Northern Colorado’s Gene and Dean Olson, 73, are rodeo men.
“We always had horses at the house and started rodeoing in junior high at the youth rodeos and went to college and rodeoed in the college circuit,” Gene said. “We both started team roping before we went to college.”
In the summers, they still manage to practice twice a week and will head out for weekend jackpots or team ropings, but team roping isn’t the only endeavor the twins have pursued together.
“Dean joined [the Larimer County Sheriff’s Posse] first, 45 years ago,” Gene said. “He got me interested in it, so, three years later, I joined. I did the training at the Academy and everything that’s required and stayed a Posse for 43 years.”
“Posse” comes from the Latin term posse comitatus, which translates as “power of the county.” In applicable terms, a sheriff’s posse is a group of volunteer citizens who have been deputized by the county to operate as peacekeepers in times of need. Depending on the training they’ve undergone, Posse members can operate in the same capacity as a street deputy, according to Gene.
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“The Academy, when you first go through it, that’s twice a week and every Saturday and that goes on for five months. And the pistol qualifications, we usually have to qualify every quarter with our service weapons. So, if you’re P.O.S.T.-certified (Peace Officer Standards and Training), then you’re doing the same thing that a street deputy does. But our time is strictly voluntary.”
When asked what would compel a person to volunteer for such rigorous training and commitments for 43 years, Gene’s rodeo roots begin to show.
“It’s just a way to give back to the community. The Posse puts on a youth rodeo every year out at Larimer County Fair. I’ve produced that for the last 35 years and I stepped down this last year. We do a lot of work with the Santa Cop program. We help out in the communities, like the severe fires that we’ve had. … It’s a challenge, but you just go do it. That’s what we do.”
Of course, all of these commitments occur outside of Posse members’ work schedules, explains Gene, who spent 35 years of his career with camera giant Eastman Kodak running heavy equipment and then supervising their maintenance department. After retiring from there, he then spent a few more years with Poudre Valley Co-op, a local agricultural supply store.
During Colorado’s High Park fire in 2012, Gene credits his supervisor with making it possible for Gene to volunteer.
“My supervisor … knew how important it was to get the animals out of there and he worked with me a lot. The nights I was out all night long bringing in animals, all I had to do was give him a phone call and just tell him I was out all night and just getting home, and he’d give me a break. He’d say, ‘Lay down and rest and if you come in later this afternoon, that’d be great.’ Of course, on the weekends, we were out 24/7.”
The Posse isn’t all hard work and long hours, though. In fact, some of Gene’s greatest accomplishments in the rodeo arena were courtesy of the Posse.
“All the posses that were in the state of Colorado, we used to get together and have a state finals rodeo every year someplace in the state. I went to 38 of them in my 43-year career in the Posse, and I’ve got 93 first-place buckles and 14 All-Around Cowboy buckles. So that’s a big accomplishment for me.”
During an era in which posses across the state were in decline, the state finals came to an end, and Gene has turned over the reins of the Larimer County Youth Rodeo, but he’s won a few checks roping horns in the past year and is involved in the youth rodeo as much today as ever.
“I competed in it when I was a kid and my two daughters competed in it through the years, and now my grandkids are competing in it. One is 16, one 13, one 10. My oldest granddaughter is a team roper. And my little granddaughter, she runs barrels and is learning to rope calves. And my grandson, he helps on the ranch quite a bit that his mom and dad run, and he rides every day and he’s learning to rope and start out that way. It’s a rodeo family.”