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The news was stunning and heartbreaking and a sock to the chest -- all in one.

It was Thursday, June 14, 2018. I was up in the press box of the Siloam Springs Rodeo Grounds and Pastor Tim Estes of New Life Church had just finished saying the invocation for the opening night of the 2018 Siloam Springs Rodeo.

Tim said prayers for many things that night, but one person he prayed for in particular was India Lewis.

Unbeknownst to me, and I'm sure a lot of others that night, was that Lewis had just recently been diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer.

I began asking around to those in the press box about what was going on and the reality of the news hit me like a tank.

I stayed at the rodeo that night, but nothing really has stuck in my memory except for the horrific news on India.

One year later, with the Siloam Springs Rodeo returning to town this week, it's still hard to believe at times.

Less than two months after first hearing the news about India Lewis, she passed away on Aug. 7, 2018.

India wasn't a member of the Siloam Springs Riding Club, but she was definitely connected with several members of the club, including my "go to" person for anything Riding Club related, Karen Davis.

Karen grew up next door to India's mother Carmen Lewis and aunt Lynetta Alexander and they played softball together, so it was only logical that their kids grew close too.

Kari Hutchins, Karen Davis' daughter, grew up playing ball with India, and the Lewis' ball teams would earn extra money by picking up trash in the rodeo arena.

It's been said over and over that India Lewis was beloved by the entire Siloam Springs community and the Riding Club is no exception.

"I've never prayed so hard in my life as I did for India," Karen said. "It's still a shock to me that she's gone."

Each year, Karen keeps track of all the current and former Riding Club members who have passed away from June of the previous year to the current June.

From time to time the Riding Club adds extra people to the list.

"I added her (India) to the prayer list last year and every night we all cried during that prayer," Karen said.

I've always felt that the Siloam Springs Rodeo has a certain family-type appeal to it. Families attend together, enjoy it and folks look out for one another and care about each other.

That's really what it's all about.

We're going to enjoy the rodeo this week -- the 61st annual! -- but also there will be the realization to sit back and just soak it in a little bit extra this time around.

Never been to the rodeo? Come check it out and see for yourself! I attended my first rodeo anywhere here in Siloam Springs in 2010, and I've been returning to this one ever since.

-- Graham Thomas is the managing editor for the Herald-Leader. He can be reached at gthomas@nwadg.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

Sports on 06/19/2019

Print Headline: Family gets top billing at Rodeo

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