By Ken Jackson
Gary Suhl, a lifelong Osceola County resident, former county commissioner and owner of a rodeo ring that became the training ground for some of the area’s top cowboys, died Wednesday afternoon at his Hoagland Boulevard home.
Suhl, 72, a fixture around the west part of Kissimmee in his plaid shirts, jeans, suspenders and cowboy hat, had been in and out of the hospital in recent weeks, a family spokesperson said, due to recent foot surgery due to diabetes complications. He was on his way to a
doctors appointment when he suffered an apparent cardiac episode, the spokesperson said.
Born on June 10, 1945, Suhl worked at a dairy farm and in construction before building and opening the Kissimmee Sports Arena on his property just west of Kissimmee Gateway Airport.
KSA began hosting weekly or bi-weekly rodeos, depending on the time of year, in 1992, entertaining foreign tourists as well as locals alike as local cowboys and cowgirls competed in Bull Riding, Barrel Racing, Bronc Riding, Team Roping, and Calf Roping at “Suhl’s Rodeo.”
Among those who cut their teeth in that rodeo ring was Caleb Sanderson, who would go on to riding bulls on the national stage on the Professional Bull Riders (PBR) and Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA), winning a nationally-televised PBR event in Kansas City in 2011.
“I spent many a Friday night there from 1998 through 2006. Gary’s a pretty close friend and like family,” Sanderson said. “Going there was like going to a grandpa’s place.
“Gary went to my first PBR Challenge event. I don’t know if I’d had been as successful as I’ve been in rodeo without him. There were numerous kids like me who rode there, and he watched us with a smile on his face.”
The rodeos ran until Sept. 1, 2006, when Suhl decided to stop holding the rodeos, citing the strain on he and his wife, Diane. They began again in 2010 on a monthly basis until May 19 of 2017, when the facility began undergoing renovations to accommodate the upcoming re-routing of Hoagland Boulevard, family secretary Cindy Joint said.
“They were in the process of reconstructing the ring and the pens. Gary had been in the hospital so he didn’t really see it,” she said. “But he didn’t want the rodeo to end.”
Suhl served on the Osceola County Commission from 1978-82, and later sat on numerous agricultural and community boards. Up until the last couple of years, he’d address commissioners occasionally during their meetings’ audience forum, serving as an extra pair of eyes to alert them to zoning and trash dumping violations.
Suhl is survived by wife, Diane, sisters, Warrenetta Collins and Joan Castleberry, children, Jed, Dana Katherine McClintick, Calee Watson and four grandchildren. The family has had roots in Osceola County for over a century.
From a Facebook post:
“We will be having a viewing Monday July 17 from 9am-10am at the Osceola Heritage Park Exhibition building with a 10am service. The family will then have a private burial. All are welcome to attend a reception immediately after the service at KSA (Suhls) Rodeo Arena. Meat will be provided, covered dishes and desserts are welcome and soft drinks will be provided. Thank you for lifting prayers for our family at this difficult time. In lieu of flowers donations can be made to Heartcry Chapel Forward Vision fund in St Cloud.”