Published: Sept. 1, 2017 By

Ralphie Grid

Ralphie helps pay her own way in life — but the fans do the heavy lifting

By and large, Ralphie works for free.

But every so often, CU’s famed live buffalo mascot takes on a paying gig. On July 1, she not only appeared at the Folsom Field wedding of Bernie (Bus’04) and Deborah Belin Hund (Psych’08), she also kicked off the reception, charging the field with her student handlers as guests watched from the terrace of the Touchdown Club.

The Hunds paid $3,000 for the honor, and were glad to do it.

“We’re diehards and it’s totally worth it to us,” Bernie, a defense contractor in Virginia, said a few days before tying the knot.

Because the Hunds also rented space at Folsom Field for the wedding, they got a discount: $6,000 is typically what a private Ralphie appearance costs, said John Graves (Mgmt’09), coach and manager of the Ralphie Live Mascot Program.

Ralphie’s occasional paid work — she does just a few gigs a year — helps meet the program’s expenses, which last year came to about $52,000, according to Graves.

“It’s a whole lot of small things that add up,” he said.

For Instance...

There’s hay, of course, and maintenance on the secret Colorado ranch where she lives. There’s transportation to and from campus for practice and games, workout gear and game-day attire for the 16 handlers and a part-time salary for Graves and a stipend for his assistant coach, Taylor Stratton. Harnesses, pitchforks, shovels, wheelbarrows and repairs to Ralphie’s trailer are all necessary, too. The list goes on.

Sponsorships and volunteers help keep expenses down. In 20 years, for example, Ralphie’s veterinarians, Drs. Lori and Michael Scott of North Denver Animal Clinic, have never charged a cent for her care, Graves said. The student handlers, as varsity athletes, are unpaid.

Still, expenses are expenses, and Ralphie V, like her predecessors, relies on the largesse of her fans to keep going.


“Ever since the beginning, it has been completely funded by fans,” said Graves, who’s led the Ralphie program since 2014 and manages a South Boulder horse ranch as his day job.

The biggest single donation came in 2002, a bequest of $40,729.88 from Violet Stromberg, a former teacher with no heirs who died in 2001 at age 96. The gift of her life savings established an endowment called the Ralphie Fund.

Other fans have been steady supporters, contributing an annual average of about $9,100 over the last five years. Some people give $1,000, others $5 — enough to feed her for a day.

Given Ralphie’s current costs relative to her spendable income, and some erosion of endowment principal over time, she still needs to bring in money, and Graves is hoping 2017-18 will prove a banner year.

Over the July 4 weekend CU Athletics and its fundraising arm, the Buff Club, opened a $50,000 crowdfunding campaign at It’s intended to bolster Ralphie’s endowment and limit her paid appearances to a special few each year — the Folsom Field wedding, say, of a pair of proud Buffs. 


Ralphie Memorabilia:


Circa 2003

The type of bottle and nipple were used to feed orphaned Ralphies III and IV. 


Circa 1968

Worn by Marc Applebaum (Arch'70; MS'73), these boots, along with a cowboy hat, shirt, vest and blue jeans, were part of the uniform for the team that ran with Ralphie from 1968 to 1970.


Circa 1996

Since she arrived at CU Boulder, Ralphie has been a favorite among the students. In 1971, she even was named Homecoming Queen.


Circa 1968

Handlers have been involved with Ralphie since the beginning. The sophomore class was briefly in charge until Ralphie running formally became a CU athletic program.

See more at the CU Heritage Center on the third floor of Old Main! 

Photos by Glenn Asakawa