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Family and community service: The Mergelman legacy

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File photo Les and Dorothy reigned as grand marshals of the Delta County Fair in 2016.

Sitting over coffee and conversation, Les Mergelman recalls when he first met his wife Dorothy -- or rather the second time he met her.

Dorothy, whose maiden name is Wick, is a native of Cedaredge while Les grew up in Gunnison where his family had homesteaded since 1868. So the two might never have met if it hadn't been for Dorothy's aunt and uncle, Jack and Mary Kehmeier, who got to know Les' parents in the 1930s while all were attending Western State in Gunnison. The families kept in touch over the years with the Gunnison crowd coming to Cedaredge to visit and pick fruit and Dorothy's kin visiting in Gunnison.

"We played together as kids," Les recalls. "But I really noticed her when I met her for the second time about 50 years ago."

On that fateful day, Les and his brother had been walking in downtown Gunnison on an errand for their father when they happened upon Dorothy. Les was a Colorado State University graduate who had just returned from overseas where he spent six months in Iran as part of a 4-H international farm youth exchange. Dorothy was working on her teaching degree at Western State.

After their chance meeting, they saw each other often and both ended up working in Buena Vista where they married in 1972. As newlyweds, Les worked at the local cattle sale barn and Dorothy taught school.

A few years later Les received what he recalls as "an offer I couldn't refuse" and the couple relocated to eastern Colorado. The offer came from his fraternity brother who hired Les to serve as an agricultural loan officer for a bank in Sterling. Although his father had worked in insurance and real estate, Les didn't cotton to a desk job. But Dorothy was teaching in nearby Fleming and the couple settled in to raise their son and daughter.

Soon Les found that he enjoyed banking in part because much of his loan officer work took him outside to appraise cattle and equipment. He also worked weekends as a rodeo announcer and auctioneer which kept him in touch with the wide open spaces he loved.

But the topography of Sterling was a little too wide open for the Mergelmans who missed the mountains. After five years on the eastern Colorado plains, the family returned to Gunnison where Les worked in banking and Dorothy taught school. They followed the same pattern of work in Steamboat Springs.

In 1983 the couple moved back to Dorothy's hometown of Cedaredge. She taught school in Delta and Cedaredge, retiring in 2006 after 35 years in the classroom. Les worked in banking in Cedaredge and Olathe, retiring in 2000 after 32 years.

Wherever they roamed in Colorado, Les and Dorothy were involved in their local communities and so it was only natural that they became active in Cedaredge and Delta County doings. Both have served as officers and members of the Delta County Fair Board and both have also spent several years on the Junior Market Livestock Sale committee. Both are active in the Cedaredge Community United Methodist Church and as alumni in Future Farmers of America (FFA).

Les' other activities have included the Surface Creek Valley Historical Society and several local service groups as well as serving as an officer and member on the Colorado State Fair Board. He's also served as chairman and on the executive committee of Club 20 and as a member of the Delta County Planning Commission.

Dorothy has served as a 4-H leader and as president of both the Cedaredge and Colorado State FFA Alumni. And for several years she has fulfilled the role of chairman of the board for the Methodist Thrift Shop.

"I love the thrift shop," she said. She especially enjoys working with other volunteers who run the nonprofit shop in downtown Cedaredge.

As good citizens, the Mergelmans have accumulated an impressive array of community service. And yet, for of all their accomplishments, Les and Dorothy agree that what makes them most proud is having raised two kids who earned top recognition in the form of FFA State and American Farmer Degrees. In addition to earning their FFA degrees, son Crandal, who lives in Rangely, and daughter, Kari, who lives in Nebraska, have also held state leadership offices in the FFA.

The Mergelmans have four grandchildren, two in Nebraska and two in Rangely. And they have a fifth-wheeler trailer which they use for regular trips to "chase after the grandkids." Thinking of their trailer, Les paused and considered his wife of 47 years and recounted the many farming, ranching and rodeo skills she has mastered over the years.

"If anyone had asked me 50 years ago could I back a fifth-wheeler or a horse trailer," Dorothy laughs, "I'd have said no."

"Now I love the looks she gets when we travel and she backs the thing right up without a hitch," Les said. "This lady has amazed me all my life."

Photo submitted Les can often be found in his barbecue apron, cooking outdoor treats for community events.
Photo by Don Benjamin Cedaredge residents Les and Dorothy Mergelman share a dedication to community service and family.
Photo submitted The Mergelman clan gathered for a recent family trip to Disneyland.
Photo by Don Benjamin Dorothy Mergelman loves her commitment to Cedaredge Methodist Thrift Shop and the volunteers who work there. “We have a lot a fun,” she said.
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