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Moffat County Locals: Coal miner Dennis Balleck starts new chapter, retiring to ranch

What’s a coal miner to do after four decades in the industry?

In Northwest Colorado, at least one retired miner is planning to spend more time ranching.

On Nov. 28, 1977, Dennis Balleck, taking the advice of his friends, began work at Colowyo Mine south of Craig.

He had previously worked with the Forest Service, but he didn't want to be "stuck sitting behind a desk six months out of the year," he said.

His new work as a loop truck driver had him spending time out of the office.

Dennis Balleck stands before a piece of equipment known as a “shovel.”

"At that time, it was one of the best paying jobs around here. I had a couple of friends who were hired and said it was pretty good money," he said.

From driving trucks, Dennis moved to repairing them.

"I was a mechanic in the shop for light vehicles and worked on the dozer crew rebuilding dozers," he said.

By 1992, he had qualified to become a leadman after completing the tests from the Mine Safety Health Administration.

As his list of accomplishments grew, so, too, did the size of the equipment used at the mine.

The fleet of 12 Caterpillar bulldozers was upgraded from 120-ton to 240-ton trucks, he said, adding, “It’s more economical to run the larger pieces of equipment.”

A collage of photos representing over 40 years of work at Colowyo mine is one of the mementos Dennis Balleck treasures from his time working in the coal industry.

Eventually, operations changed, and all the mechanics moved into a combined shop, where Dennis has spent the past five years supervising a crew of 11.

The crew performed regular service on equipment and addressed "running breakdowns," he said. Not all work was done in the shop, as "pit mechanics went out and worked in the field," he added.

He and his crew underwent continual training to keep up with technology.

"So much of the troubleshooting is with a laptop," he said.

Much of the training was done locally, but one of his most interesting training trips was in 2001. At the time, the mine was owned by Rio Tinto, an Australian-based company that flew him to Western Australia for a 6-week front-line interchange program.

Near the end of the program, terrorists attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, resulting in global travel disruptions that stranded Dennis in Australia for an extra week.

Earlier this year — after almost 41 years — he decided it was time to retire and spend time ranching and with his family.

"I thought about staying the extra couple months to make it exactly 41 years, but I decided not to stay," he said.

The dedication and commitment associated with spending 41 years working for the same company is something worth celebrating, and during the summer, Dennis enjoyed a crew party at Loudy-Simpson Park and a luncheon at the mine.

Now, he and wife, Shirley, are looking forward to spending time ticking items off their bucket list, including a visit to New Orleans for Mardi Gras and an Alaskan cruise.

The couple has been married 43 years. On April 5, they will celebrate their 44th anniversary.

"We function like a well-oiled machine, and away we go," said Shirley. She used to own the Flower Mine and Gift Shop, where Dennis and their four sons would dress in tuxedos to deliver flowers on Mother’s Day and Valentine's Day.

Shirley retired about a year ago after selling her business.

The mine operates seven days per week, 24-hours per day, "unless visibility or road conditions shut things down for a time," he explained.

Dennis said the rotating shifts and "having to put up through storms, weather and holidays," are parts of the job he won't miss.

"Some days, we'd wave at each other as we passed each other on the road going in on different shifts," Shirley said.

For this family, retiring means carrying on the work required to manage a 680-acre Angus cattle ranch and wheat farms shared among the Ballecks, including Dennis' brothers and sisters.

Living in the county, however, comes with its own set of challenges.

"Occasionally, I pull him out of the ditch in the winter or when he'd get a tractor buried," Shirley said.

Fortunately, the cattle don't keep the same demanding schedule as the mine, so while Dennis said he plans to "finish fixing fences," he added, "I won't have to be in a hurry. I have all the time in the world, and I plan to hang out with the grandkids."

Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.

Moffat County Locals: Beary ‘Happy’ to meet you, says Sixth Street Bear

There's one Craig local who’s become well known for standing around, essentially loitering, on Sixth Street.

But this upstanding citizen, despite his imposing figure, has a cheerful demeanor.

He never talks, but he has a lot to say.

Happy is ready to celebrate Christmas in Craig in 2018.

 

His first word to his neighbors and anyone happening by is "Hi," which is printed in bold, black letters on a white sign.

His name is Happy — Happy DeuPree, the carved bear.

Happy was created from the stump of a 90-year-old blue spruce tree that once stood in the yard of Elaine and Loyd DeuPree.

When the DeuPrees noticed their tree beginning to lean, they knew it was time for it to come down.

For a "healthy sum," said Elaine DeaPree, in June 2002, they hired chainsaw-carving artist Ken Davis, of Montrose, who used his whittling skills to create Happy, who promptly became a community favorite.

"My husband and I just want to thank you for your wonderful tree carving of the bear …." wrote neighbors Sally and Bill Nash in 2002.

Happy is all set to take on some gardening as he welcomes the arrival of spring in Moffat County.

It’s no accident Happy presents such an impressive appearance. Davis, his creator, has won numerous Whittle the Wood carving competitions, and other examples of the artist’s work are on display in Craig City Park.

The only instructions Davis received was to make sure the bear could hold a flagpole.

Happy is a patriot, and waving the American flag has become an important tradition he started in July 2002 to celebrate his first Independence Day.

Thugs stole Happy's flag in 2011, and that wasn't his only experience with abuse — someone tagged him with spray paint a few years later.

Happy was so angry at the disrespect shown to the flag, one might say the perpetrators are lucky he's a non-violent kind of bear.

In fact, Happy tries to protect other animals.

Often, before hunting season, he brings out a sign that reads, "Run Bambi, Run.” And around, Thanksgiving, he encourages people headed to the nearby grocery store to "eat ham not turkey."

To combat the boredom that comes from all that standing around, Happy dresses up for special occasions.

He enjoys dressing in festive costumes so much that he's become a regular clothes horse, with a large closet in the garage.

Neighbors — including Vicki Huyser, who also assists him in getting dressed — helped make many of his costumes.

Happy masquerades as a jack-o’-lantern for Halloween.

They help Elaine change Happy's outfits about once per month, though they don't have a regular schedule.

When it's time for new duds, his helpers get together in the mornings. They’re careful to avoid very hot or very cold days. They also steer clear of stormy and windy days.

Happy advises, when changing clothes outdoors, it really is best to choose fair weather days.

This means that, after the Christmas holidays, when Craig weather can be cold and grey, he hibernates for a time.

Happy faces northwest, leaving his back exposed to the sun, so every spring, he receives a coat of linseed oil to seal and protect him. The oils give his textured wooden fur a deep patina.

While the bark is now gone from the stump upon which he stands, he's not weathered and worn like some of the other carvings around town.

Happy has a few nicknames, one of them being "DuePree's marquee." He was given that name because he helps advertise community and school events.

Happy is also a community cheerleader, celebrating graduations, wedding announcements, births, and anniversaries — joyful occasions for the most part. But in March 2006, his sign read "we love and miss you papa," to let neighbors know Loyd DuePree had died.

That was a hard time for Happy. He wasn't sure if he had the spirit to clown around and be joyful all the time. But after a brief hibernation, he decided he needed to support his community.

He's not usually political, but twice, Happy took political stands.

When a petition was circulating to unseat former District Attorney Bonnie Roesink, he asked the community to "think before signing petition. Support our DA."

Roesink retained her seat, and in a letter to the editor, she wrote, "I want to thank Craig 6th Street Wooden bear. It has never made a political statement in the past. "

He also urged voters to "please consider 'yes' on 1A." He was really worried that, without the passage of the mill levy, the Museum of Northwest Colorado and Moffat County Libraries would be left to the whims of politicians.

In Happy’s opinion, politicians aren't like bears, because they don't take the long view, and standing at more than 10 feet tall, Happy has a longer view than most.

He thinks the people of Craig could learn a little something from his story.

There he was, over 90 years old and not in the best of shape. Time and attention by loved ones, friends, and neighbors, however, brought out his true spirit — that of a benevolent bear.

First, a mighty tree, and now a mighty bear, Happy has been part of Craig for more than 100 years, and, hopefully, with a little love and care, he'll be around for another 100.

Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.

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Moffat County Locals: Keeping Craig safe for his family, and all families, motivates hero cop Bryan Gonzales

Enforcing the law in a small community requires professionalism and "keeping in mind the oath you took to protect and serve. Everybody gets equal treatment," said Craig Police Department Investigator Bryan Gonzales.

During a brief presentation Nov. 19, members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4265 presented Gonzales with a plaque, "in recognition of unyielding adherence to the highest ideals of law enforcement in maintaining, preserving and protecting the lawful rights of all citizens."

Gonzales was born and raised in Craig, but he didn't take a traditional path into law enforcement.

After graduation from high school, he moved to Denver to study criminal justice at Metro State College, now Metro State University.

"I honestly realized that the typical college thing was not for me at that time," he recalled.

So, he returned to Craig to work, fell in love, and was married.

"My father-in-law let me know there was an ad in the newspaper for a dispatch position with the city," Gonzales said.

He applied for the job and was hired in September 1996 to work as a dispatcher, a role he would hold for four years before entering the police academy.

"CNCC had their first police academy here in town around the same time Colorado State Patrol was absorbing the local dispatch center," Gonzales explained.

As his family grew with the birth of two children, he continued to work full-time, studied, and graduated the police academy in 2000.

"My transition was a lot easier than some," he said. Working in dispatch had allowed him to become familiar with the systems and people of the Craig Police Department.

"I went on a lot of ride-alongs and got to see that other side of it," he said.

The VFW honor is one of many recognitions Gonzales has received since graduating from the police academy.

Craig Police Department Investigator Bryan Gonzales pictured with veterans after Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4265 recognized him in November.

On June 12, he received a commendation presented during a meeting of the Craig City Council in recognition of his role in preventing an attempted suicide.

“This award is presented to officer Bryan Gonzales for rendering extraordinary service to the community,” said Police Chief Jerry DeLong during the presentation.

Gonzales was called to help with a despondent individual who was on top of the Sandrocks preparing to commit suicide.

“He used his negotiating skills and a relationship developed during his lifetime in the community to talk the male away from the edge and diffuse a highly emotional situation,” DeLong said.

Council member Joe Bird, who lives in a home just below the Sandrocks, said he and his wife had watched events unfold. He added his appreciation to the standing ovation given Gonzales by council members and the audience.

"Having a history with someone helps you connect with people at a different level," Gonzales said.

Craig Police Department Investigator Bryan Gonzales pictured with veterans after Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4265 recognized him in November.

When not working, Gonzales enjoys spending time with his family, CrossFit training, and woodworking.

"If there's a word below amateur woodworker, that's what I am. My skills are so elementary it's embarrassing, but I like to make things," he said.

As with all Craig Police Department officers, Gonzales began on patrol. At the time of the incident on the Sandrocks, he was a corporal and has since been promoted to investigator.

"Craig now is not the same as when we grew up. There are a lot of drugs in town. I see it first-hand on a daily basis, and I never thought it be that way here," Gonzales said.

He added his hope that the criminal justice system can find a way to motivate people to alter their behavior.

"Being born and raised in Craig, you want it to be a safe community," Gonzales said, "I want them to be safe and comfortable, no matter where they are at."

Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.

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Moffat County Locals: Craig women a tight-knit bunch, crocheting for companionship, good causes

A group in Craig hopes handmade slippers will warm the hearts — as well as the feet — of more than 100 veterans living in care facilities in Rifle and Grand Junction this Christmas.

The Sunday after Thanksgiving, three ladies — Twila White, Kathy Kuehl, and Mary Walters — gathered at seamstress and M & D craft store owner Walters’ house in Craig to make slippers.

It's become a ritual, of sorts, to meet at Walters' home for companionship and crocheting.

She teaches beginner to experienced crafters new crochet patterns and offers tips to improve a craft she learned when she was about 18 years old.

Mary Walters has been crocheting since she was 18 and teaching others how to craft.

Each year, the group tries to make something to give to veterans. Walters' husband served, and as part of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, she sees some of the "guys" struggling with their memories and guilt.

Walters learned from the Colorado Veterans Community Living Center at Rifle that veterans really appreciate homemade gifts, and she figured they'd get to work to give a gift to each of the veterans in 2019.

"They were so thrilled and asked if they could do it this year for the vets," she said.

So, on Oct. 3, using yarn donated by Walters and the crafters, the three ladies and about 10 others set to work crocheting and knitting 105 slippers — about 70 for residents of the Rifle nursing home and the rest for veterans in the VA Western Colorado Health Care System Rehabilitation Center in Grand Junction.

"People in the community started jumping up and coming forward as they have heard about the program," Walters said.

As some contributed yarn and their skills to make the slippers, others donated money for supplies.

Once finished, each slipper sole is given a rubber, non-skid coating to provide traction.

Once finished each pair of slippers receives is coated on the souls with non-skid rubber, then tagged in preparation for being bagged up.

The task has not been without its challenges. Chief among them, said White, is concentration.

"Concentration is a challenge,” she said. "You have to learn to keep count of every stitch and row."

Each crafter had to learn how to create tennis sock type slippers and a simple slipper with a cuff in sizes medium to extra large.

"It's been a learning process. That's why we meet, is to learn the patterns," Kuehl said.

A desire to do something for local veterans and a need for vets "on this side of the mountain," she said, kept the group focused on its mission — a mission they completed Nov. 25.

Then, on Dec. 8, about 30 volunteers, crafters, and family members gathered at Veterans Hall in Craig and added small gifts of shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, and body spray to packages of slippers for delivery in Rifle and Grand Junction in mid-December.

"We want them to know they are thought of and appreciated, and to do something for them, which is nothing compared to what they did for us," Kuehl said.

Anyone interested in helping on a project in 2019 may call Walters at 970-824-2923.

"We would like to say thank you to all the veterans," White said.

Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.

Moffat County Locals: McCandless family — 80 years of caring for Moffat County animals

Sometimes, great successes arise from humble beginnings.

Consider the following: It's a safe bet that anyone in Moffat County who's ever had a sick or injured animal is familiar with the name "McCandless." In fact, it's a safe bet that more residents know the name than don't, whether they live in the company of animals or not.

For some 80 years, give or take, retired Craig veterinarian Neil McCandless and his father — the late Leon Sumner "L.S." McCandless (or "Ted," to some) — were essentially the only veterinarians in Moffat County, and between them, a Dr. McCandless has tended to Moffat County's livestock from the early 1920s until the younger McCandless entered full retirement in 2006.

"At one point, we were the longest standing business in Moffat County," McCandless said during a recent interview at his home in Craig. "Shepherd and Sons were a year or two behind us, and then they surpassed us when I sold out."

But the reach of the McCandless name extends far beyond tending to the county's veterinary needs.

Both father and son were deeply involved in many other facets of the county's development.

In 1929, L.S. McCandless partnered with C.A. Stoddard to operate the newly combined Craig Courier and Craig Empire, and that unlikely alliance between a vocal Democrat (McCandless) and a staunch Republican (Stoddard) resulted in the birth of an uncommonly fair and balanced newspaper. The elder McCandless also wrote the popular column for the Empire-Courier, "Shot of Scotch,” which became one of the most quoted columns in the United States.

Neil McCandless served on the Moffat County Board of County Commissioners from 1972 to 1976, the time of one of Moffat County's most pivotal projects — the construction of Craig Station.

So "McCandless" is a name most everyone around here knows.

But, sometimes, great successes arise from humble beginnings, and this story doesen't begin with one of the longest standing businesses in Moffat County history, nor does it begin with a name pretty much everyone in the area knows and respects.

It begins back in 1909, with the kindness and care one Moffat County family extended to an orphaned boy.

The kindness of strangers

L.S. McCandless — then known as "Ted" — arrived in Craig in 1909 as an orphan and was promptly taken in by the Hoy family, who lived at the foot of what is today known as Cemetery Hill.

"He would work for his living there, but he got to where they considered him family," McCandless said. "They were so good to him. He went through high school, finished high school, and I'm sure that they helped him financially to go to vet school."

After graduating with his veterinary degree in the early 1920s, the elder McCandless initially operated a "mobile practice," traveling across the county — from ranch to home to ranch to home — to treat residents' animals.

"Highway 40 hadn't been constructed yet in those days, and in the summer, a lot of work still was with a horse-drawn type of wagon and in the winter, sometimes, a horse-drawn cutter." McCandless said.

He explained that was the only way to run a rural veterinary practice in the first half of the 20th century. And in those days, veterinary care in the American West was not always easy to come by.

"For several years, even the Steamboat area didn't have a veterinarian," he said.

The elder McCandless would continue according to the mobile model for nearly 40 years, until his son, following in his father's footsteps, graduated veterinary school himself and returned to Craig to join the practice.

Father and son

After the younger McCandless' 1956 graduation from Colorado A&M (now Colorado State University) with a doctor of veterinary medine degree, father and son opened what is today Bear Creek Animal Hospital on the two-acres of property upon which their home sat.

"… It had a house on it and then an older building that we remodeled and made into what is now the clinic," he recalled. "Out of a barn, we made some stalls and then had it covered. … In those days, most animals were brought into us in two-ton trucks with stock racks, and then gradually, of course, it became horse trailers and livestock trailers."

By that time, the elder McCandless was in his early 60s, and "he just kept it going a little bit until I could graduate, and then, it went very well, because there was a need for veterinarians in those days."

He said his father "supported" him for a very brief time during his early days of practice.

"We called it (the clinic) McCandless and McCandless," he recalled. "He was paying me, supporting me, until I could make enough money to support my wife, and we had one child soon after that, that fall, actually, and it took two months until I was supporting myself here in this area."

McCandless worked out of the new clinic, but also kept up his father's mobile practice.

"I operated a lot on Little Snake River, because it was without a veterinary service." A veterinarian from southern Wyoming had been coming in to provide services, but McCandless said that, once he began taking care of the area, "… he (the Wyoming vet) was glad to have me move in. He didn't resent me at all."

Much of McCandless' early business came from his mobile practice. In a 2006 interview with the Moffat County Morning News' magazine, "Rural Living," he said traveling the county vaccinating and testing cattle is what supported his family through the winter of 1956-57.

But residents soon discovered it was more economical to come to the clinic than to order a house call.

"It didn't take too many years, however, until they found out if they only had an individual animal sick, it was less expensive to haul a cut horse or a sick milk cow into the clinic," he said.

Practicing veterinary medicine, in those days, was a difficult prospect.

"We had a well and septic system," he recalled. "… In fact, I was on a party line," a fact that often complicated running a business.

"It was hard to run a business along a party line, and I'm sure it became very annoying to the other members on the party line, because in those days, there were a lot of people on the different party lines."

McCandless sold the practice to current Bear Creek owner Dr. Kelly Hepworth, originally of Laramie, Wyoming, in 1999, but continued working until 2006.

"I had to fulfill my 50 years strenuous labor," he said with a wry grin.

But the life of a rural veterinarian sometimes goes a little beyond "strenuous."

During his five-decades of practice, he's had his leg broken by a cow — "Knocked me down, then stepped on me" — and his neck broken by a horse.

Yet, even after all the difficulties, struggles, and physical injuries, he still carries a deep love for animals, and when asked if he ever misses his life as a veterinarian, his answer is a single, heartfelt word: "Terribly."

After a moment's consideration, he added: "But there just comes a time you should quit. I did."

Life in retirement

These days, McCandless' life is a good bit less exciting, but he seems to enjoy it that way.

The face of a clock hanging on the wall of his home office presents all the numbers in a pile at the bottom of the face, accompanied by the words, "Retired. Who cares?"

But his cozy home office is also testament to his days as a veterinarian, with diplomas, news articles, photos, and most impressive, a miniature replica of his clinic, built by Jill, his wife of 65 years.

The couple has three daughters, including former Moffat County Clerk and Recorder Elaine Sullivan, as well as seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

In retirement, McCandless said he enjoys spending time at his son-in-law's ranch in the mountains, and, until old injuries from his veterinary years caught up to him, he was an avid golfer.

"I've had so many bruises and breaks, I've got an arm now that won't let me golf," he said. "It would be a joke if I were golfing anyway."

He also retains a lifelong passion for antique cars, particularly the Model A Coupe with a rumbleseat. He's owned six Model As in his lifetime — including his first car — but never the Model A Coupe with a rumbleseat, the car he owns now. His affinity for that particular model dates back to his youth.

"When I was a boy, my older sister was going with a young man who had a Model A, and of course, I was the one who rode in the rumbleseat, and I thought it was so much fun, and that was what I wanted to have," he said. "I'd never had a Model A coupe with a rumbleseat, and so I wanted to end my days owning a Model A Coupe with a rumbleseat. It's a Model A Sport Coupe, they call them, and it does has a rumbleseat."

With a grin, he asks: "Do you want to see it?"

And out in the garage, there it sits — a Model A Coupe with a rumbleseat. It's old, for a fact, but at the same time, it's proud; stately, almost; meticulously maintained and carrying quite few more miles beneath its gleaming hood.

And looking at the vehicle, it begins to feel like it might be a fitting metaphor for its owner.

Old, yes, but proud, solid, stately — and still more than good enough for a spin or two around the block.

Moffat County Locals: Lila Herod — A legacy of involvement

One way to think of Lila Herod is as a steady hand on the rudder that ensures Moffat County's elections are sailing on smooth waters.

Since she was first elected Moffat County Clerk & Recorder in 2010, one of Herod's most visible — and important — roles has been to ensure county voters can cast their ballots with the assurance they'll be handled carefully, accurately, fairly, and efficiently.

But, as the term-limited county official looks to her impending departure from an office she's run the past eight years and worked for just shy of three decades, she says she's most looking forward to putting in more time in another role — her favorite role.

"Kylee Jo's Grandma," she said, a broad smile brightening her face at the mention of her granddaughter's name. "That's the best title of all. … She's the boss of the whole, entire family, and we like it that way."

When asked about any other plans for retirement, however, Herod's response is essentially a blank slate.

"I feel like I need to take a couple of months to figure out who I am," she said. "This is pretty much the only career I've ever had."

The feeling is understandable. Thirty years is, after all, a long time.

"Yeah, it is a long time," she agreed. "I'm like the lint around here, or the dust."

But one thing seems clear. Herod has no plans of going far, and she has no intention of disappearing from the community she's grown to love.

'Natural progression'

Look back to the lint and dust that was hanging around the Clerk & Recorder’s Office back in October 1989, and you'd see Lila Herod reporting for her first day of work at her new job — part-time clerk. From day one, she was immersed in what was to become her primary professional passion: elections.

"At that time, the secretary of state's office had just come out with a new statewide voter registration," she explained. "It was called COVERS … for Colorado Voter Registration, and so my first job was to take all the paper registrations for every voter and put them in that system."

As part of the same task, she also created the first system of "locators," or address libraries, to define the boundaries of the various precincts and special districts. Thanks in large part to this work, there are probably few who know the county any better than Herod.

"I had to learn how to read a map," she recalled. "And it's funny — even today, everybody will be like, 'I don't know what precinct I'm in,' and I'll say, 'Well, where do you live?' and generally, I can come up with where their precinct is just from their address."

Herod's path from part-time clerk to running the office was to take her through 20 years and several roles, and it was during those years she mastered many of the skills she so effortlessly employs today. Within a year of starting her new job, she was already beginning to work her way up the ladder.

"Jessie Rowley took office as the new clerk in 1990, and then, I started working for her full-time as her office bookkeeper and the election clerk," Herod said.

She would continue taking care of the office's bookkeeping work, as well as running the county's elections, for the next eight years, until, in 1998, she was named chief deputy by then-County Clerk & Recorder Beverly Johnson, a role she would continue under Elaine Sullivan, her direct predecessor.

"It was just sort of this natural progression," she said.

In 2010, she ran unopposed for county clerk & recorder and was, of course, elected. She was re-elected in 2014, again unopposed.

"And that's the end of the story," she said.

Only, it's not.

Family life

The eldest of six children, Herod was born in Utah, but her family relocated to Moffat County when she was only 5.

"My Dad was a farmer out west of town, so I grew up in the Lily Park area, went to school in Maybell — a little, small school," she recalled.

And when she says "little" and "small," she means it.

"My funniest story is that there was me and two Brians in the graduating class of eighth grade," she said.

Her parents divorced when she was 16, and soon after, she said, her entire family — with the exception of herself — left the state.

"… Everybody left me here in Colorado," she said. "Now, they're slowly coming back. I have a sister who came back and a younger brother who's back, so half of us are back in Craig. But I'm the only one who stayed and never left."

After her class-of-three, eighth-grade graduation from Maybell, Herod went on to attend and graduate Moffat County High School, and it was there she met her future husband, Joe, who these days works at Colowyo Coal Mine.

They married directly out of high school.

The couple has two children; their son, Casey, who is married to Cami, and daughter, Chelsey. Chelsey and her husband, Matt Hammer, are the parents of 6-year-old Kylee Jo, the aforementioned "boss of the whole, entire family."

‘Great people’

While she is definitely looking forward to spending more time with her family — particularly Kylee Jo — Herod acknowledged she'll miss the job, at least, certain aspects of it. Most notably, she'll miss her interactions with people.

"Voters are great people," she said, "and I absolutely will miss the elections, and my election girl, Tori (Pingley). … I couldn't do this job without her."

Asked what she'll miss least, she replied, "Motor Vehicle."

She was quick to qualify, however, that she enjoys being able to help Motor Vehicle customers, most of whom are not thrilled to be there in the first place.

"Motor Vehicle is a division of Department of Revenue, so there's just that stigma that goes with Department of Revenue," she said. "You stand in line to get your driver's license, you stand in line to get your license plates, and we want more money, more money all the time, and I have empathy, because I don't like giving my money to the government either.

"Then, they don't have the right paperwork, or they didn't get their insurance, and it feels like just bureaucracy — that you're always being told, 'No, you need to go get more documents. No, we can't help you today; come back tomorrow. Bring more money.'"

She said she misses the earlier days, when regulations were not so stringent.

"When I first came here, things were a little bit more relaxed," she said. "… Like, you didn't have to provide ID, you weren't required to prove to us that you had insurance. If you were kind of having a rough time financially, we had the ability to extend your temporary permit and give you a little bit of time."

Not so now, she said, as the Department of Revenue has become much more strict in its enforcement policy, and to Herod's way of thinking, this can become an impediment to providing service, especially in a small community.

"When you live in a small town, you have relationships with the people, and you understand their circumstances and where they're coming from," she said. "And now, it feels like we have to be part of that big government that just says, 'No.'"

'Being involved'

In addition to her various duties in the clerk & recorder’s office, Herod has also been involved in a number of committees and boards through the years.

"I've served on the Republican Central Committee since the mid ’90s," she said. "I got involved because I figured if I was going to be working in the election field, I should at least know what the word 'caucus' means. The first time I heard it, I thought it was a nasty word."

And her service work is not limited to politics.

"I served on United Way for 10 years, the Library Board for 12 years," she said, adding that she has also been involved in organizing the annual Festival of Trees throughout its seven-year lifetime.

"I like being involved in the community," she said. "I was over at the library the other day to check out some books and visiting with them, and, you know, that's a disappointment in what they're facing in the coming years, and she said they're going to be looking for volunteers, and I said, 'Put my name on the list! I would love to do storytime.'"

That's no surprise. It's pretty easy to envision Herod reading stories to a group of spellbound children.

It's part of who she is.

One of the things that comes across plainly during a conversation with her is her love for her work, particularly the parts that allow her to interact with and help the community.

And though her future plans are far from settled, it's a safe bet they'll include continuing to work toward the betterment of her community.

"There's always plenty to do in a small community," Herod said. "It's just getting involved."

So, after she takes time for "a big deep breath" Moffat County residents can expect to see Herod around, no longer in office, but still doing what she's done for the past 30 years — working to better her community.

"You know, you hope that you make a difference," she said. "I guess you never know if you do, but it certainly has been good to me."

Moffat County Locals: Village Inn waitress Eileen Kunkle hangs up apron, retires after 40 years of serving community

CRAIG — One of Moffat County's best waitresses has hung up her apron and turned in her serving tray, retiring after 40 years of service at the same Craig restaurant.

"My husband's cousin was one of the original waitresses and told me about the job," explained newly retired Village Inn waitress Eileen Kunkle. "They had high turnover, a little like they do now, so she said to me, 'Now just don't quit on me in three weeks.' Forty years later, I didn't quit on her. I'm still here."

On Dec. 4, Kunkle officially retired and now plans to spend her time enjoying the coffee and pies at Village Inn rather than serving them.

Kunkle said she's not leaving Craig and will be in and out of the place. Her list of things to do in retirement is likely to include spending time with her three sons and their wives, her eight grandchildren, and her two great-granddaughters.

As to what else might be on the horizon, she said she'd have to talk with her best friend, Keta — a female black lab and blue heeler mix — to "figure out" how they'll spend their time.

She said she will miss her regular customers, people like Dave DeRose, whom she said, "has been here since I can remember. He said I served his son more meals than a mother would have."

Bouquets of flowers filled the top of the pie case at Village Inn given as gifts to retiring waitress Eileen Kunkle.

 

And then, there's the Monday ladies group and a local family that visits most Tuesdays — all her regular local customers.

"There are little kids that went to school here, and now, they are grown and have their own children. To me, it’s one big continual family," Kunkle said.

Village Inn manager Jauneth Madsen was 15 when she started work on the bus staff at the restaurant. Kunkle helped Madsen learn the business and mentored her.

"It's bittersweet,” Madsen said. “I'm excited for her to take this step for herself, but I will miss having her as part of the team.”

Waitress Mariaha Sadvar-Gerber shared the sentiment.

"She's one of my favorites. I've worked with her four years, since I started," Sadvar-Gerber said. "I'm really happy for her, but she'll be missed. Forty years is a long time to put into a place. … I hope she comes and sees us."

Kunkle was voted Moffat County's Best Waitress in 2011, but after 40 years of working on her feet, Kunkle's hips give her some trouble, though she said her back and shoulders are still good, and her wit is as quick as ever.

"Excuse me, I've got to go and check on this one customer," she said during a recent interview.

Even on her last day of work, the customers took priority.

Those customers see only a small part of the job, Kunkle said.

It might have been her last day on the job, but waitress Eileen Kunkle didn’t miss a beat in serving customers.

She added that, each shift, each server is responsible for doing the side work — such as clearing tables, cutting fruit, refilling condiments, and cleaning counters and floors — to prepare for the next shift.

Clearing tables was her least favorite task.

"Maybe that's why my table at home is cluttered," Kunkle said with a laugh. “You have your same crap at different jobs, but there was nothing that bothered me enough to make me quit."

She also spoke of some of the changes she’s seen through the years. Her hourly pay went from 75 cents to a little more than $7, plus tips.

"Tipping is higher now, but that cost-of-living is higher; everything costs more. When I started here, we had elderly schoolteachers who would come in for a cup of coffee and leave 10 cents. But for them, it was like leaving $1 for a cup these days," she said.

By Kunkle's reckoning, Craig has about half the population now as when she started. She said she misses some of the little old stores that used to fill the town, but she doesn't miss the A-line dresses, skirts, and bow-ties that used to be part of waitress uniforms.

"We started in skirts and froze our butts off in the wintertime, and now, we are in slacks. … It's a little bit more comfortable. At least you don't have to worry about someone looking up your skirts," Kunkle said.

Another change was the introduction of computers.

"You had to write shorthand when we started. Now, it's your own shorthand, because we type the orders into the computer for the cooks," Kunkle said, adding, "I gotta go see if my burger is up."

And then, she was off again, to deliver a hot hamburger to a hungry customer.

Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.

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Moffat County Locals: From the Editor — What’s a local?

When I was younger — much, much younger — I worked for a Korean gentleman named Mr. Lee.

Mr. Lee was one of the most intelligent people I've ever known, and he was constantly working to learn new things. Particularly fascinating to him was our language — a language he'd learned and adopted as a boy when his family emigrated to the United States — and though his English — to my ear, at least — was very nearly perfect, he was always looking for ways to advance his mastery of it.

To that end, he frequently came to me with questions and observations about the language, and occasionally, a general complaint.

"Mr. Patterson!" he called from his office one day.

He never once called me "Jim." It was always "Mr. Patterson," with him, and every time I heard it, I unconsciously glanced around to see if my Dad had come into the room.

"I do not understand in English why the same word can mean so many different things," he continued, his irritation coloring his tone. "Like 'post.' You post a guard, you go to the Post Office to mail a letter, you put a post in the ground. All those things are different, but word is the same. In Korean, one word means one thing —nothing else."

He uttered a deep sigh. "English is very strange and confusing."

This seemed more like a general complaint to me, so I didn't really know how to answer him, but his observation stuck with me from that day forward.

English is very strange and confusing, and the same word can mean a plethora of different things depending on context.

And that's what I started thinking about when I considered the word "local." If you look it up in the dictionary, you'll find several different definitions, a fact that would probably have driven poor Mr. Lee straight up a wall.

But here in Moffat County, we know exactly what the word "local" means, especially in the context of the publication you currently hold, and it means a lot more than any definition you'll find in the dictionary.

Locals are the glue that binds a community together. They're the folks we see every day, the friends and neighbors who share our struggles alongside our triumphs. They're the generous, giving individuals who are always willing to step forward and help a friend in need, who make this town and the county that surrounds it more than just a mark on a map or an organized collection of bricks and mortar.

Without these people — without these Moffat County locals — would we even have a community?

I really don't see how.

So, once a year, we put together a publication designed exclusively to spotlight some of those people — people who may not often make the news, but whose contributions to our collective sense of belonging and well-being consistently make Moffat County a welcoming and appealing place to live and work.

Not all of us were born here, but all of us choose to be here, and I strongly suspect that's because we're a caring community, a giving community.

A community of locals.

So, as you read these stories, we invite you to reflect on all the blessings that make Moffat County a community, not the least of which are the people who call our little corner of the Yampa Valley home.

You, Faithful Reader, are one of those people, and we thank you for being our friend, our neighbor … our fellow local.

Jim Patterson is editor of the Craig Press.

Energy Blend: Oil, gas production at 10-year low in Moffat County

Sluggish oil and natural gas production in Moffat County could deliver the worst year in a decade.

Annual production data for Moffat County over the past 10 years.

According to data from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, by July 2018, production was less than half the total for 2017, and the number of producing wells had fallen from more than 700 in January to only 150 in July. Production for the year is also trending below amounts for each of the previous 10 years, from 2008 to 2018.

The peak of natural gas production in Moffat County, as for most of the state, was in 2008, before prices for natural gas fell on the global commodities market.

That year, according to COGCC data, more than 20,000,000 MCF (thousands of cubic feet) of natural gas were locally produced. As natural gas prices were falling, global oil prices had risen, and in 2013, oil production peaked in Moffat County at nearly 500,000 barrels.

Sales of natural gas produced in Moffat County also appeared to slow in July 2018, with about a third, or 20,244 MCF of the total amount of natural gas produced — about 66,238 MCF — in the county in July was burned by flaring. This compares to the 39,871 MCF sold. Natural gas is often a byproduct of oil production and may be burned off in the flare for the oil well without equipment to capture, store, and sell natural gas.

Table showing the amount of oil in barrels and natural gas in thousands of cubic gas (MCF) produced January through July in Moffat County in 2018.

The trend in Moffat County mirrored a decrease in production across the state. Colorado law requires oil and natural gas producers to deliver monthly reports on each well’s production.

The number of producing wells in Garfield County dropped from 13,332 in January to 1,677 in July. Rio Blanco County went from 4,177 producing wells to 127 producing wells. Routt County started the year with 38 producing wells and ended July with 20 producing wells. And, in Weld County, thought to be one of the most productive areas on the Front Range, the number of producing wells dropped from 25,992 in January to a mere 1,221 in July.

Even so, Colorado continues to be among the top states. In June 2018, the state production of crude oil — according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration — trailed Texas, Oklahoma, North Dakota, New Mexico, California, Alaska, and Federal Reserves of the Gulf Coast, but was almost twice the number of barrels produced in Wyoming.

Annual production in 2017 adn 2018 through August for neighboring counties and Weld County.

No complaints were filed against operators in 2017 or through the end of August 2018.

Two spills, or releases, from wells operating in Moffat County were reported to COGCC in 2018. Wexpro investigated a release in March and, in April, identified the point of origin as a well in the Wilson area. In August, a well formerly operated by Texaco in the Moffat Dome near Hamilton was reported for a release that appeared to result from older, historic flow lines, as there are several older plugged and abandoned wells and flowlines in the vicinity. Four operators had remediation plans primarily associated with pit cleanup.

Seven new drilling permits were approved by August 2018 for wells in Moffat County, compared to 80 permits approved in Rio Blanco County, nearly 500 in Garfield County, and more than 1,900 in Weld County during the same time period. No new wells were permitted in Routt County from January to July 2018.

Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.

Energy Blend: Despite local increase, Colorado offers second-lowest energy rates in country

Moffat County Resident Linda Pinnt noticed an increase in her electric bill in August. She said her bill increased by $50 between July and August, even though she thought she had used about the same amount of electricity, and suspected the installation of a new meter might have contributed to the increase.

Pinnt is one of many Northwest Colorado residents who are paying more to keep the lights on following rate increases by Yampa Valley Electric Association.

YVEA — a not-for-profit electric cooperative serving more than 26,000 homes and businesses in Northwest Colorado and Carbon County, Wyoming — is owned by its customers, and rates are set by a board of directors elected by those customers. The recent rate increase was based on a study done in 2016 that determined, “rates must be adjusted to cover the rising cost of expenses and distribute the costs to our members on a more equitable basis.”

YVEA purchases power from the Western Area Power Administration — a federal agency that primarily markets and transmits power generated from 56 hydroelectric plants and  the Navajo Generating Station coal-fired plant near Page, Arizona — and Xcel Energy, which in May announced, “one of the most aggressive carbon-reduction goals in the industry by cutting carbon emissions 35 percent.” And by 2030, Xcel plans to cut emissions back to 2005 levels, exceeding the goals of the Paris Climate accords.

But the change might not be as bad as it seems.

Despite the rate increases, when WalletHub — a website that offers free credit scores, full credit reports, and “the brain of an artificially intelligent financial advisor” — compared the total monthly energy bills in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, Colorado came out as the second lowest, with an average monthly energy bill of $252. Wyoming residents, who face an average monthly energy bill of $372, ranked as having the highest costs in the nation.

In contrast, Atmos Energy customers should have noticed a decrease in natural gas prices when the Public Utilities Commission approved a request for a rate decrease in June.

“The commission and Atmos Energy have acted quickly to pass on the savings from the Tax Cut and Jobs Act,” according to the notice.

Natural gas is a commodity traded on international markets. Atmos Energy rates are determined by the Gas Cost Adjustment, a figure calculated annually and based on the forecasted gas commodity cost, forecasted upstream service cost, and gas price management costs incurred by the company. Rate adjustments must also be approved by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.

Comparatively lower rates may not comfort those trying to make ends meet.

“I hate to see what winter is going to be like,” Pinnt said.

Both Atmos Energy and YVEA offer qualified customers budget billing, a payment method that averages the bill through the course of the year to keep monthly payments more consistent. Both companies also offer tips for improving efficiency and helping keep costs low.

To learn more visit atmosenergy.com, and click on “Ways to Save,” or visit yvea.com/content/yampa-valley-electric-association click “Energy Efficiency.”

Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.