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ILLUMINATION 2023-24: Ronnie Vails

Illumination Annual Story and Public History Project

Ronnie Vails

Photo credit: Marcus Holloway

Ronnie’s story is special to our team, and we were excited to include him in this project. While to be Black in Springfield was - and is - challenging in its own right, being a Black male in Springfield had unique dangers during his generation. By using his wit and charm, Ronnie was able to carve out space for himself and turn the hearts of many. His willingness to be candid gave layers to his story that are bound to provoke conversation. Something we can all learn from him is how the way we choose to react can turn the tide of even the most challenging of situations. He epitomizes how a smile and an extended hand can push open doors that would otherwise remain closed.

"I've always like living life on the edge. If it had adrenaline, I'm an adrenaline junkie. So… I saw bull riding, I says - I gots to do that! Look at that. That's a rollercoaster with its own brain. It could be on this side of the street tomorrow. It have an attitude the next day. This what I want to do. So I got involved in it."

* * *

"I said, I want be a bull rider. You know, this what I do. So I would be around bull riders. So I was around cowboys all the time. Most of these cowboys', Moms. I called they mom, I call they mothers Mom. They call me son."

* * *

"We paid our own way. We paid for our own gas. And it was a lot of time on a road. But being a bull rider, I carried the least amount of equipment. All, I needed was some... I didn't even need cowboy boots. I need some spurs, they fit better on cowboy boots. And after all, you got to be in uniform. You know, they want you to look like a proud cowboy, so… That was easy to get... So called outfit. A good bull rope. And back then you get a good bull rope, professional bull rope for 40 bucks and some good spurs for under $100. And if you could afford chaps, cool. If you can't, you still can get on. And if you can ride, you can ride. They can see if you could ride. Eventually down the road, you can get all that extra equipment as you see fit. But basically, it was the cheapest way to get in the cowboy game…"