Behind the Scenes

March 1, 2007 by  
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Floyd lends a hand to ensure that Rodeo Houston is a world-class affair

It’s rodeo time in Houston — the 75th anniversary Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, to be precise! As Houston’s biggest charity, HLSR’s attendance could top 1.75 million this year. An army of volunteers enables prices to stay low, while proceeds support educational programs in Texas schools. In 75 years, HLSR has given more than $200 million to support the youth of Texas. The first direct college scholarship was bestowed 50 years ago in honor of the 25th anniversary show; and this past fall, nearly 2,000 students went to college on direct HLSR scholarships.

RodeoHouston is an entertainment extravaganza. The cheapest ticket is $16 and includes: a world-class concert, the world’s largest rodeo, AgVenture, livestock and horse shows, competitions, a carnival, shopping mall, art show, and more.

Rodeo’s three action-packed weeks allow us to flaunt Houston’s western heritage — from fancy boots and bolo ties to diamonds and denim. If you don’t have that drop-dead outfit, you can find it at Reliant Park. The shopping is glorious.

Seventeen thousand volunteers on 90 different committees help in every aspect of the show, which draws guests from 52 countries. Heading up the 75th anniversary celebration is one particularly special volunteer, Charlene Casey Floyd.

Spirit of strength
Serving as HLSR vice president, Floyd knows how to corral a herd of volunteers. She spent a year in Iraq, shepherding 8,000 military personnel, managing morale, welfare and recreation for seven camps in the war zone. Rodeo must seem like a piece of cake!

The middle of the Iraqi warzone is quite a change from her North Zulch, Texas (population 400), upbringing. Working with Transco Energy Company (eventually bought out by Williams Gas Pipeline) for 17 years, she rose from administrative assistant to manager of community relations, managing a $3 million-plus corporate giving program. Williams employees, lead by Floyd, raised $24 million for United Way through Riding The Pipelines bike rides. On Sept. 10, 2001, she kicked it off live in New York on the “Today Show” with Al Roker. The next morning in a van on her way to Camden Yards with other riders, a call came about the 9-11 attacks.

The decision had to be made: Call off the ride or continue? Floyd had 250 riders poised beside Williams’ pipelines all across the country. “The President and CEO told me it was my decision,” she recalls. “I decided to go on with it. We weren’t going to give in to the terrorists, and it gave us something positive to do.”

Change of plans
Floyd was planning her retirement when Enron tanked. “It was guilt by association,” she says. “People thought most of the companies were doing what Enron was doing. That wasn’t the case. Even so, Enron took most of the oil and gas stocks down with it.”

Floyd had most of her savings in Williams stock. It went from $50 a share to 70 cents a share. Plus, Williams had to cut jobs; and hers was one of them. A friend suggested she look into Halliburton’s efforts to fill positions in Iraq. She applied online and was offered a job the next morning over the phone. For the next year, she worked in Iraq.

Days of thunder
“My first camp was in Tikirt — Saddam’s hometown,” she says. “I was like a mother to these 18- and 19-year-old kids. I remember one young woman crying her eyes out as she walked through the camp on Christmas Day. I asked her, ‘What’s wrong?’ Her boyfriend had just broken up with her … on Christmas!”

Floyd’s heart still aches for another young soldier who was excited his deployment was almost up and video conferenced home at a computer in the recreation area. “His wife told him not to bother to come home,” she remembers. “He asked, ‘Why?’ And she just panned her camera over, and there was a man in his briefs standing in the soldier’s bedroom. That poor boy was nearly suicidal.” It gets uglier. Workers from the town were targeted. “Their heads would be dropped off at the front gate of our camp,” she states.

“Two mortars landed on either side of my hut,” she says. “It blew me out of bed. Every Friday, on their Sabbath, they’d shell the camp. Amazingly, no one was killed. And, riding in helicopters was especially scary. I do believe God was watching over me in Iraq.”

While in Iraq, she continued with the rodeo. HLSR sent her a tape of the pay-per-view broadcast to show in the movie room. “It is very rewarding to work with the soliders — trying to keep our country safe, and trying to give Iraqis a better life — and working with the show volunteers, who are trying to help students with their education so they can have a better life.”

Rodeo time
Floyd began volunteering in ticket sales with HLSR 23 years ago. “When you’re from a small town, you appreciate the need for college scholarships,” Floyd explains. She became the first person to sell $100,000 worth of tickets.

Besides heading up the 75th Anniversary Special Projects, she is also officer in charge of Corporate Development, Rodeo Ticket Sales, the Trailblazer and Western Heritage Community Challenge, and Junior Rodeo committees. Additionally, as manager of member services for the Greater Houston Partnership, she is in the perfect position to encourage companies and schools to allow employees and students to dress western for Go Texan Day.

You’re probably noticing the 85 six-foot painted cowboy boots displayed around town. Well, that’s Boot Scoot 2007, initiated by the Western Heritage Community Challenge Committee. Similar to the city’s parade of cows that was here a couple of years ago, Boot Scoot 2007 encourages groups, youth and artists to decorate the statues, as well as businesses and individuals to underwrite them. (The 20 boots judged as the best surround Reliant Center.) Getting younger folks involved is also on Floyd’s agenda. She and Bob Livermore are behind a new Junior Rodeo committee, which they hope will be “rolled out to the public next year.”

As a consistent leader, Floyd epitimozies the volunteers who work with the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Veteran rodeo volunteer Carol Sawyer says, “Charlene is awesome. She is a take-charge lady who will surely take the show in great new directions.” And with a history that includes pushing through the aftermath of 9-11, surviving the collapse of Enron and a year stint in war-torn Iraq, we’re confident she will prove everyone right.

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