L. D. Robinson, Founder -- an impossible dreamer who’s dreams became a reality
L. D. Robinson was not content with Katy ISD’s Agriculture Science program when he was hired to be its vocational agriculture teacher in 1942. Instead, he had big plans to make it one of the best FFA programs in the state. He envisioned a FFA chapter agriculture science farm, a local livestock show, and a lighted rodeo arena – all unprecedented at that time. Before he retired in 1970, all of his dreams had been accomplished.
To many, it seemed that Robinson was an impossible dreamer. At that time, the school district had one school—a combined elementary and high school on the grounds where Katy Elementary now stands. The agriculture department was in the old gym that has since been torn down. Robinson had his classes under the bleachers, and when it rained, he couldn’t keep his feet dry because of the water coming into the building.
Prior to Robinson’s arrival, the Texas Education Agency was considering discontinuing the program, because previous attempts to promote its development had failed. Robinson was recruited by J. A. Marshall, Director of the Texas Education Agency, to come to Katy and he knew he had to act fast to get a plan in motion. So Robinson went to work. He built a scale replica of his plans and presented his ideas at a Katy High School father-and-son banquet and later to the Katy I.S.D. school board. He emphasized that the project would be self-supporting and would not cost the school district one cent.
The school board and superintendent gave him permission to go ahead with his plans. Members of the 1942 school board were I. L. “Bud” Southard, Esten Denny, T. J. Heinemeier – Superintendent, Olen Thompson, Roy Beckendorff, Gene Hoyt, M. D. Freeman, and H. E. Romack with L. D. Robinson acting as advisor and chairman of the project. However, there were 18 boys taking vocational agriculture and with only $57 in their chapter’s treasury, his first concern was how to raise some money. He took $45 and bought some pigs from Roy Beckendorff, and the Katy Feed Store owner, V. D. Avera, said he would carry the feed bill until the pigs were ready to sell. For $12.50 they purchased the old PTA shack for a hog barn that was also paid for when the pigs were sold.
It was decided to have an auction to sell the pigs. In April, 1943, the pigs were ready for market and the FFA members were full of enthusiasm, but a crowd was needed for the auction. Robinson then “dreamed up” an idea, and built a fence around the football field and organized a “Cowboy Sports Rally” using local talent to attract a crowd. They realized that it would be impossible to have the rodeo without going to a lot of expense and the chapter did not have enough money. The final decision was to hold the auction sale at night and stage a cowboy sports rally or rodeo for entertainment. The first auction and rodeo were held in a field at Tenth Street and Avenue D next to the Gordon home place which still stands. The rally netted $87 and the pigs brought $454 with Cecil Cott acting as auctioneer. Thus marked the beginning of the Katy FFA Livestock Show and Rodeo. Robinson was quoted at the time saying, “They not only were interested in the sale but went wild over the cowboy sports rally.” The chapter members realized their plans were becoming a reality in having the Ag science farm and FFA Livestock Show and Rodeo. It was to become the first full service program of its kind on a local school level in the nation. The sports rally rodeo was to be a one-time event to help raise money for the FFA program, but it was so popular that it became a summer weekly event every Saturday night for eight years. The community competed in goat roping, flag races, ribbon races, basketball on horses, ladies barrel racing, relay races on horses, goat hair pulling, and all sorts of rodeo events. Serving on the first Katy FFA Livestock Show and Rodeo Committee were L. D. Robinson – FFA Advisor, I. L. “Bud” Southard, Esten Denny, Roy Beckendorff, Jim Rose, Elmer Peek, V. D. Avera, Hank Jordan, and Jim Watson. Robinson also included a parade held on Saturday to encourage community involvement, and he also invited bands and groups from neighboring schools and communities to participate. The first parade made its way through the streets of Katy which were unpaved at that time, and it seemed that the entire town was there along with many visitors cheering for their favorite cowboys, cowgirls, and parade entries. The livestock show expanded and Robinson added in an open breeding cattle show which was held in the bus barn located on the west side of the facility. This also brought in a lot of new buyers for the livestock show and auction.
Mr. Robinson made the Katy FFA Livestock Show and Rodeo and the parade an annual event, and used it as an opportunity to unite the community together under a common bond. Through his FFA program, he inspired students to excel by developing character, leadership skills, strong values, self-esteem and a winning spirit within their hearts and minds. Due to the historical notoriety of the event, it was declared a school holiday and the entire community turned out to lend their support. This holiday was observed until the late 1980’s.
One of the community members was Billy Morgan who started performing at the rodeo sports rally rodeos when he was a teenager. Morgan said that the livestock show and rodeo has always been a community project that helps people keep in touch with one another, while putting money back into the FFA programs and facilities. Billy and his wife, Obera, have been longtime supporters over the years.
The first pens built for the livestock show were on 10th street between Avenues D and C. In 1947, using the proceeds from the livestock show and rodeo, a show barn and a rodeo arena with bleachers were built behind the new Katy High School. The entire facility was built by the students and parents with the support of the entire Katy community. All materials used to build the first facilities were donated by local area businesses. The land for the Ag Science Farm and show grounds was donated by the Cotts family. The Ag Science Farm stretched all the way from FM 1463 where the administrations building now stands and went all the way back to the creek southwest of the show grounds. The ag science students and FFA members raised co-op market calves, pigs, and sheep where chapter members all willingly participated in its operation. Money raised from the sale of these animals went back into the FFA program. Students could also use the facilities to raise their own livestock show projects if needed. In addition to studying genetics, feeds and feeding, and all breeds of cattle and livestock, the ag farm provided the opportunity to study soil sciences, agronomy, and horticulture. The students also raised their own hay crops which they bailed and stored in the ag barn’s hay loft. They later started raising Chaolais breeding cattle, and the chapter mascot which was a big Charolais bull named Jonesie. He was so gentle that he followed the students around like a dog. For a few of years the chapter also raised Appaloosa horses.
News of Robinson’s program began to spread rapidly receiving district, state, and national recognition. The Katy FFA was known as the best in the nation and became the model program for others to follow. It was referred by other schools as “the school you had to beat” in order to win district, area, and state judging and leadership contests. L. D. Robinson held the record for years for having the most students to receive the State Lone Star Farmer Degree under the leadership of one teacher. Almost 200 leadership and judging banners were proudly displayed across the rafters of the of the show barn at the annual Katy FFA Livestock Show. He also started the annual Katy FFA Banquet and Talent Show, the FFA District and State FFA Talent Show Contest, and the local Katy High School Talent Show. L. D. Robinson was also a very patriotic man and strong supporter of our veterans. He organized his FFA students and parents and helped build a lot of the facilities for the Katy VFW Park donating all the materials and labor. They were also responsible for building the large covered BBQ pits that were there for over 40 years. Later he organized the Katy Young Farmers who were also contributed a lot to helping with local veterans. Stories broke in newspapers across the nation and Robinson appeared on numerous radio and television interviews sharing success stories of his students and the Katy FFA program.
However, disaster struck in on Monday immediately following the show in March of 1963 and a fire destroyed the entire facility with the exception of the some of the rodeo bleachers and part of the arena. Mr. Rob, affectionately called by his students, was devastated as he saw his dreams and years of hard work go up in smoke in a matter of hours. Students stood outside of Katy High School looking in dismay with tears streaming down their faces as they saw the dream they shared with their leader burn to the ground which was built out of love and support of loyal supporters. Robinson knew the chapter couldn’t rebuild the complex without financial assistance this time, so he made an appeal to the school board. The board agreed to give monetary help and the community pitched in and helped build the rodeo bleachers and the show barn which was later named and dedicated the L.D. Robinson Pavilion after its founder. These facilities served the community until 2004 when Katy ISD built a new pavilion and rodeo arena just west of where the old structures stood. The newest L.D. Robinson Pavilion was dedicated at the 2004 Katy I.S.D. FFA Livestock Show and Rodeo.
From the beginning, the Katy community has always supported the Katy I.S.D. FFA program. But Robinson’s greatest fan and supporter was his wife of 48 years, Ruby, who worked behind the scenes for 29 years. Although she was a Katy ISD fourth grade teacher, she assisted L.D. with every activity including banquets, awards programs, coordinating the FFA Mom’s support group, flowers to Katy area shut-ins, semi-annual community barbecues, and helping her husband organize the first community intramural basketball and baseball leagues and Boy Scout Day Camp. During her husband’s tenure in Katy I.S.D., she put together the ads for the FFA catalogue for 29 years which became a major fundraiser for the FFA and she wrote the Katy FFA Livestock Show and Rodeo special edition for The Katy Times where she served as journalist for 18 years. They never dreamed that so much would be accomplished when they moved to Katy in 1942 from the Bryan area with their two boys in a blinding rainstorm with all of their belonging packed in a trailer covered with a tarp. There were no paved streets at that time and they bogged down several times trying to make it to their home on Avenue D. Today, their children, Dean, Wilton, and Diana Elder and their families help keep their parents’ memory alive.
Before he retired, Robinson received the National Honorary American Farmer Degree, the highest honor that can be bestowed to an Agriculture Science teacher and was selected outstanding agriculture science teacher in the nation. In his early years at Katy, he was also asked to help start FFA programs in the Cypress-Fairbanks, Houston, and Humble school districts, and his concept of a FFA livestock show and rodeo was later duplicated across the country. His full service program, which included an agriculture science farm, was the first of its kind on a local school level in the nation. When Katy ISD Superintendent T.J. Heinemeir retired, the Board of Trustees offered Robinson the position, but he declined and wanted to continue servicing as FFA Advisor and Agriculture Science teacher. He recommended his lifetime friend and colleague, Jimmy Taylor, who accepted the position. Mr. Taylor was an avid supporter of Mr. Robinson and the FFA program all through his years of serving as Superintendent for Katy I. S. D., never missed an FFA sponsored event.
Today, the Katy ISD FFA programs have grown from one to six and are in each of Katy I.S.D.’s high schools. More than 900 students participate, and Robinson, who was the only agriculture teacher until he retired, has been replaced by 15 Ag teachers. The rodeo is one of the largest school rodeos in the country. The Katy ISD Livestock Show and Rodeo has become a three-day event and each year, approximately 5,000-6,000 spectators attend the events along with over 400 cowboys and cowgirls participating. Each year, approximately $20,000 of rodeo proceeds is returned to the FFA program, students and charitable civic groups. Robinson’s impossible dream has become a reality and his legacy will continue to live on for generations to come. The FFA Motto, “…Living to Serve” is what L. D. Robinson exemplified in his own life dedicating his time and talents in making a positive difference in the lives of young people and serving the Katy Community that he and his, Ruby, so dearly loved.
History gathered from:
Material and editorials written by the late Mrs. L. D. “Ruby” Robinson
Special edition pamphlet by Brenda Ritter for the dedication of the L. D. Robinsons Pavilion in 2004
Compiled by Mrs. Jay E. (Diana Robinson) Elder