It’s always a good day when the McDowell family turns up in my Facebook feed. Heather is usually good for a laugh, Charlie is trying to grow into his hat, or Sam is off with his cows. But this time, it was Monica McDowell that was the star of the show. She is the Montana Pro-Rodeo Hall and Wall of Fame 2017 Western Lady of the Year Award.

Monica earned the award because of her work with the Bridger Youth Rodeo, work that she and Sam have been doing for over 30 years. Together, they’ve been the driving force that kept it going in order to give kids a place to start rodeoing. Sam or one of his rodeo friends would judge the events while Monica organized sponsors and donations, filed the entries, sold tickets, found someone to do the concession stand, and others to clean up. They were the Bridger Youth Rodeo from start to finish.

When I asked Monica why she and Sam thought it so important for there to be a youth rodeo in Bridger, she said, “We thought that we needed to keep it going or else there would not have been one. We liked seeing how kids mature and develop, the friends that they make that they have forever. They help one another and learn responsibility. They learn to take care of horses, to keep things in shape. It’s not like basketball. There are no politics, it’s not who your parents are. It’s just what you can do.”

Montana Pro-Rodeo Hall and Wall of Fame organization grants the Western Lady of the Year award to a Montana woman. 2016 was the inaugural year for the Western Lady of the Year award, and Dorothy Linderman earned that honor. The organization was started as a way to try and help high-school kids with college. Each year, the organization gives ten high-school seniors, five young men and five young women, $3,000 towards their first year of higher education. They also provide Miss Rodeo Montana and Miss High-School Rodeo Montana $3,000 each as well towards their education.

When Monica found out that she was to be honored with the 2017 award, she said, “I was flabbergasted. I never even thought about it. Thousands of women who do what I do, and it could have been a lot of other people.”

We don’t think so, Monica, because we think you’re pretty special. Congratulations, and thanks for all you do for the rodeo community and for Bridger.

Author’s note: The photo credits here belong to Heather McDowell and to Sue Knighton. I swiped the award photos from Heather’s Facebook page, and Sue Knighton is a longtime photographer of the Bridger Youth Rodeo.