Ponies, Button Making and Roping on Sunday at Will Rogers Park

People will be able to watch polo on Sunday at Will Rogers State Park.
Photo: Rich Schmitt/CTN

Will Rogers State Historic Park has a big day planned for families on Sunday, August 13. Activities start at 11 a.m. with a Will Rogers Polo Club Match.

“After seeing kids play polo against big guys, it only shows that horses are the greatest equalizer in the world. No matter what you weigh, the little fellow is your equal on a horse,” said Will Rogers, who was born on his parents’ Dog Iron Ranch in the Cherokee Nation of Indian Territory, now Oklahoma.

Tours of the historic ranch house will start at 11 a.m. and run through 4 p.m. The WR Foundation is planning a scavenger hunt from noon until 4 p.m.

There are horse demonstrations planned at the stables—and there will be pony photos in front of the house at 2:15.

“You know horses are smarter than people. You never heard of a horse going broke betting on people,” said Will Rogers, who starred in 48 silent movies and began a successful career in “talkies,” starring in an additional 21 films before his untimely death in Alaska in August 1935, at age 55.

During Family Day, everyone is invited to try roping. Guinness book trick roper Will Roberts will be on hand at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday to show the technique needed to rope a steer. Rogers began his show business career as a trick roper in “Texas Jack’s Wild West Circus” in South Africa.

And for the artistically inclined, there will be button making and games at the Ranch Foundation Booth starting at 2:30 p.m.

Phew. Now there’s a day of fun at Will Rogers Historic State Park for everyone from animal to art to history lovers.

 “What constitutes a life well spent, anyway? Love and admiration from your fellow men is all that anyone can ask,” said Will Rogers, who wrote a column that reached 40 million readers in the early 1930s.

Will Rogers during a radio broadcast.
Photo: Property of Will Rogers Memorial.

To learn more about the Historic Park and Rogers, who was a man known for his wit and down-to-earth common sense, CTN turned to William (Bill) Hamm.

This past January, Hamm, who grew up in Hudson Valley New York and attended Syracuse University for television/media, was offered a full-time position as the Park’s Interpreter-Educator.

“We host approximately 5000 visitors per year through ranch house tours, in person and virtual student groups and special events,” said Hamm, who moved to California in 1985 for a job at Universal Studios in the television division working in creative programming with producer Dick Wolf on Law & Order: SUV and filmmaker Sam Raimi, who produced Xena: Warrior Princess and Spartacus: Blood and Sand.

A Marquez Knolls resident since 1995, Hamm started volunteering in 2018 at the Park because “I was an admirer of Will Rogers and this was a way to learn more about what makes him so unique and special.”

While streaming was upending show business, Hamm’s museum career started taking off. In 2019, he was offered a part-time position, running the docent volunteer program and supervising in-person and virtual school visits.

Hamm and wife Darlene have two boys, who attended Marquez, Paul Revere and Palisades High School and now are at UC Santa Barbara.

“I’m always discovering new quotes, some funny and some astute,” Hamm said. “The most recent was Will’s friendship with Henry Ford who gifted him one of the first Model A cars.”

Will Rogers said, “It will take a hundred years to tell whether he helped us or hurt us, but he certainly didn’t leave us where he found us.”

Now Hamm is tasked with making sure the house and property are well kept. “We can’t just use local vendors,” Hamm said. “We need historical painters, roofers and maintenance folks. There are always capital improvements including new shingles on the roof, and a new HVAC system to ensure the historic artifacts are kept temperature controlled.”

California State Parks funds and maintains the 186-acre that was bequeathed by Rogers’ wife Betty.

People can take tours of the Rogers’ historic farmhouse.

The Will Rogers Ranch House Foundation, cofounded by Will Rogers’ great granddaughter Jennifer Rogers Etchevery, helps raise additional funds.

This past year, 18 trees had to be replaced at the park, because they fell during the heavy winter rains.

To replace the 100-year-old barrel piano, the Foundation entered a float in the annual 4th of July parade and won one of the $500 prizes awarded by Auxiliary Post 283, which will help pay for the piano’s refurbishment.

“We especially appreciate donations (www.willrogersranchfoundation.org) now as we need to spruce up the historic buildings in preparation of celebrating the 100th anniversary of Will and his family moving to the Pacific Palisades,” Hamm said. That event is planned for 2025.

The park is a place to experience nature and to get away from social media and its onslaught of political negativity—and enjoy Rogers’ take on politics.

“Why sleep at home when you can sleep in Congress?” and “Be a Politician-no training necessary.” Will Rogers.

Hamm said, “The park allows the public to experience nature firsthand. “I believe that communing with green space, in our own backyard nestled up against our beautiful Santa Monica Mountains can have a healing effect.

“I believe Will’s personal philosophy from his Native American upbringing, ‘Take only what you need and share the rest’ permeates the house and land,” said Hamm who is inviting people to take a tour of the house, hike the trails or come to Family Day.

“The Pacific Palisades has it all, ocean, mountains, as close to a small town feel as you will find in the big city and people who really care about each other,” Hamm said. “I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”

Will Rogers, who died in an airplane crash in Alaska on August 15 1935, has the last word: “When I die, my epitaph, or whatever you call those signs on gravestones, is going to read: ‘I joked about every prominent man of my time, but I never met a man I didn’t  like.’ I am so proud of that, I can hardly wait to die so it can be carved.”

Bill Hamm on behalf of Will Rogers Historic Park accepts a $500 prize from American Legion auxiliary members. The money will be used to help restore the historic piano.

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