Cheyenne Frontier Days, family, Rodeo, Uncategorized, writing

A Legend Walking Tall

IMG_20151124_0019My dad, John C. Cole, died on Sunday night, after a long battle with heart disease and diabetes.  He was 78.  While not exactly a shock, even knowing it would happen sooner rather than later hasn’t made this an easy week.  There are arrangements to be made, food to order and an obituary to write.

I volunteered to write the official obituary for my dad, John Cole.  It was my honor to do so.  But I found that 300 words were far too few to pay tribute to a man I so loved and so many admired.  So I sat down tonight to write not for a paper or a funeral home website, but for me.  And I wrote for my daughter, so that maybe one day she will get to know her Big Papa, if only through my words.  So this is what’s in my heart right now…

If I had to sum up my father in a word, it would be cowboy.

Dad didn’t ride horses or tend cattle as a rancher would, but he epitomized the western way of life and spirit of self-made America.  Do what has to be done.  Be tough but fair. Take pride in your work.  Always finish what you start.  Remember some things aren’t for sale.  These are the tenets upon which the West was built, and a perfect summary of the personal, if unspoken, credo of John Cole.

It’s no surprise then that one of the things he loved most beyond his family and friends was Cheyenne Frontier Days, the world’s largest outdoor rodeo held right in our hometown.

Each July, our household would virtually shut down for the rodeo.  Dad would rise early every morning to announce slack (the extra timed-event contestants that can’t be fit into the daily performances), run home for a quick bite to eat, then return to the grounds to assist with the afternoon performance.  He would run the first aid gate, help  the announcer or just keep wild horse racers in line.  Whatever was needed to keep CFD running smoothly.  After the performance, you could always find him holding court at Chute 10 and later the Contestants Office.  Sometimes he would take in a night show or haul me to the carnival, too.  But usually he would finish supper, pull out the next day’s information and begin studying cowboy names, standings and silly jokes in preparation for the next day’s slack.  Then late into the night, he’d crawl into bed and do it all over again.  Day after day, year after year.

So it’s little wonder the CFD theme song would get stuck in my head every summer, or why I still know most all the words.  Frontier Days was his happy place, his rodeo friends a second family.

“Part of Western History, A Legend Walking Tall…Cheyenne Frontier Days, the Daddy of ‘Em All,” goes the song.

It is only now that I realize the song is as much about a man I loved who ran the event as it is the rodeo itself.

John Cole was truly part of western history, a legend walking tall.  He stood out among men, not for all his accomplishments but for his undying commitment to servant leadership and his family.  His achievements are many and well documented.  Eagle Scout.  Nominated to attend the Air Force Academy.  College football player.  Head of Right-of-Way for the largest state agency in Wyoming.  Cheyenne Frontier Days General Chairman.  CFD Heel.  CFD Hall of Fame Inductee.  Laramie County Fair Board Chairman.  Member of the Kiwanis, Chamber of Commerce, University of Wyoming Alumni Board.  Active in St. Mary’s Cathedral.

But my dad was never one to work for a title or a trophy.  He worked hard and did the job well because that’s just the kind of man he was.  A man leading by example.  He was often asked why he didn’t pursue public office, because he could surely get elected.  I remember asking him about it once, and his answer stuck with me.

“Communities are not built by politicians,” he said. “They are built by ordinary citizens like you and me who care enough to give their time, sweat and tears.”

The work, he said, was done not in the boardroom but in the trenches.  Being  a leader was about serving your organization in any way you could.  And strong  organizations and churches meant a strong community and a place we could all be proud to call home.  He portrayed character, compassion, foresight and commitment through his actions, not his words.  Dad sat on numerous volunteer boards and committees,  volunteered at my school, announced my horse shows and was always there to lend a hand to do whatever was needed.  For many years, I was known not by my name, but as “Big John Cole’s daughter.”

But for all his notoriety in the community, for me he was still just my dad.  A man, not perfect, but certainly perfect in my eyes.  We disagreed and fought, especially in those tumultuous teen years.  But I never doubted his love for me and our family.

My father taught me many things…practical things like how to play cribbage, how to do my taxes, how to change a flat tire or jump a dead car.  He helped me learn there is honor in simply trying your best and keeping your word.  He taught me to be a gracious winner and a gracious loser, to put the needs of my animals above my own, and that the best gift we can give ourselves is the gift of forgiveness.

One of my best and worst memories from childhood is of when I kicked a hole in my bedroom wall because I was angry that I had done poorly on a 4th grade spelling test.  I’d gotten a C, and for a kid that received nothing but As and praise, it was a huge blow to my ego.  I just knew Dad would be furious, and holed for hours in my room, crying and fearing the worst.  But when I showed him the wall, there was no lecture or scolding.  Only forgiveness.  All he said was “Well, it looks like you’re going to learn to fix drywall.”

My strongest bond with my dad was over our shared love of rodeo, animals and the outdoors.  A lot of kids had parents that sang nursery rhymes and tossed them a ball.  I had a dad who sang me Ghost Riders in the Sky and taught me the meaning of words like houlihan and piggin’ string.  He announced rodeos in his spare time, everything from local high school rodeos to the National Finals Steer Roping.  But his favorite was announcing the slack at Cheyenne Frontier Days.  I loved rising early during Frontier Days to sit next to him while he announced.  I’d look up facts about cowboys, fetch a doughnut or warm his coffee.  I used to dream of someday getting to be his co-announcer.  I had to settle for seat warmer and gopher, but any job was okay as long as I got to spend my mornings with my hero.

Dad was also the biggest proponent of getting me horseback.  He and my mom found a way to provide me with riding lessons and later a horse, which proved to be a my life-long game changer.  Dad would take me to ride Peppermint, patiently straddling the fence while I rode the my brown mare in circles for hours.  He hauled me to horse shows, gymkahanas and drill team practices.  More often than not, he would announce my horse shows, even teasing me via the loudspeaker that my barrel racing times would be better off being timed with a calendar instead of a stopwatch.

He was excited for me when I started at Game and Fish, eagerly sharing stories about his days fishing or hunting.  I felt his love and enthusiasm when he gave me his .22 rifle and double-barreled shotgun, because, in his words, if I was gonna work with the wildlife boys, I better be armed. And I  think Dad took an incredible amount of pleasure knowing his littlest granddaughter, my daughter Emily, would be raised in his old pheasant hunting stomping grounds at the Springer Wildlife Habitat Management Unit, with the chance to run wild, chase birds and occasionally dunk a worm or two.

He also shared with me his love of cowboy music.  Together we’d listen to classic county on the radio or the 8-track.  I cut my teeth on Marty Robbins, Jim Reeves and the early, early Chris Ledoux.  I accompanied him to a Barbra Mandrell concert, and got to ride Charlie Daniels horse in a parade.  My dad made me country long before it was ever cool.

The last time I saw my dad, I had stopped in for a quick visit between running errands in Cheyenne.  Wyokiddo entertained him with her big stories and silly personality.  And I am forever grateful for that memory, of a quiet, final moment between three generations of Coles.

I find peace and comfort thinking of my dad in heaven, free of the body that long ago failed his mind and spirit.  I know he’s petting a heap of mutts that have missed him and his treats.  I’ll bet he enjoyed seeing the red roan colt he helped me raise finally all grown up.  I’m sure he hugged his own parents, played a round of golf , and then drank some whiskey at the afterlife’s equivalent of Chute 10 with his good friend, Bob L. Walker.  And he probably watched a sunset and shared poo poos with his Aunt Betty and Uncle Ernie.  Maybe not exactly in that order.  But it makes me feel good knowing he’ll be as loved up there as he was down here.

I will miss my father and his wise-cracks, wisdom and guidance.  But his legacy of service will live on his community, and his legacy of integrity will live on through his family.  As long as I live, I can think of no better compliment than to forever be known and Big John Cole’s daughter.



family, parenting, Uncategorized

Parent-teacher conferences and dogs as siblings

Emily and Roxy.jpgLast night was my first ever parent-teacher conference.  Outdoor Guy and I ate a hasty dinner, threw Wyokiddo in the car and headed into town for a a review of my daughter’s scholastic performance.

I have to admit, I was a little nervous.  What would her teachers have to say?  Is she kind to the other kids?  Is she meeting social and academic milestones?  Is she the weird kid at school?  Aaccckk, I don’t want to her to be the weird kid!

She’s 3, by the way.

I realize my apprehension was a little overboard.  I only enrolled Wyokiddo in preschool as a way to make some friends in our new town and build social skills.  This isn’t a Yale prep school by any means.  But an assessment of Wyokiddo at this point in time is basically an assessment of my parenting.  And anyone who knows me knows I’m an overachiever.  So yes, I was obsessing.

I really shouldn’t have worried.  Mrs. Molly and Mrs. Mareta reported that Wyokiddo is flourishing in school.  She enjoys her new friends, is mindful of the adults and is showing progress in learning expectations.  When it came to her academic testing, she is learning at or well above her age.  Hooray!

Some levity was added to our evening when Mrs. Molly described Wyokiddo talking about her sister.  According to my preschooler, she has an older sister she loves very much.  Her sister is 8 years old, blonde and likes to run around and play dress up.  Wyokiddo failed to mention that her “sister” also occasionally eats her own poop, pukes up grass on my living room floor and is a dog.  A girl can dream, I suppose.

The best part of our night was hearing Wyokiddo’s teachers describe the things they like best about our daughter.  She is kind.  She is empathetic. She loves to give hugs. She is silly and funny.  She loves to learn and tries so hard to be a good listener and student.

It’s about all a mom can wish for from my little dynamo, whether she’s three or 13.  We are blessed.





Birds, photography, Uncategorized, WPC, writing

Shakespeare Would Be Proud: WPC Victory

Black Bird Cloud 2

In response to the Weekly Photo Challenge – Victory

Anyone be needing a pie?  I have four and twenty and then some.  The story of these birds, mostly the European starling, is a victory for an enterprising German and Wililam Shakespeare himself, if not exactly for modern conservation…

European starlings are a non-native bird species here in the United  States.  Starlings look like a chunky robin in size and shape.  In the winter they are covered with white spots, but turn a sleek, glossy irridescent purple in summer.  They are loud, proud and aggressive, often traveling in large flocks with  other birds like grackles and blackbirds.  My nephew used to call them “Wire Birds” because that’s where he saw them, hanging out on telephone and electric wires.

By and large, these birds are considered a nuisance.  They bother people with their constant chatter, obnoxious eating habits (they’ve been known to obliterate fruit and sprouting crops to the tune of $800 million annually) and highly improper pooping habits.  They will also out-compete native birds for nests, and attack and destroy the nests of more desirable native birds like the red-headed woodpecker, blue bird or purple martin.  The chicken wire that keeps our pheasants in is not small enough to keep the starlings out, so they will infiltrate our pheasant pens.  They eat the pheasants’ feed, pose potential disease concerns and generally make a mess of things.

Around here, their mumurations, as groups of starlings are known, can number in the thousands.  One day earlier this fall, I disturbed their feasting in a neighbors corn and so many starlings came boiling up from the field it looked like a solid black cloud rising from the depths.

But if a chattering of starlings is a nuisance, the starling, as an individual, is pretty amazing.  Both genders can mimic human speech.  They can also mimic the “voices” of about 20 other birds, like the robin, meadowlark or red-tailed hawk.  Scientists have also found they have an amazing sense of taste.  Starlings can taste salt, sugars, citric acid and tannins.  Some of that must translate to an outstanding sense of smell, because I swear they can smell the peanut butter in a suet feeder from a range of three miles.  But don’t quote me on that.

The most amazing thing about starlings, in my book though, is how they got started in this country.  Right before the end of the 19th century, a German immigrant named Eugene Schieffelin wanted to introduce as many birds that were mentioned in the literature of William Shakespeare as possible to North America.  Schieffelin released 60 starlings in Central Park in New York, in hopes they would breed an populate the new land with the Bard’s birds.

Did it work?

Ummmm…yes.  Better than in the crazy little German’s wildest dreams.  Today, there are an estimated 200 million European starlings in the United States, all of which can trace their ancestry back to the original 60.

Sixty birds to 200 million?  I’d bloody well call that a victory.



humor, Uncategorized, writing

The Unstorm of the Year

Several days ago, the Weather Channel named the storm they were predicting for our area of the world.  They called it “Ajax” and predicted up to half-a-foot of snow, terrible winds, blizzard like condition and treacherous travel.  Roads will be impassable!  Entire cities will shut down!  Life in the West would come to a screeching halt!  Hoard the milk and bread!

So it was with considerable trepidation that I pulled back the curtains this morning to look outside.  This is what I found.  Oh the humanity.

Winter Storm Ajax

We will rebuild!


childhood memories, photography, weather house, writing

Yo de le he hoo – a childhood memory

BarometerAs part of my Daily Photo Challenge: A Childhood Memory.

This barometer hung in my parents’ garage for years.  Its origins are sketchy, but I can’t  remember a time it wasn’t sitting on a shelf in the garage of my childhood home.  When my parents moved to a house without stairs to navigate in their twilight years, the barometer went with them and took up residence on top of their freezer.  I recently claimed it as my own and brought it home to Yoder.

I remember asking my father about it’s purpose one day.  He smiled and said it was a barometer, which was a tool for measuring atmospheric pressure.  When the man came out, the weather was changing for the worse.  When the woman came out, the weather was changing for the better.

After my illicit appropriation of the little house, I did some Internet research.  I’ve discovered that it’s a hygrometer, not a barometer.  It is what’s known as a German Weather House, made by the Toggili company.  They’ve been around for more than 200 years, with this one being made sometime in the mid-20th century, probably shortly after World War II.  They have become something of a collector’s item, selling on eBay an other auction sites for as much as $300, depending on craftsmanship and condition.

The engineering behind these ingenious and charming weather forecasters is a twisted stand of natural material, usually string or cat gut. This strand absorbs water molecules from moist, humid air. It then relaxes causing the man to come out. He represents change and rainy weather. When the surrounding atmosphere is dry, the strand shrinks and tightens up, causing the girl to come out. As in the fairer sex, she represents dry and fair weather.

But I think mine is broken.  I distinctly remember my dad telling me if the conditions were just right, the woman would come out her side and yodel.  Now, 32 years later, and nary a Yodel-oh-ee-dee from the Frau.  🙂


pheasants, photography, Weekly Photo Challenge

Naturally Ornate

Ornate Pheasant Plumage“Forget about subdued and restrained. This week, let’s embrace the breathtakingly extravagant.” From the Weekly Photo Challenge – Ornate

I think most people associate the word “Ornate” with something man-made… a building, a dress, a sculpture.  But nature has some animals that are always dressed to impress.  And few creatures are more ostentatious than those living just outside my backdoor.  The Chinese Ring-Necked pheasant rooster is a study in extravagant plumage.  The males’ feathers are an iridescent mixture of copper, gold, black, purple, green and crisp white.  Their feathers glisten and shimmer in the sun changing texture and color as the rooster scampers about.  Pheasant feathers are popular adornments in home decor, hats, crafts and for tying artificial flies.  But I think the feathers are most beautiful in their original form, cruising the plains on a wing and a song.


Children, nature, outdoors, parenting

Life is too short for clean fingernails

Emily Dirt Pile 2One of Wyokiddo’s favorite spots to play is the gravel pile outside our back yard.  It’s big, it’s messy, it’s fun.  Some days, she just likes to climb to the top and sit there.  Other days, she arranges the rocks in pretty patterns, then watch as she tumbles them down the hill.   Occasionally, she’ll reenact a wilderness rescue or pretend to be on a bear hunt.

I don’t tell her how to play on the dirt pile.  Or to not get her clothes dirty.  I’ll help her ascend the mountain and then stand back and watch her be a kid.

Today, she was having fun on the dirt pile pretending the rocks were confetti and she was throwing a surprise party.  She gather a handful of rocks, shriek “SURPRISE!” and throw them up in the air, all the while giggling her tinkly little 3-year old giggle.

Music to my ears and salve to my soul.

I let my little preschooler romp and get dirty outdoors for a lot of different reasons.  Getting dirty helps with allergies and asthma and a host of skin disorders.  Getting dirty stimulates her senses.  Climbing and digging and playing helps build her little muscles and coordination.  It burns off her endless energy.  And it’s just plain fun.

One of my favorite books from my days in the professional world was Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Kids from Nature-Deficit Disorder, by Richard Louv.  Louv’s book deals with the growing disconnect between society and the environment, especially as it pertains to children.  Louv builds a case for some of society’s problems being caused by a lack of time outside, unstructured, in nature.  He advocates for immersing our children in nature for the social, physical and physiologically benefits.

“In our bones we need the natural curves of hills, the scent of chaparral, the whisper of pines, the possibility of wildness.”  –Richard Louv

I’m not a social scientist or psychologist.  But it doesn’t take an expert to realize playing outside, in then fresh air with room to let your imagination run wild is a pretty darn healthy and happy way to grow up.

So let them eat dirt.  Or at least roll around in it.


P.S.  If you’ve never read Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Kids from Nature-Deficit Disorder, I highly recommend it.  He’s admittedly short on empirical proof to back up some of his claims, but the basic idea that we are losing something when we remove ourselves and our kids from nature has merit.  It will inspire you to turn off the electronics and get your kids outside, and it gives you ideas and suggestions on how to do it.

dogs, pets, photography, writing

Give me an old dog

Roxy DogThis is Roxy.  She is one of three members of our motley crew of dogs.  I tend to think of her as as my pup, because our other two dogs are both 12 years old.  But looking at this photo reminds me that she is no spring chicken.  She’s 8 this year, and if you look close she’s starting to show her age.

Our neighbor up the road has a lab puppy that comes to play at our house on occasion.  Wyokiddo is in love with the puppy, and says the puppy is her favorite dog in the whole wide world.

I understand.  Puppies are fun.  They are cute.  They have sweet faces that you just want to smooch on.  Everyone loves puppies.  But for me, there’s nothing better than a loyal old dog.  A dog that let’s my 3-year old dress her up in play jewelry or climbs up the plastic slide just because the 3-yeard old asked her to.  A dog that lays at the threshold of Outdoor Guy’s closed bedroom door because he wants to be close to his master at all times.  A dog that  knows when I am sad and offers his head for a scratch because he wants to make me feel better.  A defender.  A protector. A friend.

Our dogs have a lot of miles on them.  But I know we are all better for the journey.

“Dog ownership is like a rainbow.  Puppies are the joy at one end. And old dogs the treasure at the other.” Carolyn Alexander



Dear Wyoming: A Love Letter

“I want you to know; there came a day when I stood in the street of a bustling city suburb—and tears streaked my face.”

This is one of the most beautiful and achingly accurate things I’ve ever read about our state. Reading this was a punch in the gut. These words just took me back so many years to a fresh-faced me just out of the University of Wyoming, standing in downtown Indianapolis. I was living there, working my first job out of college and missing my home state so much I ached inside. Until that moment, I didn’t know it was possible to be surrounded by so many people and feel so, so lonely.

I had a very lucrative offer to stay in Indiana for the next three years. But I knew my heart wasn’t in Indiana. It was in Wyoming. In her wide open spaces and endless night skies. So I came back to my beloved Wyoming. And eventually, I was me again.

Reading this reminds me of a a poster that hung on my office wall in Indianapolis almost two decades ago. It showed a photo of the mountains and a carpet of wildflowers, with three simple words at the bottom…

Wyoming is home.

And God willing for me and mine, it always will be.

Dear Wyoming,

I want you to know; even when we’ve been apart, you’ve been a part of me.

I want you to know; in the beginning, I didn’t know how fortunate I was to have you. I took for granted the freedoms you afforded me. Maybe it’s the view from my rose tinted glasses, but I recall a childhood of vast spaces to explore, mountains to climb, rivers to ride, and the absence of so many barriers common place for so many. I didn’t appreciate such gifts until they were no longer mine for the taking.

I want you to know; there came a day when I stood in the street of a bustling city suburb—and tears streaked my face. I found myself surrounded by too much that was all too close. Your absence reminded me of who I was—and I needed to be her again.

I want you to…

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agriculture education, FFA, writing

To The Jacket Hanging In My Closet

I came across this blog post in my Facebook news feed today. Reading it brought tears to my eyes, because I know exactly how that girl feels. It’s a sad moment when you hang up your FFA jacket. You know you are closing a chapter in your life. And it’s hard. I’d imagine athletes, military members and others who have dedicated their careers in service of an organization have much the same feelings.

It’s been 19 years since I took my jacket off for the last time. It was after the 1996 National FFA Convention in Kansas City, Missouri. I had run for, but not received, a national office. I was devastated and angry. A national office was something I had been dreaming about for years, and I’d put in hundreds of hours of work in preparation, but fallen a bit short of my ultimate goal.

In a bit of a temper tantrum and feeling sorry for myself, I pulled off my jacket and stuffed it in my backpack. I replaced it with a college sweatshirt. My parents were giving me a ride to the airport so I could catch my flight home, while they would drive the 1000 miles back to Wyoming. My dad had been watching me in the rear view mirror noticed what I’d done. As I climbed out of the car, he gave me a hug and nodded at my back pack.

“It’s gotten you this far. Don’t you think it deserves a little more respect than that?” he asked me. “Finish your FFA career just like you started it, proud as hell to be wearing that jacket.”

I don’t remember what I said back to him. I just remember grabbing my backpack and my bag and running for the comfort of the airport.

As my United flight winged me across the black night back to the Rocky Mountains, I thought about what my dad had told me. And he was right. I didn’t want my FFA career to end this way. The organization had given me too much. The jacket had carried me too far. I was too proud of being an FFA member to skulk around like a sullen teenager who hadn’t gotten her way.

So when my flight landed, I got my bag from the overhead bin, put my FFA jacket back on, and went to collect my luggage.

As I stood in line for a late dinner in the terminal, the lady at the counter asked what flight crew I was with.

“I’m not with an airline. I’m an FFA member,” I remember telling her proudly. Then I fingered the sleeve of my corduroy jacket with love. It definitely deserved some serious respect.

Proud as hell, indeed.

Rebecca Klump


I know you inside and out. On the inside you’re filled with pins and accomplishments, in the left pocket is a piece of paper that reads, “Understanding”, and on the right elbow is a stain from cupcake icing. On the front is my name and on the back says where I’m from. You’re hot in the summer and cold in the winter. You were my life for five years, and today I took you off for the last time; so there you hang in my closet.

Since I was fourteen, you taught me lessons most don’t learn until they’re well into adulthood. I can nail the perfect job interview and give a strong handshake, interact with a room full of strangers, and run a proper meeting. You taught me to give the perfect sale’s pitch and even how to properly ask for a donation to support a good cause. You…

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