Molalla Pioneer News – Russell Bassett

Cowboys and Kids, a nonprofit organization that uses the cowboy philosophy to help children build character and make positive choices, visited Molalla last week.

Penny Conway, the organization’s president and founder, brought her message of cowboy values to all the Molalla River School District elementary schools and Country Christian School.

Current Molalla Buckeroo Queen Kaylee Cooper and Princess Kimberly Allen joined Conway in the schools.

The program they presented, named “The Code of the West,” taught character traits, western heritage and rodeo judging using videos, posters and interactive games.

The main character traits discussed were trustworthiness, respect, responsibility and positive attitudes. Conway, who lives in Arizona, said these are the traits American cowboys and children need to succeed.

“There is something about the American cowboy,” said Conway, a former Women’s Professional Rodeo Association team roper world champion. “People want those roots back. It’s about living with integrity throughout your life.”

At the start of the presentation, Conway showed a film of cowboys riding bulls and broncos.

“I’ve been in schools filled with gangs and security everywhere, but the rodeo hook always causes them to listen,” she said.

Viola Grandel, fourth grade teacher at Country Christian, said the presentation provided some insight into rodeo life.

“It’s more than just a show, it’s an actual sport,” Grandel said. “The cowboys who participate are real people who are graded on different things.”

During the rodeo video, Conway explained how bull and bronc rides are scored.

“I think the kids will enjoy going to the rodeo more now,” Grandel said.

Greg Hillhouse, a member of the Molalla Buckeroo Association, is hoping that’s true.

“We want to bring the Buckeroo and the community back together,” Hillhouse said. “One of the ways we can get the word out to the community is through the kids.”

The Buckeroo Association sponsored Cowboys and Kids visit to Molalla. They also gave free rodeo tickets to all the children who attended the presentations.

Andrew Axmaker, a Country Christian third grader, said he learned a lot about cowboys and rodeos from Conway.

“We got to see excellent clips of rodeos and I learned about how to judge (rodeo riding events),” Axmaker said.

He also said he learned cowboys “have to treat their animals with respect” and they “have to care about others.”

“You have to be responsible or others might not want to play with you,” Axmaker said.

According to Conway, Cowboys and Kids speaks to between 150,000 and 200,000 children a year and travels throughout the country “using the ways of the West to find the way to the heart.”

This is the second year the Molalla Buckeroo Association has sponsored Cowboys and Kids in Molalla schools.

For more information, check out the Cowboys for Kids Web site at