Rodeo sponsor Bart Bradshaw is a passionate horseman with a penchant for extended trail rides
By Don Nelson
For more than 30 years, Pardners Mini Market in Winthrop has been a reliable sponsor of the Methow Valley Rodeo — in large part because a visitor to the valley in the early 1980s looked around and realized there wasn’t a convenience store to be found.
“There were three service stations in town at the time. They sold gas and candy bars, and that was about it,” Pardners owner Bart Bradshaw recalls. He was visiting for a weekend of snowmobiling with Steve Hampton, a friend who would become his Methow Valley business partner, in the early 1980s. At the time, Bradshaw worked for an accounting firm near Yakima and Hampton was a salesman for Schwan’s Ice Cream.
“We looked around and said to each other, ‘This town doesn’t have a convenience store,’” Bradshaw said. That got the wheels spinning. “We started brainstorming,” Bradshaw said. “We thought, ‘Why don’t we just quit our jobs and open a store?’”
Which is what they did. In retrospect, that may seem like youthful brashness — Bradshaw was in his late 20s at the time and just starting a family. And, he said, “we didn’t have any money.”
But George Sukovaty, who owned property near the Virginian Resort, sold Bradshaw and Hampton the land, and the Pardners partners built the store through a loan backed by what was then Seafirst Bank — with Sukovaty taking second position behind the bank should the deal default.
Although many valley residents now know Bradshaw as a certified public accountant with a firm in Winthrop — and likely are clients — Bradshaw wasn’t planning on working as a CPA when he and Hampton opened Pardners on July 4, 1983. Their goal was to establish a business that would sustain their families.
“It took us about a year-and-a-half to realize the store wouldn’t support two families,” Bradshaw said.
So he went back to doing CPA work. Bradshaw bought a small local accounting practice that has now grown to more than 650 clients. “We couldn’t have survived on one [business] or the other. We needed both,” he said.
The partners also added several stores in the Okanogan Valley — Omak 1985, another Omak outlet in 1987, Tonasket in 1987 and Oroville in 1989 — to build a viable financial base. Bradshaw bought out his partner after four years of building the business when the Hamptons left the valley after the death of a child.
The original Pardners burned down in 2005 and was replaced.
Love of horses
Bradshaw and his wife, Velma, poured their energies into raising eight children — all of whom graduated from Liberty Bell High School — and getting involved in community and Church of Latter Day Saints activities. Seven of the Bradshaw kids have finished college. Parker, the youngest — and the only boy — will be done soon.
The Bradshaw kids are not just academically inclined, they are athletes as well. All seven Bradshaw daughters played basketball, and all of them went to at least one state tournament. Parker went to the state tournament with the Liberty Bell baseball team. The Bradshaw girls also established some of the best track and field marks in school history. Danielle, the oldest, still holds the records for the 1,600-meter and 3,200M runs, both set in 1996.
The other way many people know Bradshaw is as a horseman with passion for appaloosas, a breed known for its colorful spotted coats that occur in variety of patterns. The Nez Perce tribe of the Pacific Northwest is recognized as having developed the American breed.
Bradshaw has had horses since he was 8 years old, growing up in Utah, and currently owns seven. Bradshaw’s father thought the horses on the family farm were kind of a burden, he said, “but we kids thought they were fun.” Bradshaw had a newspaper route that he delivered from the back of a horse when he was a kid.
“I grew up loving horses,” Bradshaw said, “and I’ve never had a bad wreck.”
Bradshaw’s first major horse purchase in the valley was an Arabian that he bought as a colt and rode for 20 years. “He was a smart, fun horse,” Bradshaw said.
The Bradshaw family grew up in the constant presence of horses, but not necessarily all share their father’s fondness for them. “About half of them [the children] like horses,” he said.
Bradshaw has put in untold hours in the saddle on local trails over the years. “I can ride to Canada from my house and not ever be on private property,” he said.
Bradshaw is also a devotee of long organized trail rides, often accompanied by one or more of his children. He has participated in the Ride to Rendezvous eight times. In 1997, he spent 10 days on the sesquicentennial (150th) anniversary of the Mormons’ westward trek from Omaha, Nebraska, to Utah, authentically recreated over 100 days. “That got my appetite going for weeklong trail rides,” he said.
About 10 years ago, Bradshaw said, he bought Norm Reynaud’s last two appaloosas that Reynaud had raised up the Twisp River, and has been hooked ever since. He has acquired several more — two from Claude Miller, and another he purchased from an owner in Minnesota.
One reason he bought appaloosas, Bradshaw said, was to participate in the annual Chief Joseph Ride, which recreates the Nez Perce tribe’s flight from the U.S. Army in 1877. Bradshaw rides a different 100-mile segment of the 1,300-mile ride every year, and will participate for the eighth time this year. Riders have to be on registered appaloosas to take part.
“My goal is to get the whole 13 years in,” he said. The ride is also a profound history lesson, as participants learn something on the trail every day, Bradshaw said.
Other rides Bradshaw has taken part in include the Butch Cassidy Outlaw Trail Ride in Utah, and the Big Horn High Country Ride in Wyoming.
Bradshaw has been a member of the group that sponsors the Methow Valley Rodeo for several years, helping get the grounds ready for the twice-annual event, and said he feels like “I’m just getting my feet wet.”
Pardners has sponsored the rodeo since Bradshaw launched the store 30 years ago. “Tom Graves [one of the rodeo’s founders] hit us up the first year,” Bradshaw said. “I’ve sponsored it all that time.”
Methow Valley devotees
The Bradshaws have watched a lot of change in the valley, but are also happy that some things remain constant.
“We came here with the expectation that the ski hill would be built,” Bradshaw said. “We were pro-hill. But we’re happy it failed. It would have changed the character of the valley too severely.”
“It’s still pretty tough for most small businesses to survive” in the valley, Bradshaw observed. “But each year that gets a little better. There is lots of positive growth.” His professional passion, Bradshaw said, is to help small businesses get going and thrive.
Bradshaw also appreciates the diversity of opportunity for such a small community. He was a member of the Methow Valley School Board for eight years and applauds the district’s wide range of programs and activities for its students.
“I can’t imagine raising eight kids in the city,” he said. “Living in the valley did not hold them back.”
One of Bradshaw’s favorite things to do is ride one of his appaloosas down to Sheri’s Sweet Shoppe with a grandchild or two to buy ice cream on a summer day. A curious crowd always forms around the horse and riders.
Bradshaw said he’s not ready to retire yet and enjoys working with clients as well as continuing to participate in the community. And he loves living in the Methow.
The past 30-plus years, full of events and challenges as they were, have come down to a few simple things for Bradshaw: “Raising a family, church, and making a living.”
And a fair amount of riding.