On a beautiful spring day in Elderwood, Barbara Ainley looks out across the hills and rock outcroppings on the ranch where she and her husband, have lived for 50 years. “It’s our life. We love it. People stay in ranching and run cattle because they love it. It’s a lifestyle that allows us to keep our western heritage,” says Barbara.
Barbara knows a lot about western heritage. She’s lived it her entire life. Born in Three Rivers, Barbara was attending Woodlake High School as a junior when she was crowned as the first Rodeo Queen of Woodlake Roundup in 1949. “Growing up in Three Rivers, all of the families were either working in ranching, the national park or the Edison Company. Though I didn’t have a horse of my own, I had generous neighbors who allowed me to ride their horses,” Barbara remembers.
When Barbara graduated from high school, she spent a year at College of Sequoias, ventured into the working world of Fresno for a year, then returned to Three Rivers to help her father raise her younger sisters and brothers. She was soon to find herself in love with Frank Ainley who grew up in Elderwood and had joined the Coast Guard. The two married on June 11, 1954—their 50th Wedding Anniversary is next month!
After the Coast Guard, Barbara and Frank came back to Woodlake to settle down in the place they had always called home. They moved into the original house that Frank’s parents had lived in when his father, Ralph, brought his city girl bride, Jessie, from Iowa in 1920. When Frank’s parents retired, the younger Ainley couple moved into a newer house that Ralph and Jessie built on the ranch.
Once on the ranch, Barbara put her horsemanship to work, helping Frank run cattle. Barbara also worked in the High School nurse’s office for 22 years. Before having children, she was involved in the Camelia Circle Garden Club, but from that time on her family received her focus.
Barbara has three sons—Tim, Frank Jr., and Craig—and a daughter Annette. And she has 15 grandchildren, two of whom have followed in their grandmother’s steps. Corinne Ainley served as the 2001 Rodeo Queen and this year granddaughter Audra Ainley is also proud to wear the crown as the 2004 Rodeo Queen.
The Rodeo has always been a family affair for the Ainleys. “We’ve gone to the Rodeo every year,” says Barbara. “It’s a wonderful way to spend Mother’s Day.” When asked to help run the Rodeo Queen contest several years ago, Frank was happy to accept the job and served as contest director for six years.
“My family is a joy,” says Barbara. “My kids were all heavily involved in sports so I spent a lot of time driving them to practice and watching their games. Swimming, little league baseball, football. In fact, I still go to a lot of games.”
When not playing for the team, the boys began to help run cattle too. And the ranch became home to at least six horses at any one time. “We still keep plenty of horses around for the kids to ride, and we can ride out and enjoy a picnic in the pasture or on the dry creek.” These days life on the ranch is still centered around the kids—both young and old.
“I taught my children and grandchildren that they would have to go to school and get good jobs if they wanted to keep running cattle,” Barbara recalls. Frank Jr. and Craig are involved in raising their own cattle along with the ranch cattle. Tim helps when he has time. “These days ranching is a tough business. It’s hard to make money. But, keeping this lifestyle is priceless.”
Folks around Woodlake who know, respect and admire Barbara and Frank, are quick to point out the Ainleys have always been very committed to the community. Around these parts, Barbara is revered as a very special and friendly, gracious lady who loves her family and loves her community.
At last year’s Golden Anniversary of the Woodlake Lions Rodeo, Barbara was honored as the first Queen. She was presented with a tiara and commemorative belt buckle, to add to the small loving-cup trophy she received in 1949.
As those of who had the pleasure of watching Barbara last year when she rode in the Parade and helped to celebrate the Golden Anniversary of the Woodlake Lions Rodeo well know, Barbara is still a consummate horsewoman, living her western heritage.