GUNNISON, Colo. – For 123 years, Cattlemen’s Days is more than a community get-together, more than a county fair.
It’s a celebration and a homecoming, a chance for folks who were raised in this neck of the woods to reunite with family and friends. It’s a chance for neighbors to reconnect, an opportunity for visitors to feel at home. From the rodeo to the carnival to the exhibits and shows, there’s a great deal to experience during this special time of year.
Les Mergelman understood that. He grew up near Gunnison and was actively involved in many things in the community. After graduating from Colorado State University, he served as an extension agent before getting into banking, and he always found a way to serve his hometown.
Many remember him as the voice of the Cattlemen’s Day parade. He will be honored during this year’s cavalcade, set for 10 a.m. Saturday, July 15.
“He got his agriculture background here, working on a ranch,” said Cara Faulds, Mergelman’s sister. “He just announced the parade here, but he also announced a lot of Little Britches rodeos, amateur rodeos and did a lot of livestock shows at the Delta, Hotchkiss and Olathe areas.”
Whatever he did, Mergelman made an impact. Born Feb. 8, 1946, in Gunnison, Leslie “Les” Owen Mergelman died May 12, 2023, at age 77. He spent most of his life in Colorado, working in Canon City, Buena Vista, Fleming, Steamboat Springs and Gunnison before spending 37 years in Cedaredge, the hometown of his wife, Dorothy.
Each year, though, he returned home to be the voice of the Cattlemen’s Days parade and to share his passion for this community. As a youngster, he was active in FFA and 4H. As an adult, he served on the Delta County Fair Board and served as chairman of the Colorado State Fair Commission. He was a lifetime member of the National FFA Alumni Association and was known to donate to FFA chapters.
“The things that made him special to me was his history and the love for people that he had,” Faulds said. “He loved the kids. He would do anything for a youth activity, be it sports, 4H or FFA. Both of his kids were state FFA officers.
“He did a lot of things to support others, and he was very social. He was a special person.”
He was a symbol of Cattlemen’s Days, a reflection of the times people share together. Whether it’s at the rodeo or gathering at the horse show or lining the streets for the parade, it’s a complete community celebration. Another glance back will be the parade marshals, Joe Dixon and Dave and LaDonna McClain
“I think it’s one time a year that the community gets together, and it’s a big celebration,” Faulds said. “When I was a kid, Cattlemen’s Days was the time when people came off the ranches and had one big celebration before haying season. It was a thing for everybody to get together and socialize.
“The parade was a big part of that, and Les was a big part of the parade for a lot of us. My dad announced the parade before Les did. Les was kind of a duplicate of my dad, as far as announcing and being a firm supporter of youth. Les was just really big on the community and for the kids.”