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Pillar of rural northern Butler County first victim of COVID-19

March 26, 2020 News Extra

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Bill Slater, a pillar in the rural communities of Cherry, Clay, Washington and Concord townships and a longtime staple at the North Washington Rodeo, died Wednesday at the age of 81. He was Butler County's first casualty of the coronavirus epidemic.

He was an expert at steer hazing.

He judged rodeos for nearly 50 years.

He was one of the most ardent supporters of Moniteau High School athletics and his friends and family say no one ever uttered a bad word about him.

He was 81-year-old Bill Slater, and Wednesday he became Butler County's first casualty of the coronavirus.

“It was a total shock,” said Dee (Slater) Arblaster, the youngest of Slater's four children.

Bill Slater was a pillar in the rural communities nestled in the nexus of Cherry, Clay, Washington and Concord townships, areas highlighted by fertile farmland and lush woods.

And home of the North Washington rodeo.

Slater was a staple there, judging local and high school competitions.

He also traveled all over the Eastern United States as a judge for the International Rodeo Association and the American Rodeo Association.

Mike Lyons, 75, of West Sunbury was a rodeo judge with Slater for more than 20 years.

“We probably traveled a million and a half miles together,” he said. “He taught me the business of rodeo. There was no way but the right way in his eyes. He was fair and everyone respected him. He put no bearing on your address — you could be from New York City or Fort Worth, Texas, if you won the deal you got the big check.”

In addition to his prowess as a judge, Slater had another rodeo talent — hazing.

A steer hazer is a key part of steer wrestling. He's the second rider who keeps the steer running straight out of the shoot.

“He was one of the best in the world at it,” Lyons said.

Lyons and Slater had a strong bond long before they began traveling together to judge rodeos.

“I always called him dad,” Lyons said, chuckling softly. “It was kind of a joke between us.”

Lyons met Slater when he was 25. He said Slater taught him what it meant to be a man.

“It's been hard for me,” Lyons said, choking back emotion and fighting back tears. “He was my best friend.”

Slater worked at ARMCO Steel most of his adult life and also helped out at his brother Bob's meat market — Slaters Meats & More — in Karns City.

It's there he mingled with members of the area's rural communities and formed lasting friendships.

“He was one of the kindest men I've ever known,” Arblaster said. “He'd do anything for you.”

This is an excerpt of a story that will appear in Friday's Butler Eagle. To read the full story, make sure to pick up the newspaper or subscribe online.

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