COVID-19  November 30, 2020

Cattle Barons Ball herds event through pandemic

GREELEY — Fearing that a gap year in the history of the Northern Colorado Cattle Baron’s Ball might spell future disaster for the long-time American Cancer Society fundraiser spurred its annual chairpeople and their board to forge ahead this year. Although it wasn’t the same.

“Planning for this event started in October [2019], and we were well on the way to an in-person event for September [2020],” said event co-chairman Gene Haffner. Together with his wife Julie Johnson Haffner, they were on track to hold an event the third Saturday of September that traditionally draws 850 people to a sold-out tent on private property.

When the pandemic hit, “we had the discussion about whether to cancel, but decided that cancer doesn’t stop. We wanted to retain a presence for the event in people’s minds,” Haffner said.

“Before we made the decision, people would ask us, ‘why would you do this,’ and others would say, ‘let’s do something,’” Johnson Haffner said. “We wanted to retain our footprint in Northern Colorado,” she said, but noted, “there wasn’t a playbook for us.”

“It was a risk,” Gene Haffner said. “Most important to us was to come up with something unique and something that engaged people,” he said. The at-home parties, the auction and other elements “made people feel they were a part of it.”

“The pieces were similar to the live tent event, so people recognized the familiar,” Johnson Haffner said.

This year’s event became “The Cattle Baron’s Ball at Home 2020,” the couple said. Sponsor packages were sold, an auction was planned and instead of the large gathering of people, individuals and businesses were asked to consider hosting safer parties at their homes.

A 45-minute video program was prepared using production technology made available to organizations similar to the Cattle Barons. The video was seamlessly intertwined with live presentations, which the couple said was key to the success.

The traditional auction contained both virtual and live elements. An online auction opened to the public 10 days prior to the Sept. 19 event, and premier auction items were put before public bidders the day before the event.

All the private parties were asked to be conducted between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., and at 8 p.m. the program began. The program included video testimonials of physicians and patients about the importance of the American Cancer Society. As would be traditional at an in-person event, musical performances were included in the program. The live auction was included in the program as well.

The American Cancer Society considers the Northern Colorado Cattle Barons Ball to be one of its elite galas; it raises about $1 million annually. Because of the pandemic, event organizers set the goal at $500,000. As of mid-November, $460,000 had been raised, the Haffners said. Social media is being used since the event and through the end of the year to reach the goal, they said.

“We were very fortunate that the Weld Trust was the premier sponsor of the event, and it contributed $100,000,” Haffner said.

“We’re encouraging other nonprofits to move forward. The generosity of communities, of businesses and individuals always seem to be there when there’s a need,” he said.

Information about the Cattle Barons Ball can be found on the event website,, and the video presentation is available on Facebook,


Ken Amundson

Managing Editor

Ken Amundson
Ken Amundson is managing editor of BizWest. He has lived in Loveland and reported on issues in the region since 1987. Prior to Colorado, he reported and edited for news organizations in Minnesota and Iowa. He's a parent of two and grandparent of four, all of whom make their homes on the Front Range. A news junkie at heart, he also enjoys competitive sports, especially the Rapids.

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