Herrera family honored at Durango Fiesta Days

Marcelino Herrera takes a break while helping to build the original La Plata County Fairgrounds grandstands in the 1930s. The Herrera family is being honored at Durango Fiesta Days this week for its long tradition of involvement in the event and area ranching. Enlarge photo

Courtesy of Herrera family

Marcelino Herrera takes a break while helping to build the original La Plata County Fairgrounds grandstands in the 1930s. The Herrera family is being honored at Durango Fiesta Days this week for its long tradition of involvement in the event and area ranching.

Parades and rodeos, street dances and pie auctions, hmm, it must be time for Durango Fiesta Days. This year, Fiesta Days organizers are honoring a family that has a long and distinguished heritage of both ranching and participating in the festivities. With numerous branches on the family tree and members ranging in age from 2 to 86, the Herrera family will be here for generations to come.

The Herrera patriarch, Tomas Herrera, came to Southwest Colorado in the early 1880s via Espaņola, N.M. He was working for a local sheep man, who paid him in sheep rather than cash.

To have a place to put his sheep, Tomas Herrera homesteaded 160 acres in Long Hollow near Marvel, and by 1907 was purchasing another ranch in Long Hollow. The story from here mainly concerns his son Marcelino, known for, among other things, showing off his golden palomino in Fiesta Day parades.

His children remember a two-day trip by wagon into town to come to Fiesta Days, called Spanish Trails Fiesta Days back then. (It became the Navajo Trail Fiesta Days in the 1960s and arrived at its current name in the 1980s.) Unlike today’s crowded community calendar, it was one of only a few big events in La Plata County, and it was much anticipated and enjoyed.

Since Marcelino Herrera also helped build the La Plata County Fairgrounds in the 1930s, one might say he had a vested interest in the festivities, since that’s the center of activities for the week.

While the family was hit hard by the Great Depression, the Herreras held onto quite a bit of their ranch properties. Marcelino’s brother, Fernando, also known as “Fred,” had three children, and Joe Herrera is still living. Marcelino’s children said Joe spent so much time at his Uncle Marcelino’s house, he was more like a brother than a cousin to them.

At 86, Joe’s the ranking member of the Herrera clan. He is still an avid horseman who never misses a chance to help with gathering or branding cattle with his excellent roping skills. He enjoyed competing in the Fiesta Days Rodeo in his younger days and also loves to dance, so you can imagine he finds it difficult to choose his favorite event at Fiesta Days.

Later generations have continued in the family tradition of horsemanship. Marcelino’s youngest son, Pete, became the first jockey to win a $1 million purse at the “All American Futurity” Horse Race at Ruidoso Downs in New Mexico in 1972. Marcelino’s sons Thomas, Levi and Tony also competed in the Fiesta Days Rodeo.

Rodeo champions abound in the younger generations. Brad Herrera was the Colorado Bareback Riding Champion and All-Around Cowboy in 1973. Tommy Baker was the Colorado Bull Riding Champion in 1988.

A big year for the clan was 2003 when Stetson Herrera was the National High School Rodeo Bareback Riding Champion, and Kacey Kobza was the Breakaway Roping Champion at the International Youth Finals Rodeo. Wow!

Continuing the streak, Keylie Herrera-Tatum won the title of Women’s Professional Team Roping Header Champion in 2008.

The youngest generation is off to a strong start. Rickie Baker was the Durango Fiesta Days junior princess in 2008 and princess in 2010.

If you’ve never attended a Fiesta Days, make this the year you participate in one of our community’s great traditions. And if you didn’t understand any of those rodeo categories, you’d better go the rodeo (1 p.m. and 7 p.m. today and 1 p.m. Sunday at the fairgrounds). But before you head over there, go downtown for the parade, which starts at 10 a.m. today.

The Snowdown Parade is full of crazy floats and costumes – this one is old-style Western, with horses, marching bands, and in my childhood, a lot of kids. That was one of my favorite summer activities growing up, figuring out what to “be” in the parade. One year, when I was about 8, I went as Miss America in the swimsuit competition. (I know, it was as ridiculous as it sounds. I was so enamored of the sash my dad, Charlie Butler, made, I insisted on reprising the outfit for Halloween and just about froze my patootie off.)

Also on the agenda are a pancake breakfast, Cowboy Church, Chuckwagon Cook-off and other assorted activities.

Visit www.durangofiestadays.com for the complete schedule.

Thanks to President Cindi Brevik of the Durango Fiesta Days Organizing Committee for telling me more about the Herreras. Whether you see them in the parade or introduced at an event, now you know they’re a family that can truly say they helped build La Plata County.

Join me in giving them a big round of applause.

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Folks are dancing in the street for the birthdays of Lea Leach, Annelore Miller, Baden Dickson, Jamie Dickson, Dianna Hassett, Merl Goff, Mike Thompson, Wanda Greve, Linda Jernigan, Piper Johnson,Parker Norvell, Kelly Somsen, Scott Atchison, Sheena Carswell, Hal Emrich, Willow Schultz, Carla Branson, Carol Gunderson, Wanda Ellingson, Levi Tichi, Betty Carroll, Janey Silver, Carolyn Brown and Harlan Steinle. No, wait, that’s for Fiesta Days, but you can still celebrate.

Special 50th birthday greetings go to Music in the Mountains favorite David Korevaar.

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School may be out for the summer, but the good our students did in raising money for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society through its Pennies for Patients lives on.

They joined students from 463 schools throughout the state in raising more than $390,000. It’s amazing how that pesky spare change adds up.

Local schools that participated included Durango and Animas high schools, Escalante and Miller middle schools and Ignacio elementary, intermediate and junior high schools.

Kudos go out to school coordinators Colleen Dunning, Brian Geisinger, Michelle Fletcher, Keri Ostergard, Jennifer Diethrich and Dayna Talamante-Montoya for working with their students on reaching out to other kids.

The LLS works toward cures for leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and myeloma, the so-called “blood” cancers. The cure rate for childhood acute leukemia has now reached 90 percent, but there is still work to be done, particularly on minimizing the side effects that can have an impact on survivors’ health for the rest of their lives.

Schools can register for the 2012-13 Pennies for Patients at www.schoolandyouth.org/rm or by calling (720) 440-8628.

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Celebrating their anniversaries with a day out – maybe at the rodeo? – are Paul and Cathy Duggan, Bob and Betsy Morris, Jerry and Carol Hanes, Gary and PatRussell, Mark and Barb Ugai, Ed and Sonya Willmett, Bob and Mary Sieger and Dan and Judy Harris (50!).

neighbors@durangoherald.com