Annual award bestowed during 33rd Ranch Hand Rodeo competition

Last weekend, Chris Bengoa was presented with the 2022 “Ranch Hand of the Year” award before the kickoff of the 33rd annual Ranch Hand Rodeo.

The event was held Saturday and Sunday, March 5-6, at the Winnemucca Event Center.

Kent Maher has served alongside Chris on the Agricultural District No. 3 board for nearly a quarter century and says it was only a matter of time before the longtime local was named.

“Chris works as hard for our community as he does on a horse,” said Kent. “He’s a one-of-a-kind champion of our local ranching heritage and it is an honor for me and so many others to call him a friend.”

Chris was born in Winnemucca in September 1948 to Chris and Mary Bengoa. He was the oldest of twins and grew up alongside his twin brother Cleto and sister, Ceci Ratliff, on the family ranch in Kings River, which the Bengoa family owned and operated for over 40 years.

Chris spent the first six grades in a one-room schoolhouse at Kings River and started the seventh grade in Winnemucca. He graduated from Humboldt County High School in 1966.

His high school years were filled with rodeo, basketball, and football. In 1965, the Humboldt County High School football team won the state championship and Chris was named All-State Center for the second time.

The first Winnemucca High School Rodeo was held in the rodeo arena situated behind the current Ridley’s Supermarket location. Chris was a member of the high school rodeo club that produced that rodeo. When he was a senior in high school, he helped build the first arena at the current rodeo facility at the Winnemucca Events Center, whose first function was also a high school rodeo.

Rodeo has been a big part of Chris’s life and he has worked to pass on his love of the arena not only to his kids, but the people and kids around him. He has always taken time to help youngsters get into the sport and be a part of the Western way of life.

Chris graduated in 1970 from Oregon State University with a degree in Animal Science and a minor in Business Administration. Upon graduation, he returned to the family ranch at Kings River for a few years.

In 1976, Chris purchased the original Quinn River Merc in McDermitt. Shortly after, he married LaRena Smith in 1978. Chris and LaRena had two sons, Rusty and Kelsey. Chris was very active in his sons’ activities, primarily basketball, football and rodeo, and the occasional chukar hunt at the “Chute.” He was also known to have the occasional card game in the bunkhouse.

In 1986 Chris sold the Quinn River Merc and began a long career as the manager of the Lucky 7 Ranch in McDermitt. This period of time would require a whole book unto itself. In 2001, after a courageous battle with breast cancer, LaRena passed away.

Chris continued to be very active in the McDermitt community, serving on the fire district, sewer board and community board. He served as a Nevada Brand Inspector for 10 years. As a McDermitt Schools supporter, Chris helped John Moddrell and later Greg Scott coach high school football and also ran the game clock for all high school basketball home games for over 30 years.

In 2005, Chris married Pepi Millhouse and became a stepfather to two girls, Keri and Alena.

In addition to his ranching responsibilities, Chris has been very active in the agricultural community, serving on the Ag District 3 Board for over 20 years and on the Humboldt County 4-H Show & Sale Committee for eight years. Chris has flagged a lot of ropings, including the Jordan Valley Big Loop Rodeo for many years; in 1974, he won the Big Loop.

Chris has also been a regular fixture at the Ranch Hand Rodeo in Winnemucca for many years, whether flagging or getting in on the calcutta.

Chris retired in 2019 for exactly one month and 27 days. He returned as manager of the Lucky 7 Ranch and still works there, though he has now discovered that roping in Wickenburg, Arizona, in the winter is pretty good and does not require nearly as many unplanned helicopter rides.

During his time at the ranch, his family has grown to include Rusty and wife Carmen and granddaughters Mia and Camilla; Kelsey and wife Jessie and grand twins Brand and Landry; Keri and husband Curtis Robinson and grandchildren Blaze, Brock and Kinsley; and Alena Millhouse.

Chris has lived in Humboldt County all of his life. He has been on horseback from West of Denio to the Owyhee River in northern Humboldt County. He has team roped with everybody and knows even more people than that. He has spent his life working for the county he calls home in many capacities, but the most important one is the legacy he has passed down to all the people who have had the privilege of knowing him.

Chris says “the agriculture in Humboldt County in all its forms and the environment it provides makes this a great place to raise a family.”

The “Ranch Hand of the Year” award is sponsored by the Agricultural District No. 3 as a way to recognize those women and men who make their living in the ranching industry.

Past recipients include Frank Loveland, Loui Cerri, Harold Chapin, John and Tim DeLong, Buster Dufurrena, Jane Angus, Larry Hill, Louie and Frank Bidart, Sammye and Dan Ugalde, John Falen, Lilla and Woodie Bell, Garley Amos, Buck Tipton, Jack Warn, Ross Zimmerman and Diana Vesco.