Westernaires' Keller to receive 2014's "Friend of the National Western"

Dec 20, 2013
by WLJ

As a local institution now in its 65th year, the Westernaires mounted drill team of Jefferson County, CO, is as much a part of today’s National Western Stock Show and Rodeo as the historic stadium arena and the stockyards themselves.

Anybody who has attended a rodeo performance at the National Western—or one of dozens of other performance venues over the course of a typical year—has marveled at the intricate and heart-racing precision drills executed by teenage riders who have learned their craft under the tutelage and leadership of Glen Keller, Jr.

Now entering his fourth decade as Director of the Westernaires, Keller will be honored for his many years of service and contributions to the National Western Stock Show at the Red Meat Club of Denver’s annual dinner on Jan. 16, 2014. The Red Meat Club dinner recognizes and celebrates the importance of both the red meat industry and the National Western to the Rocky Mountain West, and since 1993 has honored an individual or family each year for their contribution of time, talent and leadership to the National Western.

“Glen represents the quality of individual that the National Western relies upon year in and year out,” said Paul Andrews, President and CEO of the National Western Stock Show. “As the leader of the Westernaires, he’s left a lasting mark on this institution and our hundreds of thousands of visitors, and sets the bar as a true friend of the National Western.”

The Westernaires is a nonprofit organization currently serving more than 1,000 dedicated youth ages 9-19, guided by a mission statement that encourages responsibility, leadership, and self-respect through horsemanship and family participation. To that end, the Westernaires not only trains these young people to utilize their horsemanship skills in the best traditions of the West, but prepares them for future success as individuals, as well.

“One of our riders recently wrote me with thanks not just for how Westernaires had shaped her as a rider, but for how she had been shaped as a person in order to be more successful in life after Westernaires,” Keller recalled.

“That note of thanks focused on the power of responsibility and discipline that we try to provide within an encouraging environment. I think that’s the best explanation I can give of what we try to accomplish as an organization.”

After first appearing in a “kids’ day” activity at Stock Show in 1954, the Westernaires first performed at the rodeo in 1956 and have been a part of every year’s rodeo in some capacity ever since. To Keller, that durable and lasting relationship comes easy.

“It remains one of my personal great loves to be involved and for the Westernaires to be able to contribute to the Colorado community in this way.”

Keller grew up in Longmont, CO, obsessed from his childhood days with horses, cowboys and the West. His skills as a horseman, however, took a back seat as he completed law school at the University of Denver and embarked upon a lifelong legal career, including eight years of service on the federal bench as U.S. Bankruptcy Judge for the District of Colorado and two years as an assistant attorney general for the State of Colorado in the fields of banking and savings and loan law.

Keller later taught aspiring law students as an adjunct professor of law at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law for 25 years, and although he is now retired from active legal practice he remains active as Senior of Counsel with Denver’s Davis Graham & Stubbs law firm.

But even the demands of a successful legal career couldn’t keep Keller away from horses. After first seeing the Westernaires perform at a horse show in 1976, Keller became an active participant, first as a parent volunteer and later as a key assistant to Elmer Wyland, the founder of the Westernaires and the only other director in the group’s 64-year history. Keller took over the reins from Wyland in 1983, and hasn’t looked back.

Keller calls it an honor to perform at the National Western, but is also quick to point out that what people see at the rodeo might obscure just how many youth are served by the organization and just how deeply committed they are to the January institution. “Most people don’t realize that we are 1,000 young people, and at the National Western rodeos they only see the cream of the crop,” Keller explains. In addition to every rodeo performance, the group has entertained at the Wild West Show, at the annual Boots ‘n Business luncheon, and as part of the Evening with Dancing Horses performances.

“Quite a plate-full for a ‘kids group,’” Keller quips.

As 2009 Friend of the National Western honoree Virgil Holtgrewe sees it, Keller’s body of work is really about education. Having called Keller both a professional colleague and personal friend for many years, Holtgrewe explains that “education is really a continuing process for youth and adults. The full impact of Glen’s work only begins with the education that these kids get just by being a Westernaire. It continues to grow as those kids develop into responsible adults themselves and through their personal skills and maturity are able to educate and lead others.”

For additional information regarding reservations and attendance to the Jan. 16 Red Meat Club dinner, please email ahall@nationalwestern. com. — Bret Fox, Chairman of the Red Meat Club of Denver.