August 7, 2022
By Wyo4News feature writer Amy Larsen
Have you ever wondered what it was like to be a part of something that, over ten days, welcomes over 260,000 people from all over the world? I can tell you from my own experience that it is something that becomes a part of who you are, and in return, you become part of a family that is unlike anything else on earth. The event I am talking about is the Daddy of ‘em All, Cheyenne Frontier Days (CFD), a 10-day celebration of our western heritage that takes place annually during the last full week of July in Cheyenne. This year CFD celebrated its 126th year, and I celebrated my 5th year as a CFD volunteer.
While there are many articles that can be written about CFD, what I find that amazes most people is that CFD is primarily run by a group of 3,000 volunteers! Yep, you read that right. Each year 3,000 people give of their time and talent to ensure that every person who walks through those gates creates amazing memories, checks off bucket list items, sings along to their favorite artists, and watch cowboys leave it all in the arena. The volunteers belong to one of eight committees; Rodeo, Grounds, Parades, Concessions, Military, Operations, Indians, and Public Relations. I’ll write a little about my experience as part of the Public Relations committee in a bit. First, I want to share not only what got me involved but what has kept me coming back.
In 2017 I not only left a career I had been a part of for over 20 years, but I lost much of the community I had been a part of as well. It was heartbreaking on many levels, and more than that, I had no sense of belonging to anything, really no purpose, and for the first time ever, I truly felt alone, even surrounded by people.
I decided at that time to go back once again to college and pursue a Masters in Tourism Management as I knew that was truly where my passion and gifts were at. As part of an assignment, I had to interview people in the tourism industry, and I knew the first person I wanted to interview was a lady named Lisa Murphy, who was the first board chairwoman for Cheyenne Frontier Days. I had moved to Cheyenne six years earlier and had fallen in love with the social aspect of CFD, but always intrigued by the role volunteers played.
The more I talked with her; the more intrigued I got as I learned how many volunteers there were, how many of them were of multiple generations, and even how many took time off and traveled to Cheyenne to volunteer. I learned about the mission and really the whole picture of what CFD was about and was just in awe of it all. As I walked out, Lisa said, “you should consider volunteering on Public Relations with me. You can use me as a reference!.” I knew then my CFD experience was about to change. However, I also knew I would NEVER be that person that would take time off work to volunteer!
In my first year, I was assigned to the information sub-committee. I learned to use the word “Howdy” a lot!! We manned the information booths scattered around the park. It was fascinating to talk to people from all over, to hear their CFD stories, and just the excitement for many of them just to be there. While I loved that part, that first year, I didn’t get that “family” feeling that Lisa talked about. I didn’t really meet anyone. I wasn’t sure what all of the hype was but decided to give it another year.
In the second year, I decided that it was up to me to make my experience what I wanted it to be, to figure out how to be more involved and to really show up. That year was a game changer for sure. I attended workdays where I got to know one of my good friends in Cheyenne. I showed up for meetings and learned more about the PR committee and other opportunities. I made a choice to be involved in the committee, not just show up. Since then, I have had the opportunity to not only continue with information but help with media behind the chutes, sponsors, new volunteers, and, this year, photography.
I have laughed with world champion cowboys, been covered in what I like to say is “just mud” from behind the chutes, met the USAF Thunderbirds and got photography pointers from professional PRCA photographers, and was given the opportunity to photograph the challenge rodeo where kids with special needs get to be champion cowboys and cowgirls for the day with some of the best people involved with CFD and the state of Wyoming.
While those experiences alone will keep me coming back for years, it truly is the people and friends I have met along the way that are really at the heart of CFD. I know it sounds cliché, but when you walk through those gates, it truly is the love, excitement, and dedication of the volunteers you feel as if it wouldn’t exist without them. Those volunteers have become the friends I work out with, have dinner with, grab a beer with, tailgate with, and even just check in with. They are the people texting me to see if I am going to a meeting or why I wasn’t there. They are the people I run into in the store, and the quick trip becomes an hour long. They are a community I belong to, a community that all comes together to make sure those 10-days in July are epic and the other 355 days of the year are great too! A community that believe it or not, I now take time off work to be a part of!