Gus and Christine Halandras played founding, long-term roles in Classic

Christine and Gus Halandras

The annual Meeker Classic Sheepdog Championship Trials began Wednesday morning with 125 teams of dogs and handlers taking part. Participants are from all over the United States as well as Canada, South Africa and Brazil. Above, handler Nancy Flynn and her dog, Bruce, a 6-year-old male, get ready to push the sheep into the pen at the end of run. However, they were unable to pen the sheep in the alloted time. The classic continues toward the finals on Sunday. In addition to the trials, there are a number of vendors on the premises at Ute Park offering food and other goodies. Visitors are urged to take the trolley or shuttle from downtown Meeker to the site on the west edge of town.
The annual Meeker Classic Sheepdog Championship Trials began Wednesday morning with 125 teams of dogs and handlers taking part. Participants are from all over the United States as well as Canada, South Africa and Brazil. Above, handler Nancy Flynn and her dog, Bruce, a 6-year-old male, get ready to push the sheep into the pen at the end of run. However, they were unable to pen the sheep in the alloted time. The classic continues toward the finals on Sunday. In addition to the trials, there are a number of vendors on the premises at Ute Park offering food and other goodies. Visitors are urged to take the trolley or shuttle from downtown Meeker to the site on the west edge of town.
MEEKER I The Meeker Classic Sheepdog Championship Trials are under way, and to hear one of the foremost founders of the event talk, the excitement continues to grow every year.
Gus and Christine Halandras love the event they’ve poured their time, energy, talent and hearts into developing since the first trial 26 years ago.
“It is so clean, so simple and so honest,” Gus said of the relationship between dog and sheep. “The two are diametrically opposed, like the wolf and sheep. What goes on is almost a miracle.”
He has been around sheep his entire life and knows how difficult a task it is to maneuver sheep through the gates and into a pen using the unique communication between dog and handler.
Gus’s father, Regas, came to the area from Greece in 1922 to work as a shepherd for Paul Jensen.
It was the time of the famous cattle and sheep wars in the West, and when Halandras arrived with a herd of sheep from Price, Utah, on his way to the Nine Mile Ranch, they were met at the city limits by people who stopped the sheep and closed the road.
It finally took the arrival of the state militia to come open the road. Gus recalls his father’s stories of people standing on the rock rims shooting at the sheep during part of their travels.
In spite of all the conflicts, Regas stayed with the sheep and continued working for Paul Jensen for seven years before making a business for himself and homesteading on Yellow Jacket near the Mike Theos Ranch.
In the 1930s, he traded that for the land east of town near the former Rio Blanco store. That property, which is still in the Halandras family, bears the initials “RH” on the hillside. Regas started with a homestead or two and then added six to 10 more, eventually accumulating 2,500 acres.
He got public permits to run his sheep in the summer by Meadow Lake and in the winters first in Watson, Utah, then near Rangely on Douglas Creek.
Regas and Maria Halandras instilled a work ethic that has lasted generations. Gus worked on the ranch through his school years and then attended college at Parks Business College, Colorado University, Mesa College and then obtained his teaching degree from the Greeley Teaching College, where on his first day, in his first hour, while standing in line to register for classes, he met Christine.
Christine and Gus Halandras
Christine and Gus Halandras
The two have been together ever since and no doubt he married a true partner in every sense of the word.
Christine’s father was also a Greek immigrant. Perhaps the only person to match Gus’s work ethic was Christine. The two moved back to Meeker, where Gus taught school for two years and Christine substitute taught for 27 years. They raised three children, Regas, John, and Peg, to have the same passion for work and a meticulous attention to detail.
Regas is now an independent contractor and a member of the Meeker Town Board, John runs a hunting business, an infamous shed horn art business and the two also have a meat packing plant outside of town. Peg graduated as valedictorian from Meeker High School, went on to win the Boettcher Foundation Scholarship, and graduated from the University of Colorado Medical School. She continued her career and is now a renowned vascular surgeon at Loyola University in Chicago, where she is among the nation’s top surgeons.
When the children finished school in 1985, Gus and Christine started the Rambullinn Bed and Breakfast in Meeker. A catering business soon followed.
“Christine has an unbelievable depth of skill with people,” Gus said.
The two truly have a gift of welcoming people, and that is what helped make the Meeker Classic what it is today.
Gus was Meeker mayor in the inaugural year of the trials. The idea was put on the table in 1986 and, with friends they had visiting who had participated in dog trials previously, Gus and Christine saw their hopes become a reality in 1987.
In 1987, there were 70 to 75 dogs entered, and the championship was held at the fairgrounds, where approximately 2,100 people attended. Gus said he walked the parking lot and counted 26 different states on the license plates of cars parked.
That year, the winner took home a $15,000 purse, made possible largely because of Malcolm Bricklin, an early owner of what is now Westlands Ranch. Gus took over managing the event in its second year and continued for 19 years after that.
On one occasion, he had the University of Colorado Business School do a project to find out how much money the event brings to the community and they found it to be more than $1 million. The classic is now known as the largest and best-known sheepdog trial in the world.
“We were in Chicago recently looking at a housing unit for our daughter, and the seller’s real-estate agent asked where we were from,” Gus recalled. “When we said a small town in Colorado called Meeker, they said they have a friend who attends a ‘dog thing’ there.”
That is the type of publicity this event brings, and Gus has conversations like this a couple times every year.
Gus and Christine have played host to many participants, spectators and friends of the trials. Now they are simple spectators — with great pride in what the event now means for Meeker.
They helped put Meeker on the map, and their work knows no bounds.
Without Gus and Christine’s tireless effort, ability to communicate so well with people and making visitors feel so welcome to Meeker, the Meeker Sheepdog Classic would not be the success it is today.