Longtime CFD Volunteer Helps Recruit, Shape Youth Volunteers

Cheyenne’s Cindy Braden marks four decades serving event ‘rooted in the souls of people’

Cindy Braden has volunteered with Cheyenne Frontier Days (CFD) for over 40 years. She was the first woman Volunteer of the Year and officer in the HEELS volunteer organization. (Courtesy photo from Cindy Braden)

By Elizabeth Sampson

Special to the Wyoming Truth

The year was 1982. Hairstyles were big, and Willie Nelson’s “You Were Always on My Mind” was topping the charts. Ronald Reagan was in his first term as president, and Cheyenne’s Cindy Braden was a first-time volunteer for Cheyenne Frontier Days (CFD).

In the four decades since, she has lent her time and talents to everything from cleaning up chuckwagon race accidents to heading up HEELS, the governing body for CFD volunteers.

Since 2021, Braden has exercised her volunteer muscle as a co-youth director. She keeps the CFD youth volunteers on the move during the 10-day outdoor rodeo, as well as throughout the year. Braden and her co-director, Ginni Stevens, lead 40 youth between the ages of 12 and 18 in their CFD volunteer activities.

It takes a team of about 3,000 volunteers, many working behind the scenes, to put on CFD, the “Daddy of ‘Em All” as the world’s largest outdoor rodeo and celebration of Western culture.

“The [adult] volunteers are aging out, and so the youth volunteers are very important to the future of Frontier Days,” Braden, 72, said, noting that some come from families with extensive CFD volunteer history, while others have no family connection.

Pictured above are the 2022 CFD youth volunteers. Cindy Braden (back row, third from the left) became co-director of the group in 2021. (Courtesy photo from Cindy Braden) 

Braden added her youth volunteers are hardworking and embrace their tasks.

“You ask them to do a job, and they do it in half the time,” she said.

Braden assigns youth volunteers to each of the nine committees, enabling them to get exposure to each group’s function. Two mentors from every committee serve as points of contact for them during CFD.

“When they come of age to become a volunteer, they can have an idea of where they want to go,” Braden said. “Hopefully, they’ll join a committee and go on to be long-time volunteers.”

Braden keeps tabs on the youth volunteers wherever they may be. She joins them throughout the week on Cheyenne’s Depot Plaza, where they help serve about 100,000 pancakes to visitors, and at the Indian Village, where they assist with kids’ crafts. On parade mornings, she is downtown checking on those who help the parade marshals. During the night shows, she checks on youth volunteers who assist with Tunes on the Terrace, a VIP concert experience that includes private space, food and drinks.

The youth help the caterers prepare food for the entertainers, assist with Behind the Chutes tours and move historic wagons around on volunteer work days. They also put their digital knowledge to use, showing attendees how to make their tickets digital so they can move through the line faster.

An adventure-filled tenure

Prior to becoming the co-youth director, Braden wore many volunteer hats and enjoyed  a variety of adventures along the way. She started out opening the gate for the chuckwagon races and came face-to-face with many careening horses.

“You’d be out there unsuspectingly watching, and all of a sudden here’s a team of thoroughbred teeth running at you it looked like,” she laughed. “It was thrilling.”

While helping with the contract acts, she once had to pitch in to catch a longhorn steer that got away.

Longtime CFD volunteer Cindy Braden has fond memories of working with junior barrel racers. “I’ve watched these little kids, and they grow up to be pickup men or ropers and Dandies, and they go on to be queens,” she said. (Courtesy photo from Cindy Braden) 

“My horse wasn’t real wild about that one, but we helped take care of that,” she recalled.

As a member of the horseback emergency team for the chuckwagon races, she helped out with wagon wrecks.

“We would rush to the situation, and my job was to gather up all my team’s horses to get them out of the way,” she said. “I kept our horses safe while they were working with the other ones.”

She was the crew chief of the junior barrel racing for years, helping 30 Laramie County children aged 12 and under get ready for their run around the barrels.

“They were lined up to race, and they were almost throwing up they were so nervous,” Braden remembered. “You’d try to stand there and talk them down, and give them a little relaxation, and make sure they are OK with what they’re doing.”

The time she managed the junior barrel races are her favorite memories of volunteering.

“I’ve watched these little kids, and they grow up to be pickup men or ropers and Dandies, and they go on to be queens,” Braden said. “It used to be that I watched these kids grow up. I feel like I had a hand in it, some of it.”

Braden was the first woman named Volunteer of the Year in 1998 and  the first woman  elected as HEELS president.

Mike Mabee, who spent years as a CFD volunteer with Braden, called her a “go-getter” who seeks out tasks and is full of enthusiasm.

“If she’s involved, she will get the thing up and moving and make it work,” Mabee said.

Braden encourages everyone to volunteer for CFD, noting her father started volunteering in the 1930s, bringing his team of horses to help drive wagons in the parade. Her siblings, husband and children have all volunteered as well.

“I think it’s rooted in the souls of people that have lived here a long time,” Braden said. “It’s just a big old family out there. Every time July rolls around, you see people that come to Cheyenne to volunteer, so it’s like a family reunion really.”

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