Denver Rustlers spur on State Fair’s Jr. Livestock Sale

Denver Rustlers play major role in funding college-bound 4-H youth
The Colorado Statesman

This western tale doesn’t change much from one year to the next — and that’s a good thing.

The original half dozen or so ‘cowboys’ who started the Denver Rustlers more than two decades ago are still riding tall in the saddle. Their names — Mizel, Robinson, Schultz, Levine, and others — are branded in Colorado civic projects and philanthropy, and of course, a stitch of politics on both sides of the aisle. The only perceivable difference from then and now might be purely cosmetic — the size of the girth held in check by their western belt buckles or the greying of the hair covered by their matching ten gallon western hats.

Keith Montoya, president of D1 Solutions and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock are all smiles.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

Regardless, their hearts remain extra large.

The Denver Rustlers, year after year, have managed to raise many hundreds of thousands of dollars that have helped 4-H and Future Farmers of America youth get top dollar for their market animals at the State Fair’s annual Jr. Livestock Sale. The money traditionally is used to help pay the college education of these exemplary young cowpokes.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, AG John Suthers, Denver Post editorial page editor Curtis Hubbard and attorney Jason Dunn of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

It’s a story worth re-telling which is why we ride along with the Denver Rustlers each August to Pueblo’s signature event.
The Denver Rustlers — a spirited group of (mostly) metro area business men and women, elected officials, dignitaries and leaders from other arenas — are well known by now. They 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 Mayor Michael Hancock, Frances Koncilja and Larry Mizel hard at work.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

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 event. Although there aren’t any ‘official’ 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; statewide officials from both political parties; a majority of the congressional delegation and the new mayor of the state’s largest city.

Denver Post Editor Greg Moore, holding a gift package from a seller, and reporter Kurtis Lee, who was covering the Fair that day.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

Add in university presidents, leaders in civic affairs and philanthropy, tycoons in business, publishers of two large daily newspapers, legislators and lobbyists and you begin to touch on the eclectic composition of this galloping group.

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

Denver Clerk & Recorder Debra Johnson.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

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 the museum which bears his name and The CELL. When Mizel digs in his boots, he can accomplish quite a lot and starting up the Rustlers is one of his unique and most proud successes. Getting new members in the saddle has been one of his major callings.

Denver Rustlers Larry Mizel, a founding member of the group, and Governor John Hickenlooper pose outside Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse before the trip to the Fair.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

The original Denver Rustlers, who first got together more than two decades ago, are still kicking dirt, as we mentioned. 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 beloved stalwart who served on the board of the state’s prime Ag school, Colorado State University, and who died last year.

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 in danger, which meant that a bunch of truly deserving Colorado kids would be hard pressed to collect the money they counted on for college.

Colorado Speaker of the House Frank McNulty, Congressman Cory Gardner, R-CD 4, and Secretary of State Scott Gessler pose in their cowboy duds.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

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.

Attorney Frances Koncilja and Pueblo Chieftain Publisher Bob Rawlings.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

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.

CSU Chancellor Joe Blake, left, looks on as ringman (and Denver Rustler) Tim Schultz bids on one of the prized animals at the 2011 Sale.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

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 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, which must now go to slaughter after the Sale.

Tim Schultz, executive director and president of the Boettcher Foundation and a founding member of the Denver Rustlers, kids around with pal Rich Sapkin of Edgemark Development LLC.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

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-plus.

Denver Post Editor Greg Moore, Publisher Dean Singleton, Larry Mizel and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock pose with the Reserve Grand Champion steer they purchased at the Sale from Emma Vickland of Longmont for $16,000.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

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.

Denver Rustler Ken Buck, the district attorney in Weld County.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

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.

See additional photo coverage in the print edition of The Colorado Statesman.