- Associated Press - Thursday, March 5, 2015

JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) - Where else in the world are weary airline travelers offered a big smile from a cowboy-coutured stranger bearing a free mimosa or a cup of unadulterated orange juice?

Probably nowhere but Jackson Hole.

Since 1977 the Howdy Pardners have been meeting arriving travelers at Jackson Hole Airport with a “howdy” and a western-laced welcome.

Clad in red shirts, vests, jeans and cowboy hats and boots, the “Howdies” are unabashedly friendly and full of information about the Jackson valley.

“As much as it is nice to see other welcoming ambassadors at some other airports, we are unique,” said Jesse O’Connor, a 15-year member. “People say again and again they’ve never seen anything like us.”

Indeed, on one recent Sunday, parched passengers fresh off a United Airlines flight from Los Angeles seemed both surprised and grateful to see Pamela Konstant standing at the baggage claim area with a tray full of mimosas.

“I thought it was lovely to be greeted with a mimosa,” said first-time Jackson Hole visitor Nancy Ward, from Redondo Beach, California.

Two 20-something LA residents, Lauren Casnave and Kimberly Caspari, were also pleasantly surprised.

“It is definitely a warm and unique welcome,” Caspari said.

The Howdies perform their brand of community boosterism from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday during ski season.

“We are a freestanding organization yet are officially ambassadors for the chamber of commerce,” O’Connor said. “I proudly wear that association on my name badge.”

The airport gig isn’t the only good deed the Howdies perform under the umbrella of the chamber. They also organize the annual Fourth of July parade and the High Noon Chili Cook-Off on Town Square during Elkfest. They help with ribbon-cutting for new businesses and provide crowd control during events such as Old West Days and the International Pedigree Stage Stop Sled Dog Race.

The Howdies have 30 members.

O’Connor said that in the early 1980s the group had to turn away people who were interested in being greeters because so many members wanted to work at the airport. Howdies membership dwindled over a number of years.

“We thought we were in danger of having to disband, but then it began to pick up again in 2013,” O’Connor said.

Former Howdy Pardners President Pam Flores said it has been gratifying to have been a member of the organization for more than 15 years. She especially loves being a part of the airport hospitality group.

“People are just blown away by the fact that they are greeted with champagne and orange juice,” Flores said.

O’Connor said he went through 12 bottles of champagne and 600 cups on one Sunday. On a typical weekend day, greeters use six to nine bottles.

But it is not just refreshments that the Howdies provide. They also offer restaurant and shopping suggestions and ideas on not-to-be-missed valley activities.

“Quite frankly, the airport hospitality gives people a little piece of Jackson - a piece of the last of the Old West,” Flores said.

After a grateful Los Angeles passenger finished his free mimosa and thanked O’Connor, the Howdie left him with a hearty last word.

“Happy trails!” O’Connor bellowed.

___

Information from: Jackson Hole (Wyo.) News And Guide, https://www.jhnewsandguide.com

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