Judges have been announced for the Miss Rodeo Nebraska Pageant June 9-12 in North Platte. They are Joni James Smith, Lynn Welker and Shelia Croft.
Joni James Smith
Joni James Smith is the daughter of 1962 Miss Rodeo America, Karen Lavens James. Joni grew up in south Idaho ranching, farming and rodeoing. She was a four-sport varsity athlete in high school and attended college on a basketball and track scholarship.
Fond childhood memories include raising 4-H steers, branding and calving, junior rodeos, horse shows and competing in rodeo queen contests. Smith was the Idaho High School All-All Cowgirl in 1984 and National Miss College Rodeo in 1987.
She filled her Women’s Professional Rodeo Association permit in barrel racing before being crowned the 1990 Miss Rodeo America at the Lazy E Arena in Guthrie, Okla. for the one year that the MRA pageant returned to Oklahoma City.
Smith has a Bachelor of Science degree from Boise State University and a master’s degree in school counseling from Louisiana State University. She has been married to 1998 world champion steer wrestler Mike Smith for 28 years. They have four children: Callen, 24, Naomi, 21, Cole, 16, and Nykell, 13.
The family currently resides in Lake Charles, La. Joni has been a basketball coach, science, physical education and special education teacher, as well as a middle school and high school counselor. She currently oversees 560 freshmen at a large high school in southern Louisiana. Family, good friends, running marathons and triathlons, pleasure reading, horses and the mountains are close to her heart.
Lynn Welker is originally from Kilgore, Neb. and now resides in Highlands Ranch, Colo. She has a deep appreciation for agricultural roots, having grown up on her family’s ranch – and now running her own cattle as well.
Welker graduated from Cody-Kilgore High School as valedictorian of her class in 2000. Then in 2003, Lynn had the opportunity to serve as Miss Rodeo Nebraska, promoting the sport of rodeo and agricultural way of life. That particular experience, prior years of pageant preparation and competition and public speaking events from childhood through early adulthood (4-H, FFA and college) helped construct and shape a strong communications foundation from which Welker would build her public relations business down the road.
In 2006, she graduated from the University of Wyoming with honors earning a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice with a minor in biological anthropology. After graduation, Welker was able to gain valuable experience in both the public and private sector – providing her with insight, background and understanding in community outreach, stakeholder management, regulatory policy, governmental processes and business operations. To gain additional education from a development perspective, Welker completed a certificate program at MIT in Complex Business Strategy.
Welker was accepted to and graduated from the Leadership Wyoming Program in 2014, and thanks to amazing mentors and encouragement from, what are now Welker’s lifetime friends, WelkerPR, Inc. was borne. Welker had always aspired to be an entrepreneur, and now with her husband, Bryan, they operate WelkerPR, Inc., dba Welker and Fevold PR, providing public relations, marketing, fundraising, government affairs, business strategy and graphic design services.
In her free time, Lynn’s favorite gig is being “Auntie Lynn.” She loves to spend time with family and friends, hunt, trap, fish, hike, work out, travel, snowboard, judge pageants and work on her fiction novel that she hopes to complete in the next two years.
Croft has been involved with rodeo queen pageants since 1992. Currently, she serves on the Miss Rodeo America Executive Board and is the judge’s liaison at the Miss Rodeo America Pageant.
She has volunteered on the Miss Rodeo Kansas Pageant committee for 23 years and served as the national director from 2003-’15.
Growing up in the farming and ranching industry, Croft competed in team penning and barrel racing. She served on the Beef Empire Days Rodeo committee for several years and was instrumental in helping establish the Miss Beef Empire Days Rodeo Queen Contest. Croft has judged nine state pageants and many local pageants.
She resides in Copeland, Kan., where she is the city clerk and owns and operates a business specializing in women’s clothing and accessories. Croft enjoys playing piano at her church, photography and spending time with her husband J.T., their children and three granddaughters.