January 10, 1966 -
Wade Wayne Earp is a paradox. He is one of the toughest competitors you will never want to face, and he is one of the nicest guys you will ever meet. As a competitor; he is driven. He just keeps bouncing back; getting better and better and harder to beat. Wade is often described as having a heart "as big as Texas!" He has volunteered countless years of his time to making the rodeo and all his other beneficiaries the very best they can be.
Wade was born January 10, 1966 in Lubbock, Texas. Wade was next to the youngest of six kids; including four brothers and one sister. His family lived in a suburb outside of Lubbock by the name of Idalou, a town so small that even today it only has one flashing red traffic light and a Dairy Queen.
From a very young age, Wade has loved animals of all varieties. The seed for Wade's budding compassion for animals blossomed while spending time with his paternal grandparents who lived in the adjacent small west Texas town of Petersburg; about 20 minutes from Idalou. They owned a large piece of land that the family referred to as "The Ponderosa," which played host and home to myriad varieties of livestock and pets, such as pigs, cows, chickens, horses, goats, and even a mule. Growing up around these many animals, Wade remembers having a specific affinity with dogs, cats, chickens and even a de-scented skunk. His Grandpa Earp had a thriving business selling chickens and eggs to other residents within the community. As a very young boy, Wade remembers gathering eggs as well as helping his grandparents with other chores.
Raising such a large family in a small farming community in west Texas proved hard for his parents. Wade remembers the time when he was five and money was just too tight for his family in West Texas. It was a blistering summer day when his father, pregnant mother, and the four boys and one girl, all under the age of 15, packed up the big U-Haul and moved North East to the land of opportunity in Arkansas. Wade's family eventually settled in Benton, Arkansas, just outside of Little Rock.
Wade's dad, a dedicated father and hard worker, found a job as a fireman at the local Benton Fire Department. He worked 24 hours on and 48 hours off. During his off time he worked other jobs in construction and as an auto mechanic to support his burgeoning family. Mom was a stay-at-home mom and often worked odd jobs cleaning houses and ironing clothes to help with bills and help send Wade to private school. Eventually, Dad bought a small seven-and-a-half acre stretch of land just outside of Benton. The land needed to be home to both animals and their herd of kids.
As one might expect, Wade was a very active youngster. He was first a Cub Scout; then a Webelo; and finally a Boy Scout. Wade also participated in the local church's version of scouts, the Royal Rangers. He played on various sports teams in Benton, including baseball, soccer, softball, volleyball and basketball. Wade also participated in 4H, where he raised and showed rabbits.
Wade attended public school from kindergarten thru fifth grade. His parents felt they had a better chance of maintaining a good upbringing for their children by cutting out exposure to some of the secular pitfalls that were so visible within the public schools at that time. In the summer before sixth grade, Wade's mother transferred him and his younger brother to the local Christian school, where his two older brothers had started the previous year. Even at the age of twelve, Wade's desire to help was strong. He began teaching a Sunday school class for younger kids, and eventually taught children's church.
During his first year in Christian school, Wade's competitive drive turned to basketball, and he became really good at the sport. In sixth grade he was on the Junior High team and was already a substitute for the Senior High team. He was selected Most Valuable Player at several tournaments, and in ninth grade he began playing full time as a guard on the Senior High team, where he averaged around 22 points a game. In 1984, during his senior year, Wade scored his career high game of 52 points, helping his team win with a score of 98 to 46. At the end of the season, Wade went on to All State.
In addition to his sporting accomplishments in basketball, Wade also found his singing voice. He studied music and honed his vocal skills. Wade sang in the youth choir at church and also participated in the school choir. At the age of fourteen, Wade represented the State of Arkansas at the National Christian School voice competition, where he competed in the mixed duet singing category in New York City. Wade was also involved with the puppet and drama teams at school, as well as church, and participated in various other social and academic clubs.
While extremely good at sports, and an accomplished singer; Wade's heart always belonged to animals. Over the course of many years, Wade raised and adopted rabbits, ducks, chickens, hamsters, and had many family pets of dogs, cats, and horses. Seeming to be a "Pied Piper" to the animal kingdom, Wade would find strays, or they him, and he would bring them home, telling his mom that they had been dumped by the side of the road. One crowning jewel in Wade's long line of animal rescues came while he was in high school. Wade's family managed to rescue an abused and neglected Shetland pony named Josephine. Wade set the goal to get her healthy and help her to trust humans again. The two soon bonded, and Wade enjoyed many afternoon rides after school on Josephine.
Wade graduated high school with honors in 1984, and immediately went to work that summer working construction for an uncle in Dallas. At the end of summer, a neighbor of Wade's parents recommended Wade for a part-time job at a furniture store in Little Rock. It was supposed to last just two weeks, but after a month Wade asked his daily question: "Do I need to come back tomorrow?" His boss told him: "Keep coming back until I tell you not to." Wade eventually became a warehouse manager, and worked there for three years until he was laid off in 1987. Unfortunately for Wade, the economy had hit an all-time low, causing many Arkansas businesses to lay off even longtime employees. So after a month of seeking to find work elsewhere, Wade went back to Dallas to again work for his uncle in construction.
For many months, Wade drove back and forth every weekend between Little Rock and Dallas, until he finally made the big move to Dallas in 1987. He continued to work construction for a brief time, but in the end, Wade decided it wasn't for him. He was hired by a Mexican restaurant chain and stayed on for five years training new hires. He won a Presidential Service Award at the company during his tenure there. Wade was recommended by a co-worker for a job with the Hard Rock Cafe in Dallas, and was one of three from over 150 applicants they hired for their growing chain. Quite accustomed to hard work, and through relentless determination, Wade quickly worked his way up to become a member of their International Training Team. Wade was assigned key roles on opening teams for Hard Rock Cafe in Mexico City and Acapulco. Wade won many sales and incentive awards while working there.
After relocating and settling in Dallas, Wade made his first visit to the country dance bar "The Round-up Saloon (Round-up)." This was the first time Wade saw same-sex couples dancing together. Already musically inclined, he figured that this was something he needed to learn. He went to their free dance lessons and was hooked from the first "do-si-do." After two months he had learned all they had to teach. But, he kept coming to lessons just so that he could dance. It became a nightly outing throughout the week in order to dance at the club and meet other dancers. After a few months, Wade was asked to assist the main instructor by helping to demonstrate and teach the line dancing. About a week after he started, Wade became one of the regular instructors, eventually teaching a weekly advanced class of his own. This lasted several years. His successful tenure at the "Round-up" led him to also teach at other venues; such as the "651 Club" in Ft Worth. Eventually he was teaching at clubs four nights a week in addition to private lessons several times a week.
While teaching at the "Round-up" he made a friend, David from California, who had been involved with the Golden State Gay Rodeo Association (GSGRA) rodeos. That year, Dallas hosted the Texas Gay Rodeo Association (TGRA) rodeo at "Fair Park." David made sure that Wade went to that rodeo and Wade absolutely soaked up the camaraderie and genuine sportsmanship. It was Wade's first time seeing men compete in the barrel race. Wade and David also enjoyed all of the festivities that took place that weekend at the "Round-up." Thousands of cowboys and cowgirls danced, and dance groups from all across the country performed for the rodeo masses. It was through that rodeo that Wade learned about a dance contest to be hosted by the local TGRA Dallas chapter at the "Round-up".
Wade started looking for a competition dance partner, and soon was practicing with a woman by the name of Jackie Rich, who was one of the other dance instructors at the "Round-up." The two competed in their first competition and because of IGRA and TGRA rules about accepting money for teaching, they were considered to be professional dancers. They won their first competition and moved on to compete in TGRA's state competition. Wade and Jackie won the TGRA state contest, making them eligible to compete in the IGRA contest. Wade remembers, Anthony Valdez, also known as "Chili Pepper" and Miss TGRA 1992, telling Wade and Jackie: "You were good for Texas, but you don't have what it will take to win at the IGRA level".
Never one to run from a challenge, and unaccustomed to being told he couldn't do something, Wade and Jackie went to the IGRA convention in Billings, Montana in 1993. It was there that the couple won their first buckles as the IGRA Two-step Champions. In an incredible twist of irony, the buckles were presented to them by none other than Miss IGRA 1993, "Chili Pepper". Wade could not help but smile as he thought to himself: "Hmmm, so we don't have what it takes to win at IGRA!" Needless to say, Wade wore that buckle proudly until he won his next dance buckle several years later. Wade and Jackie's partnership blossomed into a great friendship for many, many years.
The next two years, Wade continued competing in TGRA's dance competitions, and returned with Jackie to the IGRA dance competition in 1995. Over the years, Wade danced with several different partners including Juanita Bernal in 1996. In 2002, Wade competed with his partner, Suzie Fisher. They won the over-all buckles for IGRA's Division 2 by sweeping all of the competition categories. In 2014, Wade won in the IGRA's Division 1 competition with his dance partner, Ben Ramirez.
Despite all of this activity, Wade's personal life flourished. Wade met Jackie Riley in 1992 and they soon became life partners. Wade would spend the next five years with Jackie building a life and a successful business. In January 1997, Jackie became very ill while they were traveling for work. When they returned to Dallas in February, Jackie was diagnosed with HIV and Sepsis. In the last few months of Jackie's illness, Wade was constantly at his bedside, and it was then that he expressed to Jackie that he was ready to live where he could have animals again; and possibly have horses and maybe even compete in rodeos. It was only a few months later Jackie succumbed to his illness.
After Jackie's passing, Wade began traveling to different IGRA rodeos as a spectator and social dancer. He was quickly hooked on rodeo. At one of the Phoenix Road Runner Regional Rodeos, Wade was chatting with other TGRA members about dance competition rules. Wade complained about how harshly he was judged because of his bar social dance style, compared to the ballroom dance style the judges wanted to see performed at TGRA and IGRA competitions. A good friend, Buzz Bean, challenged Wade to: "Stop complaining and get involved with TGRA. Help to change things, rather than just sit back and bellyache". That next weekend was TGRA's state meeting in Ft. Worth. Wade went to the dance committee meeting to try and help develop some changes. He was appointed State Dance Chair at that meeting and began his long standing involvement within TGRA on many local and state positions.
Wade has held many offices within TGRA, including: Chapter Representative, Chapter Vice President, Chapter President, State Contestant Representative, and State Dance Chair. Additionally, Wade has been the IGRA Dance Competition Coordinator many times, as well as bringing his dance knowledge to judge competitions and teach his style of dance at dance classes at IGRA University.
In the summer of 1999, Wade was able to purchase a small ranch on the east side of Dallas that included a rodeo arena. He was given one rodeo horse and purchased another from the previous property owner. In November of that same year, Wade competed in the barrel race at the TGRA rodeo in Austin. That was Wade's first rodeo ever, and he competed on that free horse he had been given. The following January he added the two additional Speed Events and all of the Camp Events. It was safe to say that Wade had been bitten by the competition bug. Wade was so addicted, that his Speed and Camp events grew over the years to include all 13 IGRA events. After winning the title of World Gay Rodeo Finals Bareback Bronc Riding Champion in 2006, 2009, and 2011, Wade retired from Bareback Bronc riding. Wade considers winning the title of World Gay Rodeo Finals All-Around Cowboy in 2011 as one of the highlights of his rodeo career.
At the time of his induction into the IGRA Hall of Fame, Wade already has a 23 year involvement in both TGRA and IGRA. Wade has won many buckles in dance and rodeo. In addition, Wade has received many of TGRA's special awards, including the Bruce Eden Award, Dwight Jones Memorial Award for most improved rodeo contestant, TGRA President's Award and membership in the TGRA Hall of Fame. Wade has also received several of IGRA's awards, including the Trustee's Award for ethics and sportsmanship, the International Award for outstanding support to IGRA and the Wayne Jakino Western Lifestyle Award.
Wade and his life partner, Jonathan Suder, continue to live in Dallas on the same ranch he purchased in 1999. As you should expect, it is there where Wade and Jonathan live with a menagerie of horses, donkeys, dogs, cats, chickens, ducks, geese, and pheasants. As always, you can "bet your rent" that Wade and Jonathan continue to be more than willing to take in strays and lost animal friends that find the way to their home.
The following is a list of Wade's many accomplishments and the accolades that he is so honored to have won over his many years of involvement: