Love in the Rodeo Ring


Jeri Willcox nearly missed her proposal.

The Great Southland Stampede Rodeo (GSSR) co-chair didn’t know that the public recognition of rodeo co-chairs during the first night of the 42nd GSSR this year was to mark the beginning of her engagement, that the moment would be witnessed by around 1,500 people and that more than 100 people kept the entire plan a secret for weeks, even months.

“She dove headfirst,” said Eythan Franklin (BSA – Food Science, ’16), district executive for the Cherokee District of the Northeast Georgia Council of the Boy Scouts of America, Willcox’s fiancé and then-rodeo co-chair, about Willcox’s rushed entrance into the arena.

Eythan Franklin and Jeri Willcox
CAES alumnus Eythan Franklin (left) proposed to Jeri Willcox, his fellow Great Southland Stampede Rodeo co-chair, at the 2016 rodeo. Photos by Merritt Melancon

Willcox came to GSSR through her brother, Jake, who chaired the rodeo in 2008. A senior currently majoring in management in the Terry College of Business, Willcox joined Block and Bridle Club her sophomore year.

Franklin transferred into the University of Georgia in 2014. After hearing a presentation by Block and Bridle Club members at an orientation session, he joined.

“After the first night of rodeo 2014, I called my dad and said I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but I was going to run it (GSSR) next year,” Franklin said. “I’m glad I did. I’ve obviously gotten a lot out of it.”

They started dating in spring 2015. By the time GSSR arrived at the end of March, the GSSR committee, family and parties outside the committee, including those assigned to capture the moment – more than 100 people in all – knew of Franklin’s plans. Willcox still had no idea.

“Somehow, 100-plus people kept it quiet,” Franklin said.

After Willcox rushed into the arena that night of the 2016 rodeo, Franklin dropped to one knee.

“I don’t even know how to describe it,” Willcox said. “The committee had the best response, an influx of ‘Oh my gosh! We’re so excited! I’ve been trying so hard to keep my mouth shut!’”
Willcox and Franklin are planning to marry in July 2017 in Monroe, Georgia. The wedding party includes three members of the rodeo committee.

“Financial issues, problem-solving, we always say we will be successful in marriage because we were able to run a rodeo together,” Willcox said.