July 13, 2013
Scott Bartlett is your quintessential western cowboy hero - he wears the hat, the boots and fights tirelessly to protect lives.
The 41-year-old Woodland Park resident was able to light up a room full of senior citizens at the Sunny Vista Senior Living Center on Friday afternoon, all in a day's work. Since the residents couldn't make it to the rodeo, Bartlett brought the rodeo to them.
As some 23 state rodeo queens mingled with residents at Sunny Vista, reading, visiting and singing amongst a mostly wheelchair-bound audience, Bartlett's compassion was clear.
It's not always such a picturesque job, though.
Bartlett, who has the difficult task serving as the ombudsman for the Area Agency on Aging as part of the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments, visits area nursing homes and assisted living facilities checking for violations and protecting the rights of senior citizens.
When something goes terribly wrong, he rides to the rescue.
"My job is all about conflict," he said. "It can be anything from cold coffee to a sexual assault. Our job is to make sure that their rights are protected, that they are getting good care and that they have an opportunity to live their life to the fullest extent."
On Friday, however, Bartlett was a just a face in the crowd. Instead of the nervous reaction his visits usually elicit at places like Sunny Vista, employees were glad to see him - and his entourage.
The queens, in town for the 73rd annual Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo, also visited three other facilities this week. The group travels across the nation to rodeos and other western events, making appearances at schools, hospitals, and, this week, nursing homes.
"They are going to be talking about this for months, I'm sure," Carrie Raynor, admissions director at the facility, said of the residents. "They're going to have to come back next year."
Siegy Denton, 72, was beaming after one of the queens came and introduced herself.
"I used to go to the rodeo in my young days," she said, adding that being with the girls returned her to an earlier time.
Denton's reaction is exactly what Bartlett was hoping for. He began working as an ombudsman eight years ago after studying agriculture in college, but after learning how to care for others, he was hooked: "I started off working with plants and ended up helping people."
Drawn to the cowboy life, Bartlett wished there was a way he could link his two passions through his work. He thought about the public service of the rodeo queen program and suddenly it clicked.
"The reason this stood out to me is that there are a number of individuals in long-term care who are former ranch owners," he said. "They are cowboys and cowgirls who aren't connected to that life anymore."
Now, thanks to his hard work, the program is considering adding nursing home visits to its long list of other charitable endeavors.
"This is different," Bartlett said. "I don't remember seeing anything like this before."
Miss Rodeo Nevada, Tara Bowlby, said this week's visits have been incredible, giving her the chance to meet a wide range of people with stories reaching back decades.
"I have actually found a lot of people in Colorado who've been to my hometown in Reno," she said. "It's kind of amazing to see how far our reach really extends."
Miss Rodeo Kansas had 92-year-old Lois Ducette, who said she never liked rodeos when she was younger, admiring the queens' western get-up.
Asked if she hopes the queens will return next year, Ducette said, unequivocally, yes. Since her stay at Sunny Vista is permanent, a visit would offer another rare break in the norm and an exciting taste of the outside world.
"My kids say this is where I'm going to live for the rest of my life," Ducette said, "so I'm looking forward to it."
Contact Jesse Paul at 636-0253. Twitter: @JesseAPaul