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RANGELY | Meeker has Frank Cooley. Rangely has Cecil Lollar. Together, the two men made quite a pair.
“Frank and I had our battles through the years,” Lollar said of the friendly rivalry between the two longtime attorneys from opposite ends of Rio Blanco County.
In their own unique ways, both men have contributed to the colorful history of the area and represent the different attitudes of the two opposite sides of the county.
“He was always Mr. Meeker and I was Mr. Rangely,” Lollar said. “Frank and I were never close personal friends, but I think he respected me, and I respected him. That damn Cooley outsmarted me I don’t know how many times, but I don’t think I ever lost a case to Frank.”
Lollar succeeded Cooley as county attorney in the mid 1970s.
“I couldn’t have been treated nicer (by Cooley) when I came in,” Lollar said. “He got on the phone and invited every attorney in the area to come in and watch me be sworn in. Frank’s a New Yorker, and I’m an Okie, and those two don’t always mix, but he always treated me wonderful.”
Lollar first came to Colorado when his father, who had been a building contractor in Oklahoma, started buying and selling ranches. He bought a ranch in the San Luis Valley and asked his son to take possession of it.
“He said they’ve got a college out there, Adams State at Alamosa. He made such an attractive deal, I couldn’t turn it down,” Lollar said. “That’s how I got to Colorado.”
Lollar, who grew up in northern Oklahoma, near the Kansas line, came to Rangely in 1967. He’s been here ever since.
“I intended to stay one year. I never dreamed (he would make this his permanent home),” Lollar said. “But there are a lot of old-timers in Rangely who felt the same way.”
Lollar and his first wife came to Rangely when Walt Stahlecker — who was the new superintendent of schools at the time — convinced them both to accept teaching positions with the school district.
“The next thing I know, we’re headed for Rangely, Colorado,” said Lollar, who taught history and English for one year.
He also passed the Colorado bar exam that same year.
Now retired, Lollar left his mark on the Rangely community in many ways. His career included construction, law, banking, real estate and even teaching.
Lollar was mayor of Rangely twice; was a judge; was an owner of the Bank of Rangely (now called First National Bank of the Rockies); practiced law for 20 years, including stints as attorney for the town, the college (called Rangely College back then), the school district and the hospital; and he started Rio Blanco Realty in 1974.
Lollar quit his law practice in 1988.
“Quite frankly, I was burned out,” he said. “And I was making more money in real estate than I was in practicing law.”
When he was 60, he sold Rio Blanco Realty in 1998 to Beth Hairston and retired. He’s 71 now.
“I’ve loved retirement,” he said.
During his law days, Lollar was the only attorney in Rangely (replacing Carl Smith who moved away), which was a mixed blessing.
“I could teach a course in conflict of interest,” Lollar said. “I would not recommend someone being the only attorney in town, knowing all of the secrets like I did. It was not good.”
In local divorce cases, Lollar would sometimes represent both the husband and the wife.
“I had one woman tell me, ‘I agreed to follow him to the ends of the earth and now that we’re here, I want out,’” he said, retelling a comment a wife made during one of the divorce cases he handled.
In the courtroom, Lollar developed a reputation of being rather feisty.
“They called me the outlaw from Rangely,” he said. “The judges were always chewing my ass. Even though they were always slapping me with contempt, they liked me.”
Lollar also butted heads with Peggy Rector, former Rio Blanco County commissioner and former mayor of Rangely.
“Peggy is another one I had battles with,” he said.
“Cecil and I had differences of opinions on political issues, but as far as his dedication to the community, he’s been very dedicated,” Rector said. “I was amazed when he retired. You don’t see him very much. He was active in the community up until he retired, and now you don’t see him around much. When he retired, I think he really retired.”
Lollar’s battles included the longstanding rivalry between the county’s two towns, Rangely and Meeker.
“There’s always been a sore spot,” Lollar said. “You’ll hear on this end that all of the money comes from the west end, and the east end is ready to spend it. That’s always been a battle. I always liked the people in Meeker, but there’s always been a rivalry because of the money thing.”
The county’s two towns have different personalities, Lollar said.
“Meeker was more Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska farmers, and Rangely was your Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana oil people,” Lollar said.
There was even a rivalry over which town had more convenience stores.
“It used to be Meeker had two convenience stores and we didn’t have any,” said Lollar, who made it his mission to recruit a convenience store to come to Rangely. “Finally, the 7-Eleven guy said, ‘We were so tired of your letters and telephone calls we are going to put in a store.’ The biggest mistake I made was not building one myself.”
Beth Hairston, who bought the realty business from Lollar, said he did a lot of good for the town.
“He was extremely instrumental in getting a lot of things done here in Rangely,” Hairston said.
Like himself, Lollar said Rangely has had a reputation for being a bit rebellious.
“We used to even talk about seceding from Colorado, because we felt we were getting screwed,” Lollar said. “We just felt like we never had any voice.”
Looking back, there may have been another reason for some of his personal battles, Lollar said.
“I had a drinking problem,” he said. “I used to make a joke that I liked to get drunk for a meeting and then sober up by the time we finished the unfinished business.”
Alcoholism ran in Lollar’s family.
“I’m a generational drinker,” Lollar said. “My grandfather, who was revered in the community, was a drunk, but he was a well-respected drunk.
“At the time, I was a typical drunk,” Lollar said. “I functioned. I never drank in the morning. That was what an alcoholic did, I told myself. But it got to where I gradually started drinking earlier in the afternoon. You think you’re foolin’ people, but you’re not.”
Three experiences led to Lollar entering a treatment facility in 1986 at Saint Luke’s Hospital in Denver. He was 48 at the time.
“My son came to me and said he didn’t want me driving with my grandson anymore, because of my drinking,” Lollar said. “Pat (Cecil’s second wife) never laid down the law, but she would just tell me how disappointed she was. And another time, I had a meeting for Larry Steiner (from Meeker) and I was drunker than a skunk. I was just putting the whiskey away, and Larry told me later how disappointed he was in me at this meeting, that I just made an ass out of myself. So I decided to go (to alcohol treatment). It’s been 23 years now. Thank goodness it took.”
Pat, Lollar’s wife, came to Rangely in 1971 when her husband at the time was hired to be president of the bank in which Lollar was chairman of the board of directors.
“Over a period of time she and I became close friends and it just happened,” Lollar said.
The couple celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary July Fourth.
“We were married on the Fourth of July, so he wouldn’t forget our anniversary,” Pat joked.
Lollar’s former nemesis from the east of the county, Meeker attorney Cooley, had kind words to say about his old rival.
“He was always down in Rangely creating a storm about this or that or the other thing, but a nice guy. And his wife, it’s a situation as is often the case, he married above himself,” Cooley said with a laugh.
Pat serves on the board of directors of Moon Lake Electric Association.
“Pat’s really involved in the community,” Peggy Rector said.
A year after he came to Rangely, Lollar was invited by Russell Baskett, the founder of the local bank, to form an ownership group to buy what was then called the Bank of Rangely, located at the time in the building that is now the Main Street Coffee House.
“I said, ‘I don’t have any money,’” Lollar said. “The man who founded the bank said, ‘Don’t worry about it. I’ll loan you your share.’ So I go around and we put a group together and we buy the Bank of Rangely. There were six of us. I look back and that’s what cemented me in Rangely.”
Ten years later, in 1979, Lollar sold the bank.
“The bank was doing well,” he said. “We had built a new bank, which is now Rio Blanco Realty. Then the second bank came in and bought us out and built the new building where the bank is now located. Later it became First National Bank of the Rockies.”
Rangely, like other oil towns, had the reputation for being a rough and tumble place.
“They were a different breed. Everybody says that, but they really were. They were characters,” Lollar said of the town’s earlier days. “It was a wild place. We went through the booms and busts. We didn’t put up with the crap they do today.”
Though not a native of Rangely, Lollar appreciated and honored the people who were instrumental in building and developing the town. People like Fred Nichols.
“He was the first mayor of Rangely,” Lollar said. “I had the benefit of picking his brain. I brought up to the (town) council I wanted a street named for him … so I got a street named after Fred.”
Another local character Lollar admired was Robert J. May, who was the first county judge in Rangely.
“Before that time they just had justices of the peace,” Lollar said. “I was the second county judge in Rangely. (May) was a dentist by trade. He was the only dentist in town. He served in World War I, World War II and Korea. Very unusual. He had been a professional wrestler when he was younger. He was something else.”
Attitudes have changed during Lollar’s 40 plus years in Rio Blanco County. Even the intense rivalry between the county’s two towns has mellowed.
“There’s more cooperation now,” Lollar said. “We have some great friends in Meeker. There are some great people on both ends of the county.”
Looking back, Lollar said he can see where one decision or experience led to his life taking a different direction. Like coming to Colorado for the first time when his dad bought a ranch. Or accepting a teaching job in Rangely. Or being convinced to stay on after he passed the bar exam because the town’s only attorney was moving away. Or being asked to form an ownership group to buy a bank when he didn’t have any money. Or deciding to go into rehab.
“They speak about crossroads,” he said. “My experience has been if I hesitate and stop for a minute, something will happen to force me down one fork in the road or another.”
For Cecil Lollar, that fork in the road led him to becoming Mr. Rangely.