Roping his way back to his roots

Area native Don Moraites finds a new way of life in Lay

Don Moraites finds himself tethered to the area of Moffat and Routt counties by stuff that's stronger than what he uses when he team ropes.

He was born in Oak Creek and has lived in Steamboat, Hayden and now lives in Lay.

"My entire family was from Oak Creek. We were the last people to leave," he said, remembering how the town was about 45 years ago.

Moraites said his family moved to Steamboat because there was no job market in Oak Creek.

Moraites said his father left when he was young and his mother raised him and his three siblings.

Rex Stratton, Moraites' maternal grandfather, was like a father to him.

"He was an awesome man," Moraites said. He said Stratton bought him his first fly rod at the age of 6. Moraites said his grandfather always gave the younger children a head start at the fishing holes but would still bring home the most and biggest fish.

Mano Mae Palmer, Moraites mother, worked in the hotel business her entire life and eventually retired from the Rabbit Ears Motel in Steamboat.

"She did everything from being a maid to a manager," he said.

He said back then Steamboat was just a cow town and Craig had some of the biggest ranches in the state. Moraites said Moffat County is still primarily focused on the ranching industry. Craig, he said, has gotten bigger but still has the same atmosphere. He said since Moffat County is one of the biggest counties in the state, it has allowed ranchers to obtain large parcels of land.

Moraites said life in the earlier years of Steamboat and Craig was a "real ball." He said he competed in the stock car races in both areas.

Moraites said his mom still lives in Steamboat and he talks to her every night. Moraites' younger brother, Tom Palmer, also still lives in Steamboat and is the radio station manager for KBCR.

Moraites' years in Routt and Moffat counties were interrupted when he was drafted in 1967. Although Moraites spent 8 and a half years in the Army, he never was sent to Vietnam.

"I was really lucky I didn't have to go to Vietnam," he said. "I missed it by two months."

After his time in the military, Moraites settled near the Appalachian Mountains with his wife and children. He lived there for several years and, after getting divorced, drove out west to get reacquainted with the area where he grew up.

He said he wanted some property for horses and found a house with five acres of land in Lay.

From his home, Moraites said he enjoys watching the wild horse drive that is scheduled every Mother's Day.

He said although his hobbies and time in the military have been fun and interesting, nothing has compared to learning how to team rope.

"It was a real learning experience," he said. "I ate a dozen dirt sandwiches."

Moraites said he uses his horse, Star, that he trained himself.

He said it has only been since he moved to Lay that he has owned horses.

Moraites joined the Hayden Valley Roping Club and was the 1999 Rookie of the Year for team roping. At the age of 51, Moraites said winning the belt buckle for Rookie of the Year is one of his greatest memories.

Moraites works as the foreman of Steamboat Granite and builds custom countertops for homes. "It's really a lot of fun," he said. Moraites said, aside from his time in the military, he has been a cabinetmaker most of his life and likes working in a new field.

Friend Tina Wardlow said Moraites has always been a true and dependable friend. She said Moraites helped build her and her husband's pole barn, house and deck.

"He's a saint in my book," Wardlow said.

Wardlow said she enjoys having occasional dinners with Moraites and sees him at church on Sundays.

"He's a sweetheart," she said.

She said his patience and kindness is evident through his work with horses.

Moraites said he became much more patient as he became more involved in Christian churches and accepted Jesus Christ. He said his religious faith has been a big part of his life.

To reach Jamie Hallman call 871-1810 or e-mail hallmanjamie@hotmail.com.

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