A stable of Denver’s Who’s Who from the political and business communities turned out in force on Aug. 28 for the annual Denver Rustlers’ trip to the Colorado State Fair.
Wearing matching straw cowboy hats and donning specially made embroidered western shirts that have become a trademark of the traditional late summer event, about 220 people participated this year — making it one of the largest turnouts ever. Before boarding four coach buses for the two-hour trek down south, guests enjoyed lunch at Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House at the Denver Tech Center, which itself has become a sort of political event with partisans from both sides of the aisle enjoying beef and shrimp, trading stories and flinging good natured barbs as part of the pre-trip festivities to the State Fair and the Champion Junior Livestock Sale.
“It’s a great event and even better cause,” said Larry Mizel, chairman and CEO of MDC Holdings, the parent company of Richmond American Homes who, along with several other business leaders originally started the event dur-ing an economic downturn more than two dozen years ago as a way to support Colorado youth who were raising animals to help pay for their college education.
That’s when the core group of Denver businessmen — and at first it was just men — realized that an infusion of cash was greatly needed to keep the Jr. Livestock Sale going.
The original Denver Rustlers included the Robinson brothers, Eddie and Dick of dairy business fame, former Colorado Agriculture Commissioner Tim Schultz, who still handles the reins at the Sale, and the late Tom Farley, a well known Puebloan who served on the board of the state’s prime Ag school, Colorado State University. The core group has grown over the years, with Denver attorney Frances Koncilja and Craig Walker taking on major roles and several major companies contributing donations and sponsorships.
A full 100 percent of the money raised by the Rustlers is passed on to 4-H youth and Future Farmers of America kids who raise livestock, show their prize winning animals at the local and county fairs, and then compete for top honors at the annual Jr. Livestock Sale in Pueblo in late August.
Since the Denver Rustlers began their annual pilgrimage to Pueblo, the group has raised more than $2 million for participants of the Jr. Livestock Sale. This year, $125,000 was raised.
“Today, it’s an important opportunity to expose the importance of the agricultural industry and heritage in Colorado to the state’s business leaders,” Mizel said. “And, it’s a great way to raise money to help support young people in Colorado.
“We’ve come a long way (in 23) years,” Mizel added. “We started at nothing so to think we have raised $2 million over that time, it’s something.”
During informal remarks at Del Frisco’s, Gov. John Hickenlooper praised the group for their dedication to children and supporting Colorado’s agricultural base.
“I am so grateful that as a state we have the Rustlers and the ability to demonstrate how important agriculture is to Colorado,” Hickenlooper said.
While the Rustlers’ official cowboy hat is white, Hickenlooper sported a black cowboy hat instead, something he made light of during his remarks.
“I figured since there is such strong disapproval at this moment in history for elected officials, I should (let) that negative vibe come to me,” Hickenlooper said to applause, “(to) spare my fellow elected officials and deflect some of that attention away.”
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock praised participants before poking fun at the flamboyant attire of all the guests gathered at the local restaurant.
“I know every year all of us can’t wait to these wonderful shirts on!” Hancock said.
After arriving in Pueblo, the Denver Rustlers’ buses were escorted to the Fairgrounds by the local sheriff’s department, who turn the sirens and lights on atop their cars and treat the invited guests as true VIPs. The local high school band is on hand to welcome the Rustlers as they make their way inside the event center to meet the youngsters on whose livestock they’ll soon bid. Many of the young cowboys and gals come prepared with little souvenirs boasting their names and present them to the potential bidders.
There’s another big western barbecue, and then it’s time for the main event, the Jr. Livestock Sale. The Rustlers, like other bidding groups that have subsequently popped up around the state, pool the individual contributions of its members, yielding a healthy amount that can be spent on all of the livestock throughout the Sale. With the guidance of veterans Schultz and Walker, the money is carefully allocated throughout the Sale, thereby guaranteeing that all the youngsters — even those with fourth and fifth place animals shown later in the evening — get good prices for their animals.
The most spirited bidding, naturally, is for the Grand and Reserve Grand Champions steer, hogs, lambs and goats. And typically the contest boils down to an age-old friendly rivalry between the Denver Rustlers and the family of Puebloan Sam Brown, who this year purchased the 1,311-pound Grand Champion steer from Cody Huwa of Roggen for a record $55,000. It was the second year in a row in which the 14-year-old Huwa was tapped with the top award for his steer. It was also the second year in a row that saw the large Brown family out-bid the Rustlers for the top steer.
But the Denver Rustlers nabbed the 1,335-pound Reserve Grand Champion for $19,500 from Colton Lind of Eaton and went on to purchase many other animals throughout the night.
The Touchstone Energy Cooperatives’ Junior Livestock Sale brought in $478,800 from bidders Tuesday, topping last year’s total of $407,325.
Please see additional photo coverage in the Sept. 7 print edition of The Colorado Statesman.