SHAWNEE — Carrying the American flag was Kristy Jones’ first volunteer responsibility at the International Finals Youth Rodeo in Shawnee.
Back then, in the 1990s, Jones was a contestant in the early years of the youth rodeo.
She could have ridden away and left the IFYR as a memory after her years as a competitor.
Instead, Jones, 36, of Meeker, is now chairman of the welcome center, formerly known as the check-in office for rodeo contestants. The International Finals Youth Rodeo begins a six-day run Sunday at the Heart of Oklahoma Exposition Center.
Jones graduated from high school in 1996 and the next year began volunteering in the check-in office. There have been times through the years where she also helped in the message center posting rodeo results and other information.
“I feel like the blessings definitely outweigh any challenges that might take place,” Jones said. “It is such a joy volunteering with family and friends during the IFYR. We have made lifelong friendships with fellow volunteers through our association with the IFYR. We enjoy meeting people from all over and welcoming them to Shawnee.
“The only challenges might have been on two occasions when I was expecting our children. Our son was born four weeks before the rodeo and a few years later our daughter was born a month after.”
The rodeo brings in more than 900 contestants from across the nation.
Iva Schultz and her husband, Leonard, also have volunteered in the check-in/welcome center for many years.
“She cares about people,” Iva Schultz said of Jones. “She is just real easy to work with.”
Annually, with the current schedule, check-in begins on a Friday morning and continues around the clock until noon Sunday, the opening day of competition.
“We enjoy welcoming each contestant,” Jones said. “Most contestants drive very long hours to reach Shawnee and are worn out when they get here.
“We greet them with smiling faces, a parking decal and a goodie bag.”
Jones’ parents, Tom and Linda Willoughby, have volunteered in the welcome center for years.
“My dad and husband along with friends have worked a 12-hour shift Saturday evening into Sunday morning for years,” Jones said. “My sister, brother and nephew have also volunteered at one time or another throughout the years, as have countless friends. It’s an annual event that our family enjoys.”
And as Jones adds another year of volunteering at the IFYR welcome center to her list, there’s a fact that makes this particular position unique for her.
And that is?
“I was the first contestant to check in to the first IFYR in 1993,” Jones said.