Local cowpokes mix politics and philanthropy

Denver Rustlers are big bidders at Junior Livestock Sale

By Jody Hope Strogoff

Toward the end of every summer for more than two decades now, the Denver Rustlers — a spirited group of metro area business men and women, elected officials, dignitaries and leaders from other arenas — don fancy custom embroidered cowboy shirts stuffed in denim jeans with oversized shiny silver belt buckles, cowboy hats and western boots and make a real party out of going to Pueblo to the Colorado State Fair. It’s a hell raisin’ fun time, for sure, always accompanied by great grub, liquid refreshments and more than a fair amount of camraderie among fellow cowpokes.

Denver Rustlers founder Larry Mizel raises his arm in victory after the Rustlers successfully bid on this year’s Reserve Grand Champion steer. Dean Singleton, left, owner of The Denver Post, shared in the $19,500 purchase along with auto dealer Greg Stevinson and developer Rick Sapkin. Seated at the right is Denver Post editor Greg Moore.
Photo by Jason Kosena/The Colorado Statesman
Alex Mateo from Colorado Concern and John Bush from Lead Technologies share their seats at the State Fair’s Junior Livestock Sale with the stuffed animal Bush won on the midway.
Photo by Jason Kosena/The Colorado Statesman
Senate candidate Ken Buck chats with one of the State Fair commissioners.
Photo by Jason Kosena/The Colorado Statesman
Denver Post editor Greg Moore chats with Monica Owens from Phase Line Strategies and Frances Owens, former Colorado first lady now at the Galloway Group.
Photo by Jason Kosena/The Colorado Statesman
Denver Post editor Greg Moore, Rick Sapkin of Edgemark Development, Dean Singleton of Media News Group and The Denver Post, Colorado Springs businessman Steve Schuck and Aurora Mayor Ed Tauer are all smiles.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman
Frances Koncilja and Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman
Political consultant and Denver Rustler Mike Stratton greets host Larry Mizel at the entrance of Del Frisco’s restaurant on Tuesday.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman
Bradley Joseph of Silver Spur Marketing & Promotions, Ginnie Kontnik from the University of Colorado Eye Institute and Mary Smith of WHOSAIDYOUSAID.com pose outside Del Frisco’s steak house.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman
State Representative and CD 4 GOP candidate Cory Gardner and retiring House Speaker Terrance Carroll are all smiles.
Photo by Jason Kosena/The Colorado Statesman
Sen. Mark Udall works the aisles of one of the buses en route to Pueblo for the State Fair. Elected officials and candidates switched buses about halfway through the trip so they could talk with as many people as possible.
Photo by Jason Kosena/The Colorado Statesman
Bob Loew, an attorney with Fairfield & Woods, and House Speaker Terrance Carroll enjoy the bus ride to Pueblo.
Photo by Jason Kosena/The Colorado Statesman
An ambassador for the Pueblo Chamber of Commerce places a pin on the lapel of GOP gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes as he enters the sale.
Photo by Jason Kosena/The Colorado Statesman
Denver Rustlers Walt and Mike Imhoff from Stifel Nicolaus & Co. are the proud purchasers of the Reserve Grand Champion market lamb, which they bought for $5,500 from Mitch Stahley of Kersey.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman
This year’s Reserve Grand Champion steer was purchased by the Denver Rustlers from Hannah Vickland of Longmont for $19,500. Pictured are buyers Larry Mizel, Greg Stevinson and his daughter, Dean Singleton and Rick Sapkin. 
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

After more than two decades, the Denver Rustlers have become a tradition of sort, as much a part of the political landscape in Colorado as almost any other important political function. Although there aren’t any ‘officia’ speeches or legislative business conducted, you’ll likely find nearly every elected official in the state in attendance, as well as those who hope to hold such positions in the future. This year’s Denver Rustlers outing, for example, attracted Colorado’s governor — and the Democrat and Republican who hope to succeed him; statewide officials from both political parties; the two elected members of the U.S. Senate from Colorado — as well as the ardent Republican challenger of one of them; plus the mayor of the state’s largest city and a barrage of candidates hoping to fill his cowboy boots as early as next January.

Add in a couple university presidents, leaders in civic affairs and philanthropy, tycoons in business, legislators and lobbyists and you begin to touch on the eclectic composition of this galloping group.

What makes this annual event such a “must” in today’s political world?

Well, part of the reason rests with one of the original founders of the Denver Rustlers, a former cowboy himself from Oklahoma named Larry Mizel. The young entrepreneur arrived in Colorado via motorcycle back in the 1960s and earned his spurs as a homebuilder throughout the years. Now the name of Mizel is synonymous with not only the homebuilding industry but with charitable giving. When Mizel digs in his boots, he can accomplish quite a lot and starting up the Rustlers is one of his unique and most prideful successes. Getting new members in the saddle has been one of his major callings.

The original Denver Rustlers, who first got together more than two decades ago, are still kicking dirt, though the hair under their cowboy hats may have grayed a little. They include 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 Puebloan Tom Farley, the recently deceased stalwart who served on the board of the state’s prime Ag school, Colorado State University.

The genesis of the group dates back to the mid-1980s when the faltering economy in Colorado resulted in low attendance at the State Fair’s Jr. Livestock Sale. Its future was endangered, which meant that a bunch of truly deserving Colorado kids would be hard pressed to collect the money they counted on for college.

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.

Their numbers have grown over the years as has their financial prowess. More than a million dollars has been raised by the Denver Rustlers over the last couple of decades and they have become a major force to reckon with during the premier event for young livestock exhibitors.

In fact, the Rustlers have inspired other bidding groups from around the state and they playfully try to out-do each other at the Sale.

Throughout the evening, auctioneers play one group off the other in hopes of prodding top prices for the animals, which are proudly paraded around by their young owners, often dressed in their best western ware, hoping to attract a buyer for their animal. Once in awhile, the livestock are gussied up too, with a bow pinned to the ear of a prize winning steer, or a lei of flowers adorning the neck of a lamb or goat.

The 4H members who bring their animals to the Fair have been instilled with a sense of responsibility from early on. They feed and care for their young animals and learn early on the important lessons of a strong work ethic. They’re also taught other life lessons, such as when they’re forced to say goodbye to the beloved animals they have so carefully cared for and must now go to slaughter for market.

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 Grand Champion steer for a record $53,000.

The Rustlers, with the guidance of founding member Schultz and Craig Walker, carefully allocate their money 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.

Other bidding groups also contribute to the financial success of the event, including the Pikes Peak Posse from Colorado Springs, the Fair Ladies, and a new group last year representing the Friends of Football at Colorado State University who called themselves the Pigskin Buckeroos.

Besides purchasing the Reserve Grand Champion steer, Denver Rustlers Mizel, Dean Singleton, Greg Stevinson and Rick Sapkin bought the Reserve Grand champion hog and the Grand Champion lamb.