Profession, passions keep Meeker’s Ed Coryell on the go
MEEKER I Rancher. Branding inspector. School board member. Fair board president. Youth sports referee.
Yes, Ed Coryell likes to keep busy.
“I don’t know how he does it,” said his son-in-law and ranching partner Shane Phelan. “I know he has a meeting almost every night. Some of these boards he’s been on 30 or 40 years. He gives a lot back to the community.
“I think Ed’s one of those guys that doesn’t come along very often. He’s the exception. He’s good at what he does and he’s got a heart of gold. He’s involved in a million things, and if anybody is in a bind or a jam, Ed will be involved.”
Ranching and branding inspector have been Coryell’s livelihood. School board member, fair board president, sports referee. Those are his passions.
“Ed’s life’s work speaks to his abilities as a stockman, and his long tenure on the school board, fair board and career as an athletic referee demonstrate his tireless commitment to the youth of our community,” said Mary Strang, president of the Meeker School Board.
Coryell and Strang’s late husband, Bart, were business partners in a ranching operation in the early 1970s.
“We came to this country with the Strangs in 1973 from Carbondale,” Coryell said. “I went to work for him and his partner, Tom Turnbull, in ’67. They split the partnership and Bart came this way and Tom stayed over there. In fact, he’s still there.”
“Our family friendship with the Coryells goes back to 1967 — when Ed first came to work for us, on our Carbondale ranch. This is where and how he and Bonnie met,” Mary Strang said.
“Ed, Bonnie and family moved to Meeker with us, in 1973, and lived on the old Penrose place in Powell Park,” Mary said. “They bought the property from us in the late ’70s or early ’80s and went on their own.”
“Then we bought several more over the years,” Ed said. “We’ve got a pretty good-sized place, acreage-wise. We’re strictly a cow-calf operation. We sell calves in the fall and we put up hay all summer. We have 500 head of livestock and we’ll put up just on top of 1,000 tons of hay.”
When Ed says “we,” he’s referring to his son Andy and his son-in-law Shane Phelan.
“Shane and Andy, they don’t help us out, they do it,” Ed said. “We’re tied up pretty heavy with this brand inspecting.”
In this case, when Ed says “we,” he’s referring to himself.
Ed started brand inspecting for the Colorado Department of Agriculture in the late 1970s. While branding of cattle is not required by state law, most cattlemen brand their livestock, Ed said.
“It’s just for protection of your livestock,” Ed said of branding. “We’ll pick out about 1 to 1 1/2 percent strays, on an average. We’ll pick up one or two out of 100 cattle that belong to the neighbors or somebody else. That’s several millions of dollars a year, in cattle and horses, we’re talking about returning to the rightful owners.”
As a branding inspector, Ed’s role is to provide authenticity of ownership.
“It’s just like if you buy a car. You’ll get a title to it,” he said. “I’m the one who writes the title.”
Ed travels between 35,000 and 40,000 miles a year doing branding inspections.
“I have all of Piceance Creek, then go west to the Utah line, and north to the Wyoming line. Everything pretty much west of Maybell,” he said.
Ed will inspect about 60,000 head of cattle a year.
“You’re in a different place every day,” Ed said. “I enjoy the devil out of it. I think it’s just being around the livestock and the people you’re dealing with. They are good people.”
Ed has been around cattle his entire life. He grew up on a ranch near Carbondale.
“My dad was a rancher,” Ed said. “That’s all I’ve known (ranching). I’m not smart enough to do anything else, I guess. We’ve been on the ranch for as long as I can remember. Sixty-six years, I guess.”
For 47 of Ed’s 66 years, he has been married to Bonnie. The couple celebrated their anniversary Nov. 11.
Ed and Bonnie met when she was a counselor for a summer camp ran by Bart and Mary Strang.
The Coryells have five children. Two daughters: Becky and Jennifer. And three sons: Pat, Lee and Andy.
“Dad is certainly one in a million. He has been teaching us by example our whole lives. If there were lessons we didn’t get, it was probably because we were listening, but we just didn’t hear well,” Becky said.
“He has taught us that: You should call it like you see it. The referee is always right. That the sun always comes up tomorrow. True charity comes from your heart and expects nothing in return. When things get heated, it’s probably time to take a break and have a smoke.”
Besides their own children, Ed and Bonnie were foster parents for many years.
“We have had 40-some foster kids over the years,” Ed said. “Lee was one of our foster kids. We adopted him.”
Ed is sort of a pied-piper figure, when it comes to kids. They just gravitate toward him.
“For years we ran an eight-week summer program for teenage boys and girls in conjunction with our cattle business and Bonnie was on our summer staff while at college,” Mary Strang said. “Ed became an integral part of this business as well. Needless to say, he was a sort of legend to the summer kids. They loved and admired him.
“There’s no question that Ed had a great influence on our four girls growing up, too,” Mary said. “They rode a lot with him as Bart could no longer ride a horse (due to his stiff leg); and they certainly learned to handle livestock from the best … their dad and Ed.”
For nearly 50 years, Ed spent many nights and weekends officiating youth sporting events.
“I used to referee, about 45 or 46 years, up until a year or two ago,” Ed said. “I worked the first one in the fall of ’63. That’s a lot of ball games I’ve seen over the years.”
After Ed and Bonnie moved to Meeker, they became involved in the Rio Blanco County Fair. Ed has served on the fair board for “as long as I can remember,” he said. He is the president of the board. Ed also serves as the voice of the fair, handling the announcing duties during the livestock judging.
In 1994, the annual fair book was dedicated to Ed and Bonnie.
“At that time, they had dedicated their time for 20 years, Ed had spent 14 years on the fair board. Now it’s 16 years later for a total of 36 years with 30 years on the fair board. Most of that time Ed served as the fair board president,” said Bill Ekstrom, 4-H Extension director. “We can always count on him during fair, whether it’s announcing, weighing animals or making some of the difficult decisions we face, Ed is always there to help. The citizens of Rio Blanco County have benefited greatly from Ed’s enthusiasm and dedication.”
Ed and his voice have become synonymous with the fair. The youth call him Grandpa Ed.
“When I think of Ed and 4-H, I think of the voice of the county fair,” said Renae Neilson, who assists Coryell at the fair. “Ed and his wife Bonnie have given countless hours to the horse shows not only in our county but for other counties. He announces the livestock classes at our fair as well. He is also quite handy with livestock scales. He helps weigh in the market animals for the fair. After the livestock sale he waits on me to get the computer to spit out where each animal goes, so they can began to load the trucks. He has gotten a bit more use to the computer. The first year, when I could not get the printer to work, I think he was wishing he had used his matchbook cover to write on.”
Bonnie Long, a longtime 4-H leader from Rangely, said, “Rio Blanco County Fair. Ed Coryell. Can you say one without the other? The two just belong together, and he is our fair’s ambassador of sorts. Little kids look at him like he’s Santa Claus, Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy all rolled together. They love him. They hug on him. I have watched little kids who really don’t know him, want to share their cookie or ice cream with this wonderful man. And rightly so. He is very pro-kid, look at the types of boards he serves on, fair board and school board. He definitely is looking out for the future of our youth.
“He is the voice of our horse show and county fair livestock show. Hadley Barrett never did so much for the world of rodeo as Ed Coryell has for all the jokes and teasing he does while he announces at our events. He is the man that stands at the scales during weigh-ins and smiles when you made it or pats your back when it just wasn’t enough weight. He’s the guy sitting on the fair board who calls folks down, when something ridiculous is put on the table that might limit some kid’s participation in fair. He’s forever thinking of some child having hurt feelings and not returning the next fair season.
“Yes, he’s a brand inspector, a rancher and a farmer, a dad, grandpa and husband. But he’s something very special to many of us that participated in the fair … he knows our names, teases us, makes us feel at home.
“May he stay involved until he’s 150 years old. I want my grandson to know him while he participates in the fair. In fact, we may have to build a big pedestal by the arena with an easy chair, lift him and Bonnie up there with a bucket truck, so they both can attend.”
In his roles on the fair board and the school board, Ed has a soft spot for kids, especially those who are disadvantaged.
“The little Mexican kid on the far side of the tracks, God dang it, he has the same rights as anybody else,” said Ed, who has served on the school board since 1987. “It makes you feel good to see them have the same chance as other kids.
“I’ve watched all five of our kids graduate. In fact, I’ve been able to present them with their (high school) diplomas,” Ed said. ‘I don’t know if I’ll last long enough to give our grandkids theirs.”
From rancher to branding inspector to one term as a county commissioner to school board member to fair board president to youth sports referee, being involved in the community is a role Ed Coryell has taken seriously. And he’s grateful for the opportunities he has had to serve.
“Meeker has been good to us. It sure has,” he said.
People in Meeker — and Rangely — would say the feeling is mutual.