roughstock background would make a great team for all rodeo athletes, and we would win. Garrett played a huge part in the success of the team. I believe his calling was being a rodeo coach.”
Carol Garrison worked with Nokes for several years while serving as chair of the rodeo team’s booster committee, The Wranglers. She will always remember Nokes as being one of the most positive people she’s ever known.
“Garrett was a joy to be around,” Garrison said. “His guidance when planning college rodeo events was so helpful. He just made everything more fun, and he always showed appreciation for the smallest things. Garrett had a contagious smile, laughter and positive ‘can do’ attitude. He was so much fun to talk to. I’m going to miss that.”
A career for the books
Nokes was named Coach of the Year for the Great Plains Region in May – a tremendous honor voted on by coaches and captains from every team in the region at the end of every season.
He was instrumental in taking MPCC to its current position in the collegiate rodeo standings. MPCC has the number one men’s team in the region and is sitting third on the national leaderboard.
Part of what made Nokes so special was that he didn’t just talk the talk to his team. He led by experience.
Nokes remained an active competitor up until his death and achieved more throughout his rodeo career than most ever dream of.
In addition to his triumph at the 2005 WNFR, Nokes won the 2017 Ariat World Series of Team Roping in Las Vegas, Nev. – beating out more than 500 other teams for a spot in the final round.
In his early days, Nokes competed on Oklahoma Panhandle State University’s first two national championship teams. He placed third in the nation in the tie-down roping in 1997 and was the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association Central Plains Regional Champion Steer Wrestler and All-Around Cowboy in ’98.
At the local level, Nokes won the Nebraska State Rodeo Association’s “Rookie of the Year” title in 1996 and was the all-around champion in 2011 and 2014. He became the organization’s tie-down champion in 2011, ’13 and ’14.
Nokes also took home the Kansas Professional Rodeo Association’s titles of all-around champion in 1996, 2010, ’12 and ’14, steer wrestling champion in ’96 and tie-down roping champion in 2011, ’13 and ’14.
A member of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association since 1996, Nokes went on to win all-around titles at numerous rodeos in that circuit as well. Those included the National Western Stock Show in Denver in 2005 and Cheyenne Frontier Days in ’06. He was a three-time Prairie Circuit steer wrestling and all-around champion and was also tie-down roping champion in 2007.
Closer to home, Nokes earned the all-around title and was co-champion in the team roping, alongside Matt Wilken, at the Buffalo Bill Rodeo in North Platte in 2012. He had previously won the tie-down roping at the Buffalo Bill Rodeo in 1997 and steer wrestling there in ’98.
Altogether, Nokes had more than $740,000 in PRCA career earnings.
Leaving a legacy
Nokes spent countless hours at the Kiplinger Arena – working not just with his own sons and the MPCC Rodeo Team, but also hosting numerous clinics and roping schools, which drew in youth from across the nation.
When not in the arena, Nokes could be found working on his farm south of McCook where he raised crops, cattle and performance horses. Nokes also served as a crop insurance agent for First Crop Insurance, LLC.
Nokes leaves behind his wife, Laura, sons, Trevor and Parker, and numerous mentees, friends and loved ones.
The funeral will be at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Kiplinger Arena, in McCook. Visitation will be from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday at Herrmann-Jones Funeral Chapel, in McCook.
MPCC Rodeo Team members past and present will serve as honorary pallbearers. In lieu of flowers it is asked that contributions be made to the Garrett Nokes Family Account, c/o First Central Bank, P.O. Box 1297, McCook, NE 69001.