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Museum recognizes cowboy

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum and the Rodeo Historical Society honored Chuck Sylvester as the recipient of the Ben Johnson Memorial Award on Nov. 12 during the Rodeo Hall of Fame Weekend in Oklahoma City, Okla. The award has been given annually since 1998. Chuck became the 24th cowboy to receive the award. He served as the general manager for the National Western Stock Show (NWSS) in Denver, Colo. from 1978-2003. 

Memorial award

The Rodeo Historical Society presented its first Ben Johnson Award in October of 1998, during the unveiling of a bronze statue of Ben Johnson Jr. The bronze, created by Mehl Lawson, currently resides in the museum’s American Rodeo Gallery. This annual award is given to a living person who has been involved in the rodeo industry and has contributed to the growth and betterment of professional rodeo. A pre-requisite also includes involvement with youth and community activities. The recipient must be someone who creates a positive image for rodeo and the Western lifestyle. 

As the 2022 honoree, Chuck joins several other recipients. In the past 10 years, he joins: Carl Nafzger, 2020; Doug Clark, 2019; Clyde Frost, 2018; Kelly Riley, 2017; Jack Roddy, 2016; Mike Cervi, 2015; Joe Beaver, 2014; Tater Decker, 2013; Bill Smith, 2012; Walt Garrison, 2011; and Dan Oliver, 2010. 


Chuck grew up on his family’s farm near Greeley, Colo., where he continues to work to this day. From a young age, he had a love and passion for the NWSS. 

“I always had a dream of working for the stock show, and my dream was enhanced in 1952, when I was in 4-H in Weld County and had showed a steer at the stock show which placed second in the competition,” shares Chuck.  

He says the year 1952 was a monumental year because it was a year the stock show dedicated the coliseum for the NWSS. 

“I had never seen such a big building in my life and never dreamed I would be back 25 years later and wishing it was bigger,” he notes. “But, thanks to great staff we did make the event bigger and grew its crowds.” 

While attending Colorado State University, he was an active member of the rodeo club and competed in the Little National Western Stock Show and the Skyline  Stampede Rodeo. He shares, one of his monumental jobs during his post-secondary education was being a Boulder County Extension agent. In 1961, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in animal science and a master’s degree in ag economics in 1985. 

Prior to his involvement as the NWSS general manager, he served as the manager of the NWSS yards operation from 1975-78. 

“I really enjoyed being in the yards, because to me it’s the backbone of the stock show,” Chuck says. 

His accolades and involvement in the rodeo and agriculture industry are miles long. In addition to his involvement with the stock show, he has judged and assisted with many national and 4-H programs, was the executive producer of “There’s Got to be a Pony,” a past president and director of the Godfrey Ditch Company and has been on the Weld County Fair Board as chairman, and many others. 

He has also been a cattle rancher on his Wyoming ranches for over 50 years. After a tragic snow blizzard, he sold out of his cattle, but still has ties to Wyoming. Today, he leases his Circle Bar Ranch west of Casper and other properties in Wyoming in the Torrington-Lingle valley.   

Stock show manager  

During his tenure as the general manager, Chuck was responsible for managing the rodeo, stock and horse shows. Throughout his career the event grew from a nine-day event to a 16-day event. Under his leadership, the stock show was honored and voted as the best Indoor Rodeo of the Year in 1997, 2000 and 2001. 

He organized the Draft Horse Show and Pull in 1982 for the NWSS 75th Anniversary and developed the Dancing Horses Event in the horse show, in addition to organizing school tours and supporting youth programs. Chuck had a hand in expanding the stock show in many different ways. In 1995, a new building was opened – the Equestrian Center. 

For Chuck, a Western lifestyle is the best lifestyle, and to receive this award means a lot to him. 

“I was very honored to receive this award,” says Chuck. “Ben Johnson was a movie actor in John Wayne movies, but also a cowboy and won a national championship in team roping. He had a love for the cowboy lifestyle.” 

“The award meant a lot to me because I had the chance to meet Ben Johnson when I worked at the stock show,” he adds. “We had a cutting horse competition as a specialty act during the rodeo – we would have three individuals come out to participate in the cutting and people really enjoyed it. One year, we decided to have a celebrity cutting. During the contest, I was fortunate to have a brief conversation with Ben Johnson, and a few years later Mike Cervi ran into Ben and he had told Mike to tell me hello – it meant a lot to me.” 

“He was a dignified man, but had a lot of respect for his friends,” he says. “I’ve learned you can’t do things alone. In my case, for most of my 45 years of employment, I was looking for someone else to help do the job.” 

Chuck credits the staff he worked with for a lot of his success with the stock show. 

“I’ve had some enjoyable years and my dream came true – I never dreamt I would become general manager, but what an honor,” shares Chuck. “To meet so many great people and all because of thousands of friends and hundreds of great staff, it’s something I couldn’t have done alone.” 

Rodeo Hall of Fame Weekend

Opened in 1965, The National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum honors and memorializes the men and women who have perpetuated the heritage of the American West. The museum works to preserve the heritage and support the legacy and honor champions. 

During the event, several cowboys and cowgirls were inducted into the museum. The National Rodeo Hall of Fame 2022 Inductees include: Guy Allen, steer roping; Gary Gist, team roping; Cleo L. Hearn, tie-down roping, team roping and steer roping; Butch Kirby, bull riding; Kaye Kirby, bull riding, steer wrestling, bareback and saddle bronc riding; Sandy Kirby, bull riding, steer wrestling, bareback and saddle bronc riding; Tom Reeves, saddle bronc; Tee Woolman, team roping, steer roping and tie-down roping; Ben Bates, tie-down roping, steer wrestling, stunts and team roping; and Jack Beutler, stock contractor and steer riding.

In addition, Martha Josey was awarded the Tad Lucas Award and Jeff Medders was awarded the Director’s Choice Award. 

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Brittany Gunn is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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