Don Weeks sat on the top row of seats Saturday morning, happily watching as steers, hogs, sheep and goats raised by young exhibitors drew frenzied bidding across the crowded West Arena.
It was a satisfying moment for a man revered by farm kids and cattlemen alike for his philanthropy and flair for pulling an idea together.
“This is the first time I’ve been back here in five years,” said Weeks, chairman emeritus of the Fort Worth Stock Show Syndicate. “These guys are doing a fine job without me.”
Weeks and Frank Neve, who missed this year’s annual Sale of Champions because of illness, formed the Stock Show Syndicate in 1980, which was established to pool buyers’ money and boost prices for youthful exhibitors.
Current syndicate members said the two businessmen attended the sale in 1979 and came away with the firm belief that the youth project animals should be sold at prices above market value, not below it.
Their intention that first year was to buy a few steers at twice the market value.
The syndicate started modestly, Weeks recalled. There were about 20 members the first year.
“We spent about $20,000 on 13 animals the first year,” he said.
The syndicate now has more than 100 members and besides spending hundreds of thousands at the sale, will hand out 20 scholarships of $10,000 to junior livestock exhibitors.
Notably, they started that first sale day with breakfast, a big one.
“We had our first breakfast at Burdav’s Restaurant on Vickery” (now Vickery Blvd. Cafe), Weeks said and oh yes, he brought champagne.
The before-sale breakfast still exists, though cold beer and bloody marys have joined champagne on the menu.
Syndicate members today say that all the group’s traditions were started by Weeks and Neve in those first years.
“The first one [tradition]: We had a $50 no-show fee if you missed a meeting,” Weeks said. “The only way you could get out of it was, you had to have been buried before the meeting was held.”
The sales in those days were not comfortable.
“We had the sale back then in old Barn Six, an old metal building, and you froze your fanny in it,” Weeks said.
“It really made a difference when they built this facility,” he said of the West Arena and the Richardson-Bass Building. “There’s a lot of action and noise now on sale day, which raises enthusiasm.”
More enthusiasm just naturally brings higher prices, Weeks said.
One of the improvements over the old days is the greater involvement of women in the sale. The Women Steering Businesses of Fort Worth had about 70 members present Saturday, including Mayor Betsy Price, and the Ladies on the Lamb group had a healthy representation, too.
“These ladies have started their own syndicates, and it used to be an old boys’ club,” Weeks said. But Women Steering Businesses of Fort Worth “have already spent over $100,000 to start with today,” he said.