Mike Terry, Deseret News
Desiree Cooper-Larsen rides at the Ogden Pioneer Days Rodeo. The Weber State professor is the first woman to chair the celebration in its 75-year history.

Forgive Desiree Cooper-Larsen if she doesn't look very rough around the edges.

While she possesses all the toughness the sport of rodeo prides itself on, she shows none of the wear and tear.

Don't, however, mistake her soft smile, good manners and fashionable attire for weakness. She is, in every sense of the title, the head honcho of the Ogden Pioneer Days Celebration — including its rodeo, which is regarded as one of the state's best.

A professor of technical sales at Weber State University, Cooper-Larsen is the first woman to chair the celebration in its 75-year history.

Throw that fact at her and she politely and matter-of-factly deals with it, just as she does any problem that arises in the city's weeklong celebration.

"In the rodeo industry there are a lot of males directing different rodeo committees, so I guess it's kind of interesting," she said. "It's an honor."

Does she ever feel out of place among cowboys, horsemen and stock contractors?

"No," she smiles. "I was raised with the sport. I love the sport."

In fact, sometimes she sees her gender as an advantage when planning events to commemorate Pioneer Days.

"I think you need a woman's touch," she said. "We think differently than men. We see the emotional side, the customer's side."

For her, it is also a natural progression of her lifetime involvement in the sport.

"I was a Miss Rodeo Utah and on the committee for 11 years," she said. "So I've always been involved."

Shepherding the rodeo might be her most visible role but it is not her only concern.

She is the committee chairwoman for the entire celebration, which includes three parades, art exhibits, a film festival and the Miss Rodeo Utah pageant.

"It's 40 different events and activities," Larsen said. "It takes a total team effort and we have a great team. That's the only way this can happen."

And consider that she does it all on her own time without pay.

"It's a full-time job," she said, acknowledging she takes time off work to fulfill her duties. "I was raised in a rodeo family. My dad was a bareback rider. It was in my blood. Once it's in your blood, you're in the rodeo family."

Larsen said she loves all aspects of the Ogden Pioneer Days celebration but none more than the rodeo.

"It's the only sport where the guy in first or second place will go out of his way to help the other (competitors). It's the only sport I've ever seen it in," she said.

The celebration's theme this year was, "A tradition — Make it yours."

She said she doesn't understand how anyone can live in the shadow of the Pioneer Days Celebration and not partake, especially of the rodeo.

"I talk to people who say they went to the rodeo as kids, but they don't take their kids," she said. With larger crowds than usual, including a nearly sold out arena at several shows, she's hoping that mind-set is changing.

"Hopefully people are finding out it's something fun for the whole family," she said.

The Ogden Pioneer Days celebration has not always been viewed as one of the best.

"There was a time when the excitement and energy wasn't here," she said. "But it's back. We've worked really hard to get it back... We have the best stock, the best announcer and the best riders. It's moving fast and it's exciting."

Larsen doesn't see a day when she's not up to her shiny, silver belt buckle in planning or organizing in some way for the weeklong celebration.

"It's my hobby, my passion, my life, until July 25," she said. "And then it will start all over because next year is our 75th anniversary."

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