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Miss Rodeo Colorado

2014 Miss Rodeo Colorado

Rhianna Russell

Rhianna Russell

The four day competition for Miss Rodeo Colorado culminated on Sunday, June 30 as Rhianna Russell was named the Queen for 2014.

Rhianna Russell is the daughter of James and Kimberly Russell of Pine, Colorado. She is currently attending the University of Colorado at Denver with a major in Biotechnology. Her previous associations include the Elizabeth Stampede Queen and a member of the highly regarded Westernaires Drill Team. Russell will serve as the Lady-in-Waiting for the remainder of 2013.

The 4 day competition included horsemanship, contestant speeches, media interviews with Scott James of 97.9 Big Country, a Fashion Show and concluded with the naming of Russell as the 2014 Queen. Other contestants included: Marie Allison, Marie Kidd, Anneliese Phippen, Lizzi Snyder, Hannah Wiens. Hannah Wiens received 1st Runner-up and Lizzi Snyder was chosen as the 2nd Runner-up.

Category winners:

  • Horsemanship – Rhianna Russell
  • Personality – Rhianna Russell
  • Appearance and Photogenics - Hannah Wiens
  • Congeniality and Spirit of the Hat - Anneliese Phippen
  • Speech - Rhianna Russell



Additional awards were given to Jean Morrell who received the Bob Moore Award for volunteers, and Nyla Bristow who received an award for 25 years with the Miss Rodeo Colorado Pageant.


The 50-Year Anniversary of Miss Rodeo Colorado

Rodeo competition began 140 years ago, after the end of the Civil War, when cowboys drove large herds of cattle to market and would challenge each other to see who was the best at riding, roping or working with cattle. Rodeos and Wild West shows were frequently performed for entertainment between 1890-1910. Women have been involved in various capacities, from working with cattle on the ranch to enjoying competition and demonstrating their skills for the public. Even before there was an organized Queen’s contest, pretty girls presented ribbons and trophies at the various events surrounding the rodeo, fulfilling the role of Rodeo Queen. In the past 50 years, pageants have evolved to become prestigious scholarship programs. The pinnacle in Rodeo Queen competition is Miss Rodeo America – the young lady who serves as an official spokesperson for the sport of professional rodeo. And Miss Rodeo Colorado is the First Lady of professional rodeo for the Centennial State.

The Miss Rodeo Colorado pageant is celebrating its 50-year anniversary in 2005, and is one of the inaugural pageants in the national program. In the early years, the Miss Rodeo Colorado Pageant moved to different communities within the state, and ladies from all over Colorado have worn the crown. That is a rich 50-year history of promoting the love of horses, rodeo and the western way of life. That represents the work and dedication of hundreds of people who have worked to make the pageant a success, hundreds of parents and friends who have helped and encouraged the young ladies. The pageant is a continuing legacy of life in the West, the spirit of the settlers, the traditions of ranching, the excitement of rodeo. Miss Rodeo Colorado epitomizes the sportsmanship and camaraderie of the American cowboy and their sport.

The young ladies who held the Miss Rodeo Colorado title have gone on to make their mark in the world; to pursue careers, have families and instill in their children the same love for horses, rodeo and traditional family values. Former Miss Rodeo Colorado queens have traveled far and wide, have settled in the shadow of the Rockies and within the borders of their great state. Some have made their homes elsewhere, in nearby Wyoming, the great Northwest of Washington, the American heartland of South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma, or to the southwest – Arizona and Texas. The alumni from the pageant share many experiences; starting with a dream to be a rodeo queen, the competition and achievement of a goal, the honor of being the First Lady of Rodeo for the State of Colorado. They share those traditions and values with rodeo fans, introduce and promote the sport to people who were not raised with western roots. They proudly represent their families and sponsors and their state at the Miss Rodeo America pageant. They forever share a common background with the other ladies who have worn the crown and walked in their boots. Let us tell you more about the history of the pageant, and about these 50 special ladies.

The Background of the Miss Rodeo America Pageant

In January 1955, the International Rodeo Association (IRA) appointed a committee to formulate a plan to launch the Miss Rodeo America pageant in 1956. Formerly the Rodeo Association of America, the IRA had been the sanctioning body for organized rodeo since 1929. Their goal was to choose a queen, based on beauty and personality and horsemanship. To find attractive girls who photographed well for publicity shots, who had charm and intelligence for radio and TV appearances, and were skilled at riding.

According to a December 1955 Western Horseman article by Bob Latta, “They contacted the Miss America and Miss Universe pageants, the Minneapolis Aquatennial Queen Go-round, Salinas and Nampa Queen Contests, stock contractors, publicity men, and many others. Using this information, they drew up a first draft of the rules and sent out invitations throughout the Rocky Mountain time zone for a tryout contest at the August Central Wyoming Nite Rodeo in Casper. Nineteen queens showed up, eleven for the Wyoming elimination and eight from Rocky Mountain States and Canada. The 19 had eliminated 355 competitors – many in state-wide competition.”

These queens were chosen by many methods, ranging from ticket sales to popularity contests, and they quickly realized they needed to set up a definite scoring breakdown, judged by specialized judges. The young women who competed at Casper proved beyond a doubt that they exemplified rodeo and the western way of life, and sponsors and the media were very interested.

Wyoming cowgirl Marilyn Scott was chosen during that first pageant in August of 1955, and requests for bookings began rolling in immediately. The IRA made a final draft of rules and organization for the first international contest to be held in 1956. It would be judged “one-third for appearance, judged by professional photographers; one-third for personality, intelligence, and expressiveness judged by experienced educators, preferably speech instructors; and one-third on horsemanship judged by seasoned horse show judges.”

Later that year, with the demise of the IRA, the International Rodeo Management group took over the contest and it continued under its stewardship. With this framework in place, Colorado was one of the first states to organize an annual state pageant and the tradition of Miss Rodeo Colorado began.

The earliest years of MRC – 1956-1964

Elaine Ward was the Colorado State Fair Queen in 1956, her entire family was active in rodeo. The State Fair committee asked her to go to Durango and compete in the first Miss Rodeo Colorado pageant. She competed in the second Miss Rodeo America contest, a regional competition in Omaha, Nebraska and placed in both Personality and Horsemanship. In 1957, former Boulder Pow Wow queen Donna Thomas bested seven contestants to win MRC in Monte Vista. She competed against 18 state queens for MRA at the Grand National in San Francisco. In 1958, former Adams County queen Revae Milligan won the MRC title in Brighton. Sandi Craig of Golden was the former JeffCo rodeo queen who won the MRC title in her hometown in 1959.

With a long string of honors and titles in 4-H, the Southern Colorado Horseman’s Association, Little Britches and High School rodeo in Southern Colorado, Marie Mass added the title of Miss Rodeo Colorado in Castle Rock. She was the first from Colorado to win MRA from a field of 19 contestants in Las Vegas. She was followed by racehorse trainer Rosemary Larson from Brighton in 1961, Margie Mowry of Hugo in 1962, and in 1963 Sue Guilliams of Montrose was chosen in Limon, World Champion Cowboy Bill Linderman was one of the judges. In 1964, Sherry Boyer from Durango came to Castle Rock over Labor Day to win the title.

During these years, the pageant moved from city to city each year, hosted by some of the larger rodeos within the state. The only name associated with the pageant directorship is Cheddy Thompson, owner of a large western store in Colorado Springs. He helped organize the pageant, supported and sponsored the queens.

MRC - The next decade – 1965-1974

At this point, rather than moving every year, the pageant settled into a host city for several years in each place. At some point, Cheddy Thompson and Floyd Hill turned the directorship over to Jim Moreland, with the assistance of Pat Rowe.

From 1965-1967, Durango played host to the contest. Kathy Dalton won in 1965, but was injured in an accident and unable to go to MRA. Kay Popino from Loveland stepped in to compete at MRA with only a few weeks to prepare. 1966 queen Jo Beth Smith from Trinidad was selected from a field of 15, and went on to be named 2nd Runner Up at MRA. In 1967, former Colorado State Fair Queen Jerry Bond of Ordway won both horsemanship and appearance to take the MRC title.

The pageant moved to Trinidad for 1968 and 1969. Kate Flinn from Fort Collins won the title in 1968, Mary Ann Bledsoe of Hugo won Horsemanship and Personality to take the title in 1969. When the pageant next moved to Rocky Ford at the Arkansas Valley Fair, Janett Donley from Pueblo won the 1970 title. Next, Gail Hughes from Olney Springs was chosen from a field of 17 ladies, and was crowned by Governor John Love. The 1972 queen was Yvonne Ann Winter from Trinidad.

Monte Vista played host to the pageant for the next two years. De Anna Swetzig from Greeley won Miss Personality and the 1973 title, she remembers dancing with All-Around cowboy Phil Lyne at the rodeo dance. Janine Hiatt from Grand Junction won all three categories of judging to take the title in 1974.

Members of the Steering Committee were Darlene Schutte, Bessie Armstrong, Byron Syring, Jean Haigler, Bill Skains, Milo Wilson, Jr. and Ward Mathias. The members of the State Committee were Jerry (Bond) Draper, Jack Lutz, Victor Maio, John Chalanda, Lee Roy Casper, Suzanne Halandras, Shirley Stewart, Mrs. George Kerst and Mozelle McMillan. And they were to make a decision that changed and strengthened the Miss Rodeo Colorado pageant.

MRC at the Colorado State Fair - 1974 - 1989

The pageant was ready to move again after a couple of years in Monte Vista, and a new host city could not be found. Ed Moreland came to the State Fair and asked them if they would be willing to hold it in Pueblo. Raeana Wadhams worked in the office for the Colorado State Fair, and the Fair agreed to take the pageant under one condition – that they would keep it there. They agreed, and this arrangement allowed one other major change – the beginning of the selection of Miss Rodeo Colorado-elect and the holdover title. The current State Fair queen would take the title in August and compete at the Miss Rodeo America pageant that December. The newly selected queen would assume her title and begin her reign in January 1976. Colorado was the first state in the MRA system to do this.

Colorado State Fair Queen Vicki Hallmark from Meeker assumed the MRC title for the remainder of 1975. State Fair Manager George Scott and Assistant Manager Larry Wagner were warm supporters of the pageant. In 1976, Bobbie Jo Etter of Grand Junction was given her crown; the beautiful, distinctive turquoise and silver tiara made by Silversmith Gene Trujillo in South Fork, Colorado. The leaf or feather design contained one hundred four grams of silver and seventy-five carats of gem quality Morencia turquoise. The traveling tiara was sponsored by Byron and Betty Jo Syring of Monte Vista. It is currently the oldest tiara in all of the MRA state pageants.

The crown was next worn by Almabeth Carroll of La Junta, who competed for the title with 21 other ladies. She became the second Miss Rodeo America from the state of Colorado, winning the Speech, Horsemanship and Personality divisions in a field of 52 contestants. For 1978, Barbara Seitz from Northglenn won the title, while winning all three categories, and was 4th runner up at MRA with 49 women in the competition. Back home, the State Fair began limiting the number of entries through a preliminary round of competition. The next winner was Debbie Pech from Thornton, who won Horsemanship on her way to winning the title. In 1980 Kathy Martin of Pueblo won the title, and became the third MRC to win Miss Rodeo America.

Kim Nogel of Trinidad succeeded her to hold the title in 1981, and was named Top Ten at MRA. Jill Lovelace was next in 1982, and won the Speech award and was 4th runner-up at MRA. Vanette Ruzanski of Pueblo won all three categories on her way to MRC 1983. The title then passed to fellow Puebloan Kym Cooper for 1984. With some changes of duties at the State Fair office, Raeana Wadhams stepped back into an advisory role and state delegate ‘Sudzy’ Ruzanski ran the pageant in 1985 when Taleen Jenkins was named MRC, and she went on to be Top Ten at MRA.

In 1986, former MRC contestant and first runner up Deb Dilley from Canon City stepped in to run the pageant and Chris Wilder from Colorado Springs won. Kellie Dilka from Pueblo was the next to wear the Colorado crown for 1987, and Colorado again brought home the MRA title, as well as the Speech award. Patsy O’Grady, long-time committee member with MRC took the reins of the pageant and under her leadership, Mandy Wheatley from Kremmling was chosen from eleven contestants in 1988, and was named Top Ten at MRA. Kimber Solberg of Falcon was the last MRC to be selected at the State Fair and went on to become 1st Runner-Up to Miss Rodeo America.

MRC at the Greeley Independence Stampede - 1990 - 2005

Fifteen years ago, the Greeley Independence Stampede became the host rodeo for the Miss Rodeo Colorado pageant. A chain of events led to the relocation of the pageant. With an impressive resume and years of involvement with MRC, Raeana Wadhams was named to the coveted job of Business Manager to the Miss Rodeo America pageant in 1989. That, along with some other changes at the State Fair set the MRC committee looking for another home for the pageant. The Greeley Independence Stampede, the largest 4th of July rodeo in the country, seemed like a wonderful home for the state rodeo queen title. Fifteen years before, they had had to pass on the pageant coming to their city, and now the time seemed perfect for the pageant to move northward. Raeana, Patsy O’Grady, Sally Anderson, Gerry Maloney and Deb Dilley, all integrally involved with the preservation and guardianship of the pageant, got in the car and went to meet with the Greeley Independence Stampede Committee. They knew it would be a good home for the pageant, but there were some matters to be discussed. Would the long-time sponsors from Southern Colorado support the pageant if it moved away from the Colorado State Fair? What about the long history of their own Stampede queen? The issues were worked out, and the Greeley committee welcomed the pageant with open arms. Dick and Kathy Hodge, Nyla Bristow, Barb Johnson and Rita Carey were some of the people who worked to make the pageant a success.

The first lady to win the title in the new location was Lori Shalberg from the small town of Sheridan Lake for 1990. Ginger Greene of Jefferson wore the crown in 1991. Terri Lynn Bunker of Fort Collins was the next winner, followed by Melissa King of Avon who placed in the Top Ten at MRA. Our next queen was the first of three pairs of sisters who have won the crown – Susan Boensch from Fort Collins was MRC in 1994, and was Top Ten at MRA. Paulette Woods of Pueblo was MRC 1995, and in 1996, Susan’s sister Sara Boensch of Fort Collins took the crown. She did her state proud, winning Miss Photogenic and 2nd Runner-Up at MRA. Stacy Reid of Falcon reigned in 1997, and she won the Speech award and 4th Runner-Up at MRA. Aspen Emmett was chosen as MRC for 1998, and went on to be named Top Ten at MRA, winning the Western Regional Scholarship. Some of the other people who helped run the pageant and support the queens were Bob Bollinger, Susan Jensen, Mary Bohlender, Karen Keller, Steve Holdren, Pete Morrell, Bob and Cathy Moore.

Audrey Williams from Loveland was MRC in 1999, and was Top Ten at MRA and won the Western Regional Scholarship. Loveland was the hometown of MRC again the next year when Tara Graham won on her third try. The experience paid dividends when she won Miss Rodeo America 2001 – the fifth MRC to be chosen the first lady of rodeo. Allison Munger of Berthoud was her successor and held the title in 2001. In 2002, Addie Knowlton of Fowler represented the state and made everyone proud to be named Miss Horsemanship and 2nd Runner-Up at MRA. Christy Spurlock of Penrose wore the crown proudly in 2003 and did well at MRA, named 2nd Runner-Up and being selected as the winner of the Raeana Wadhams Spirit Award. Cassidy Reid of Falcon followed in her sister’s footsteps in winning MRC for 2004. And the third of the sister-pairs won for 2005, Tressie Knowlton of Fowler is the current Miss Rodeo Colorado. The ladies follow a proud tradition and set a high standard for others who will follow.