It's a busy time of year in the agricultural community, between cows calving, sheep lambing, crops to be planted, ditches to be cleared ... well, you get the picture.
But all of that was put aside April 8 as the La Plata-Archuleta Cattlemen's Association gathered for its annual banquet, which is also a fundraiser for the numerous scholarships the cattlemen and the La Plata County Cowbelles give each year to young people going into the ag business.
About 275 people filled the Sky Ute Events Center for the festivities, which began with social hour, an extensive silent auction and a line to buy raffle tickets for one of the two brand quilts the Cowbelles had made.
After a prime rib dinner and cheesecake bar, an evening of speakers and awards ensued, with Chuck Sullivan serving as master of ceremonies. U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton spoke briefly. He'd had a long day, speaking at Club 20 in Grand Junction and a town hall meeting in Montrose before stopping in Cortez to pick up his wife before coming to Ignacio.
Melanie Cundiff won the raffle for the quilt, and Steve and Laura Pargin outbid the rest to win the second quilt in an auction conducted by Ken Beck. The quilt brought in about half of what it has in previous years. That was attributed to two things - many longtime ranching families own several, and others have been hard hit by the declining oil and gas revenues so have less disposable income.
The centerpiece of the evening is hearing from the youth who are supported by the Cattlemen. Megan Semler Gifford, who received scholarships for both her undergraduate and graduate work at Colorado State University, put together a video featuring each recipient.
This year, the Cattlemen's scholarship recipients include Bayfield High School graduates Michael Semler and Austin McMenimen; Ignacio High School graduates Tyler Beebe and Austin McCaw; Pagosa High School graduate Morgan Schaaf; and Durango home-schooled student Cade Van Soelen.
The Cowbelles sponsored Durango High School graduates John Lee and Lorianne Stevens and Bayfield High School alumna Keanna Smith.
Pagosa High graduate Courtney Mael, who is attending the CSU Veterinary School, was awarded the Phyllis Lee Memorial Scholarship.
A couple of other scholarships were awarded but not used, and one student left college in December.
Another way the Cattlemen support young people interested in agriculture is with the Heifer Catch-it program. Kids who catch a heifer at the county fair raise her from a calf the first year and through having her own first calf the following year.
This year's first-year kids are Dalton Belk of Ignacio, Caleb VanDenBerg of Hesperus and Kaleb Lee of Bayfield. Second-year kids are Dakota Wood and Breann Waddell of Hesperus and Cody Ledford of Durango.
Dakota is also a princess attendant in the reigning La Plata County Fair Royalty. She and Queen Attendant Chloe Knapp added a little glitz to the evening.
The denouement of the evening is the announcement of the Cattleman of the Year. It was a couple this year, as former Rep. J. Paul Brown and his wife, Debbie, were the honorees. While Brown is known primarily as a sheepman - and cattlemen and sheepmen don't always get along - he told me he had 1,000 head of cattle before going to the Legislature. The list of awards, boards and service by the couple filled a full page of accomplishments.
Cattlemen President Wayne Semler added something to the agenda at the end of the evening before the dancing to Wild Country began. He presented bouquets to two women who are stalwart members of the organization who had big upcoming birthdays (although I promised not to reveal which big ones), Barbara Jefferies and Shirley Engler.
In fact, they were both on the organizing Banquet Committee, along with Kyle and Joli Beebe, Gary and Peggy Beebe, Robert and Sabre Beebe, Wayne and Patti Buck, Tom Compton, Norma Conley, Trish and Larry Corman, Penny Crawford, Gary Everett, Ned Jefferies, Mae and George Morley, Jake Nossaman, Sharon Nossaman, Melody Semler, Betty Shahan, Emma Shock, Cheryl Stevens, Debbie Wilhelm, Sandy Young and Larry Zauberis.
Kudos to all for another enjoyable and successful banquet.