Ag Day, a Colorado State University trademark event that celebrates the state’s agricultural industry and the bounty of food it provides, began as a small beef barbecue launched by CSU athletics legend Thurman “Fum” McGraw.
The event, marking its 30th anniversary on Sept. 10, has grown dramatically through the years and now annually draws some 3,500 people for a football-day feast of Colorado-grown food. Ag Day showcases many commodities that have blossomed in Colorado with knowledge gained from CSU research.
Even more, Ag Day proceeds provide critical funding for scholarships granted to deserving students in the College of Agricultural Sciences. Each year, the event typically funds between 12 and 15 student scholarships amounting to $2,000 each, said Dennis Lamm, event coordinator.
In just one sign of Ag Day’s stature, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper proclaimed Sept. 10 “CSU Ag Day” in the state of Colorado. The official proclamation reads, in part, “CSU and its partners continue to help ensure a positive future for Colorado’s agricultural industry – an industry that plays a vital role in our state’s economy.”
On its 30th anniversary, Ag Day is scheduled 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Sept. 10, and precedes the home-opener football game pitting the CSU Rams and the University of Northern Colorado Bears. The event will offer a bountiful meal and a variety of entertainment and activities, including a brief program that includes Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture John Salazar and recognizes people who have contributed to Ag Day’s success through the years.
First among those contributors is “Fum” McGraw, a CSU football legend who also served as athletics director from 1976 to 1986. He started a football festivity called “Beef Day” in the 1970s.
At the suggestion of Animal Sciences professor John Matsushima, a pioneering beef nutritionist who is now retired, McGraw asked the Colorado Cattle Feeders Association to donate a steer for a pre-game barbecue. Soon, McGraw and his crew were roasting beef in an underground pit for Ram boosters and ag supporters.
“He would think it’s wonderful to see how it’s grown. He’d be tickled pink – no, he’d be tickled green and gold,” Beryl "Brownie" McGraw recently said of her late husband. McGraw was a longtime Ag Day volunteer herself and recalled serving beef alongside the Larimer County Cowbelles, now the Larimer County Cattlewomen.
Cow-milking contests were among the activities during the event’s early years, and Fum McGraw typically won. “The ag people didn’t realize that the athletics director was also a rancher,” Brownie McGraw said with a laugh.
Ag Day developed its modern format with the work of a team within the College of Agricultural Sciences.
Jean Lamm, former director of development for the college, and the late Bill Thomas, then associate dean, saw potential. Why not rope in more state commodity groups, promote Colorado agriculture to the public, and raise money for student scholarships at the same time?
The late Agricultural Dean Donal Johnson agreed. It would be a day of food, football and fun.
Ag Day debuted in 1982 with 10 commodity groups. About 300 Rams fans and aggies perched on straw bales at under the Aggie “A” at Hughes Stadium to enjoy the Colorado-grown fare. The event supplied one scholarship.
“It was going to be educational and fun and really good food to promote Colorado agriculture to the community. We proclaimed the motto, ‘food, football and fun’ from that first year,” said Lamm, also wife of current Ag Day coordinator Dennis Lamm. “A lot of the original aspects of the event are still there, but it’s become a huge event. It’s fabulous.”
Fast-forward 30 years: Twenty commodity groups serve the Ag Day feast of fresh, Colorado-grown food. Beef remains on the menu – joined by lamb, pork, beans, potatoes, onions, wheat and dairy products, green salad, watermelon, and more.
The event has provided significant scholarship support. Since 2000 alone, Ag Day has funded more than 125 scholarships totaling more than $225,000 for agricultural students, records show.
“My family is a middle-class family and has found it difficult to support my education to reach my lifelong goals, which is why I am deeply grateful for the gift that helps students like me reach their goals in agriculture,” student Kaitlin Wright, pursuing a double major in animal science and equine science, wrote in a scholarship thank-you note.
The event maintains its aggie appeal: Fans still sit on straw bales, and it’s still a day of food, football and fun.
Event and ticket information:
Sept. 10 is an “orange out,” meaning CSU Rams and their fans will wear throwback Aggie colors of pumpkin orange and alfalfa green.
Country-western band Bob Purcell & The Outriders will perform at Ag Day; Trent Loos, a Nebraska-based radio personality who broadcasts a program called “Rural Route,” will be emcee.
Buy tickets online at www.csuagday.com. Cost for online purchases is $15 for meal only, or $35.50 for meal and ticket to the football game, with seating in the Hughes Stadium north end zone. (Handling fees apply.)
For additional ticket options to the football game, call the CSU ticket office at (970) 491-7267 or (800) 491-7267.
For more information about Ag Day, call (970) 491-6497.