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The Story behind the Ginger Greene sign in Jefferson

Article by Laurie Wagner Buyer

Rodeo – August 1997 – Colorado Central Magazine

People driving through Jefferson — a small settlement on U.S. 285 in South Park which consists of a post office and general store, a few houses, and an abandoned railroad depot restored into an abandoned real estate office — can’t help but notice the sign on the east side of the settlement: “Jefferson, Colorado. Home of Ginger Greene. Miss Rodeo Colorado 1991”.

It seems natural to wonder who Ginger Greene is, how she came to be Miss Rodeo Colorado and what has happened to her life in the past six years.

I called Ginger, a bright, effervescent twenty-nine-year-old, on a rainy June night at her family’s ranch near Jefferson, to ask her those questions.

“Oh! That sign! It was supposed to be taken down years ago. We will take it down this year, and I’m going to hang it on the wall of our horse barn.”

Two hundred local people from the small communities of South Park attended Ginger’s coronation at the National Western Stock Show and Rodeo in Denver the year she won Miss Rodeo Colorado, and those same caring people were responsible for making and erecting the sign to recognize her achievement.

“It was very much an honor and such a neat experience,” Ginger said. She admits that the support of her family, friends, and community were instrumental in helping her realize a childhood dream.

Ginger has been in Jefferson, Colorado, all her life, raised on the ranch known locally as the Ralph Johnson place. Ginger’s parents, J.C. and Frankie, worked for Ralph Johnson for many years and when he passed away he left them the lower ranch. An only child, Ginger was “Daddy’s only boy” and was instrumental in the day to day operation of the ranch since a young age–she helped with fencing, irrigating, haying, feeding, calving, and all the various and sundry chores that go along with raising cattle.

She can’t remember exactly how she first became involved in rodeo except that as a little girl she saw Martha Josey run barrels at the Stock Show in Denver and told her mother, “I want to do that some day.” She was active in 4-H and always liked the speed events much better than the horsemanship events because they were faster-paced and more exciting.

At age 17, Ginger bought her first CSRA card so she could run barrels; then at 21 her NIRA card so she could rodeo for three years while attending college. The root of her success, Ginger confesses, was a good old bay mare named “Bear” who was purchased for $900.00.

Ginger was the first Miss Rodeo Park County in 1984 then went on to be Collegiate Peaks Stampede Queen in Chaffee County. The first year she tried for Miss Rodeo Colorado, she only made the finals, losing out to her best friend, Lori (Shalberg) Hodges. Lori encouraged Ginger to try again, that she must give it “more than one shot.” The following year Lori turned her crown over to Ginger.

“Winning Miss Rodeo Colorado was a lifetime achievement for me. I set my goals and followed through. It was a large milestone for me when I was 22 and 23.”

When asked what it was like to compete for the title Ginger explained that it was very much like Miss America competitions except that young women are judged for their horsemanship abilities in addition to their personalities, their personal appearance, their knowledge of the sport, their ability to communicate with the public and handle public relations work. In preliminary competitions contestants use their own horses and are judged on riding ability, modeling and speaking. In the four day finals competition held in Greeley over the 4th of July, contestants ride horses that are “drawn”. Ginger attributes a large part of her success at the finals the year she won to the good horses she was lucky enough to draw. “The whole experience was very much a dream come true.”

The Miss Rodeo Colorado title is an annual honor running from January to January. The winner is selected in Greeley mid-summer and then crowned the following January at the National Western Stock Show in Denver. The six months time lapse allows the winner to arrange her scheduling and to acquire the extensive wardrobe needed to travel nearly non-stop for months.

In April, following her January coronation, Ginger was given a pick-up truck by Colorado’s Best Chevy dealers. When she returned the vehicle the next January it had 42,000 miles on it. “I attended all the Northern Stock Shows, doing approximately 42 rodeos. Most of what I did, aside from the arena work, was public relations and parades. I especially enjoyed helping the kids, the youth princesses, prepare for their futures in rodeo. I was at the National Finals for two years and competed for the Miss Rodeo America title. I had twenty-four (two sets of twelve) changes of clothes and one of the most difficult things was trying to keep track of what was at the dry cleaners!”

Unlike many other girls who take a year off of college while they reign as Miss Rodeo, Ginger did not “lay out”. She had her Associates Degree in Horse Training from Lamar Community College and was in the middle of completing her degree in Animal Science at CSU and simply did not want to put her future on hold. She carried 12 credit hours the whole time she was traveling. When she finally got off the road she says she “slept 16 hours straight through” then got busy and finished her degree. After graduation she returned to the family ranch to work for a year.

In retrospect, Ginger remembers meeting past president Gerald Ford at an International Forum and also getting to meet many Country Music personalities. Her one best memory, however, remains the day she spent at the Ft. Lyons Veterans Hospital with Miss Colorado. “Just spending the day visiting with those people was so rewarding for me. I’ll never forget that.”

Though Ginger has moved on with her life she still stays in touch with many of the young girls whose lives she’s influenced. Being a positive influence, a role model, is something at which Ginger excels. After her year’s “sabbatical” on the family ranch she went into advertising work for Cattleman Communication, primarily for their magazine Cattleguard. She also did some freelance writing for them, moved to Ft. Collins and started her own training business.

A year ago last April, Ginger again moved home to the ranch and actively pursued a teaching job at Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne. She moved to Cheyenne last August to teach Equine Studies in what she considers the “top colt training program in the nation.” In three fall classes and two spring classes, Ginger coordinates 26 kids and 26 “never before touched” animals and teaches them the art of becoming confident handlers with fully broke horses. “In our spring show I was extraordinarily proud of my kids and their accomplishments. This is something I’ve always wanted to do and I truly enjoy it all.”

Ginger also teaches Equine Anatomy-Physiology and coaches IHSA horsemanship. “It’s really fun to coach at this level–we were Number 1 in this region in stock seat.”

This summer, Ginger is back home once again helping her parents. On the day I spoke to her, she and her Mom had spent the morning sorting pairs in preparation for trying to get calves branded in between heavy afternoon thunderstorms. She doctored a sick calf and worked with a filly she’s breaking. Plus, she was preparing things to leave for a rodeo trip in less than a week.

“I have seven horses scatted all over including one in Montana and a mare being bred. I have a real nice stud colt coming on and he may be `the horse’ to get me to the National Finals.”

Ginger is still rodeoing in pursuit of her new goal — to make the National Finals. She doesn’t have just the right horse yet, but she has a good solid breeding program and remains optimistic about her chances.

“I have a nice mare now, `Sneaker’, but she’s not National Finals caliber. `Bear’ is old and arthritic; a lovely pasture ornament now. I could have gone all the way with her but I was too young when she was in her prime. Getting to the National Finals takes a lot of time and you have to be `mounted’ really well. I’m working on that.”

Ginger likes teaching because it gives her the summers off to rodeo and break colts. She likes keeping her “hand in things, to feel the pulse of the industry.” Someday she’d like to train for a living.

“I’ve got a busy life. I’m very independent. I was brought up to take care of myself, and I’m the kind of girl who changes the oil in her own truck. Where I grew up I learned early on not to be afraid, that there’s more good than bad in the world, that rodeo, like the ranching community, is a tight knit family and that somebody is always going or coming your way and will help you out.”

After all the excitement and fun and hard work of being Miss Rodeo Colorado in her early 20’s does Ginger have another lifetime dream in the making? You bet! She wants to see a new sign on the highway right-of-way east of Jefferson that says: “Jefferson, Colorado. Home of Ginger Greene, World Champion Barrel Racer.”

Laurie Wagner Buyer helps care for cattle and writes poetry and prose from the DM Ranch near Fairplay. Her most recent book, Glass Eyed Paint in the Rain, was published last year by High Plains Press.