BANDERA — Hooked on bull riding when he was 17, Paris High School graduate Terry Peek became hooked on chemistry as a student of former Paris Junior College president Bobby Walters. He ended up with a master’s degree in ag science from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville several years later.
Today he holds a PhD, is a retired community college vice president and past ExxonMobil Co. employee. Peek lives with his second wife, Dorene, on a golf course in the Texas Hill Country, where he is partners in a saw mill and dabbles in building furniture. He and his wife of 11 years, a former barrel racer, attend a half dozen rodeos a year including the National Finals in Las Vegas.
“Bull riding was the trail I was headed down as a student at Paris Junior College, in the 1960s” Peek recalled, explaining he was thinking about quitting college and following the rodeo circuit but his mother thought otherwise. “Bobby Walters got me off to a really good academic start, and now that I look back, I think the academics I went through served me well.”
For about 15 years, however, Peek followed the rodeo circuit on the weekends while teaching high school and later as a community college professor.
“I was making about 45 rodeos a year while living in Colorado when my family decided it was time to quit,” Peek said, explaining with a wife and two kids he could not quit his regular job and rodeo full-time. “But for about 15 years I won a lot of rodeos and made a lot of money.”
Peek recalled being behind the chutes at a local rodeo when he was 17, and someone asked if he wanted to ride a bull. Having experience breaking horses, he thought it was a good idea and said, “You bet.” He gathered up a cotton rope, wrapped it around the bull and stayed on for six seconds before he was bucked off. The next week he bought a bull rope and a pair of spurs, and his rodeo career began.
A junior in high school playing for legendary coach Raymond Berry, the young bull rider told his parents, Joe Bailey and Robbie Lee Peek, he wanted to quit football his junior year so he could enter more rodeos. Mother said, “no.”
“She said I made a commitment to the team and to the coach, and I would complete both my junior and senior years,” Peek said. “I was never all that good in football and could not wait until the season was over my senior year; but, I learned a lesson about commitment.”
After attending Paris Junior College, he headed to Sam Houston State where he participated on the college’s rodeo team, qualifying for the College National Finals Rodeo in 1967 and 1968 and winning the ’67 season as Southern Region bull riding champion and placing third at the national finals that year. His coach, Sonny Sikes, was the winningest rodeo coach in collegiate competition at the time and his record still stands, Peek said. The two stay in touch, and Peek calls Sikes “a tremendous mentor and great supporter during my days of coaching rodeo teams.”
After a stint in the U.S. Marines, Peek returned to the rodeo while teaching agriculture in Coldspring, and coaching its high school rodeo team. After a couple of years in Coldspring, he spent five years in Cortez, Colorado, as ag teacher and rodeo coach. He rodeoed mainly in Colorado and Utah at the time, still making 40 or so rodeos a year.
After a 14-year stint with ExxonMobil Oil Co., he moved to Ft. Collins to work on his doctorate in ag science at Colorado State University, and then was on to Glenwood Springs for Colorado Mountain College as dean of community education. Later in life he would serve as vice president of community colleges in Farmington, New Mexico, Roseburg, Oregon and Wenatchee, Oregon.
At the insistence of his family, Peek quit rodeoing at age 35, but rode his last bull at age 49 during his tenure as professor and rodeo coach at Texas A&I in Kingsville, now Texas A&M - Kingsville. During an afternoon practice, the bull riders couldn’t stay on a bull, so Peek thought he would show them how it’s done.
“I rode that bull for eight seconds and then fell as I was getting off,” he said, explaining the bull stepped on him, breaking his pelvis. “I was pretty bright, but in a lot of areas of my life I didn’t have the right thought process going on.”
It was his second bull riding injury, having broke his neck in Houston in 1973 when a bull stepped on him.
“I didn’t think about quitting then,” Peek said. “All I thought about was letting my neck heal up and I was back riding bulls two months later. Yep. I was still young and still riding a lot of bulls and winning quite a bit of money.
“I just loved to ride bulls,” the cowboy concluded.