Opinion: Meeker sheepdog trials will remain in capable hands

When Gus Halandras first came up with the idea of a starting a sheepdog trial, it took some nerve.
“I knew sheep and I knew dogs, but I didn’t know how to run a trial,” Gus said.
But that didn’t stop him.
Over time, the event more than lived up to its name. It became a classic.
“This upstart little place in Colorado, called Meeker, and they called themselves the world championship sheepdog trials,” Gus said, who still gets amused when retelling the story of how the Meeker Classic Sheepdog Championship Trials came into existence.
That was 24 years ago.
Gus ran the sheepdog trials for 18 years, before handing over the director’s position six years ago to Ellen Nieslanik.
For the 25th annual Meeker Classic in 2011, there will be a new director — Ellen’s older sister, Mary Cunningham.
“In 24 years, we’ve had three directors, so that’s pretty good,” Bruce Clatterbaugh said Sunday, during the awards ceremony at the conclusion of this year’s sheepdog trials. The members of the board of directors of the Meeker Classic honored Ellen during last weekend’s event, thanking her for her leadership and passion.
“We’ve had an opportunity to tell her how much we appreciate the years she’s put in,” Bruce said. “She’s done a tremendously outstanding job.’
The board honored Ellen at the handlers dinner Friday night and again Sunday, at the awards ceremony. The board gave Ellen a dog whistle and two engraved dog collars for her dogs Pete and Nell on Friday, and then Sunday presented her with a piece of original artwork from the art contest.
“We were honored many years ago when Gus Halandras handed over the reins of this great event to Ellen,” said Amanda Milliken, last year’s Meeker Classic winner. “Since then she has really made it into a handlers’ sort of trial. I think all of you know what I mean. This is the most covetable title in sheepdog. Everyone wants to come here and win this event with its wonderful sort of folkiness, log cabins, the committee members and all of the work that everybody puts into it. When we say we fall into the welcoming arms of the Meeker community, we all mean it.
“Ellen in the last five years has made this increasingly meaningful,” Amanda said. “In our appreciation for this being the most wonderful trial in North America, we’d like to present her with a gift. … This is meant to reflect the beauty of Ellen herself.”
The dog handlers presented Ellen with a custom-made crook.
Asked what she was going to do now, Ellen said, “It’s been a great journey. Believe me, I’m not going far. I may be sitting on your side of the line sometime soon. So, thank you very much.”
Ellen will be the director of next year’s national finals, which will be held in Carbondale. She also plans to compete in trials.
At the handlers dinner Friday, the crowd booed when board president Bruce Clatterbaugh announced Ellen was retiring. The crowd cheered just as loud when he said Ellen would be replaced by her sister Mary.
“From the board’s perspective, how pleased we were that we had an opportunity (to find a replacement) who was close to or at Ellen’s caliber to be our director going forward,” Bruce said. “We’re very excited about that. We’ve been blessed to have Ellen as our director the past six years, and we’re blessed to have Mary take over.”
Ellen and Mary have worked closely together since the transition was announced in June. Ellen will stay on until November, when Mary will officially take over.
“Then I become a volunteer, which is great,” said Ellen, who will stay involved with the Meeker Classic by serving on the board of directors. “It does feel different, but it’s kind of exciting to hopefully be able to jump on the other side of the fence.”
For her part, Mary feels ready to take on the leadership role.
“Ellen has been wonderful, channeling me one way or another,” Mary said. “I got to be part of every facet (of the Meeker Classic). Doing those things really helped my comfort level, understanding what everybody does. It takes every volunteer who puts in their time. That’s what it takes to make that whole event work. I feel like I’ve got a pretty good handle on how things work. Ellen will stay on until November, then I’ll be ready to go on my own.”
Mary’s first year as director of the Meeker Classic will be a big one.
“The 25th, that’s pretty special,” Mary said. “We’re going to have to do something big for that.”
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Ruth King was honored last week by the Rangely Library. Her granddaughter Jennifer Turner of Meeker was among those who attended.
“It was great to see my grandma honored for all of the contributions she made to the people in Rangely,” Jennifer said. “I was very excited by the number of people who attended. It meant a lot to all of our family to see so many people who care about her show their gratitude. I also thought it was above and beyond for Amorette (Hawkins, library director) and the library board to dedicate the gazebo to her and to hold the ceremony. My grandma is an amazing person and I have always felt so lucky to have the close relationship that I have with her and to be able to say ‘Ruth King is my grandma.’”
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The winners in Rangely’s Septemberfest chili cook-off were: Julie Noyes, best red; Heather Zadra, best green; and Archie Sisneros, best overall with a green chili.
“We had 15 total entrants, with 10 red chili entries and five green,” said Tim Webber, Septemberfest organizer.
In the homemade ice cream contest, sponsored by the Rangely Museum, Phalon Osborn was the winner with peach pecan, Patti Tipton was second with strawberry cheese cake and Julie Noyes was third with maple walnut.
• • • • •
Photographer and former Meeker postmaster Dale Hallebach, who has a spot inside the show area at the Meeker Classic every year to photograph the event, experienced a first last weekend.
A dog peed on one of his cameras.
The camera lens wasn’t damaged, but it sure didn’t smell very good.
So, Dale doused the lens with cologne.
He even had me smell the lens. Sure enough, the camera didn’t smell like pee. It smelled like Stetson.
I may have to start keeping a bottle of cologne in my vehicle.
Jeff Burkhead is editor of the Herald Times. You may e-mail him at jeff@theheraldtimes.com.