The Rae and Brigitte Van Roekel family of Montezuma was inducted into the Iowa Draft Horse and Mule Hall of Fame on Saturday, Aug. 20 in the Jacobson Building at the Iowa State Fairgrounds. Pictured are, from left: Ashley Sleeth, Iowa Draft Horse and Mule Association youth representative, who presented the hall of fame plaque; Brad and Rita Van Roekel Damery; Alexa and Lex Jack; Brigitte Van Roekel; Wyatt Jack and his girlfriend, Jasmine Foster; Shauna and husband, Jon Plants and daughter, Gracie; Houston Van Roekel and his girlfriend, Kalynn Wanders; Jackie and husband, Danny.
By J.O. Parker
The late Rae (Razor) Van Roekel loved draft horses and mules and often talked about the good old days of horse-drawn buggies, wagons and caravans of horses as folks enjoyed a summer trail ride and picnic.
Many of those same friends of Rae, who passed away on May 31, joined the Van Roekel family as they were inducted into the Iowa Draft Horse and Mule Association Hall of Fame. The induction took place on Saturday, Aug. 20 in the Jacobson Building at the Iowa State Fairgrounds during the evening horse show.
Rae’s wife, Brigitte, children, Danny and Rita, grandchildren and significate others were at the induction to accept the award in Rae’s honor.
During and following the induction there were many tears shed and hugs as family and friends remembered Rae, all while congratulating the Van Roekel family on the hall of fame honor.
Rae’s wife, Brigitte, said it was really heart wrenching since she just lost Rae, but she was happy for her family who was all there and the many Montezuma residents and friends who came to show their support.
“The whole family was there and it couldn’t have been any nicer,” said Brigitte. “There were a lot of people from Montezuma there to show their support and it is very much appreciated.”
“It was a wonderful tribute to a great couple,” said Montezuma resident and town barber, Ron Hensel. “It was sad that Rae was not with us, but I’m sure he was looking down from Heaven.”
“We are truly grateful to the many people who were there in dad’s honor,” said Rita, following the induction.
“I was just so proud,” said Vera Latcham of Montezuma, Brigitte’s sister, who remembers going on the trail rides and attending horse shows with Rae and Brigitte. “Over the years, they worked really, really hard. I’m tickled pink of them receiving this honor.”
“It was a great honor for my parents to receive this award,” said their son, Danny, who was at the induction with his wife, Jackie, and son, Houston. “Thank you to all the family and friends who had a chance to come watch the award presentation. My dad was very proud to be honored like this.”
“It was their long history of work and dedication to the draft horse and mule industry that got them inducted by a panel of their peers,” said Brad Criswell, formerly of Montezuma, who nominated the Van Roekel’s for the hall of fame honor. “Their induction could only have been better if Razor had been there with Brigitte to accept the honor. I know he was there in spirit and was smiling down on us Saturday night. I’m glad Razor knew he was being inducted before he passed.”
Criswell credits Rae and Brigitte for the reason he is involved with horses. He currently raises draft horses and serves as vice president of the Iowa Draft Horse and Mule Association.
Rae (Razor) & Brigitte Van Roekel story read at the induction
Rae (Razor) and Brigitte Van Roekel’s story began in the 1960s near Montezuma. Brigitte’s father asked Rae to work with their team of Mustangs. They married by the time the 70s arrived and had two children, Rita and Danny. The family of four traveled the area in the mid 70s to attend Fun Horse Shows, many times making three a weekend.
It was also in the 70s when Rae and Brigitte organized an annual Labor Day Trail Ride. The ride consisted of horse drawn buggies, wagon teams along without riders. The approximate 13-mile trail began near Barnes City with it ending at the family’s Circle V Ranch near Montezuma. This is where the riders and drivers were greeted with a large meal prepared by Brigitte, along with other family members and friends.
The family hosted field days as well during the 70s and 80s. Fellow horsemen and women enjoyed working the land with their horses as was done in the earlier days.
Grandchildren Shauna, Lex, Wyatt and Houston started arriving in the 90s. Rae had fun buying ponies and horses for all of them. The kids could often be seen driving a miniature pony and cart or riding a bareback mule around town. For several years, Rae loaded second graders in a team driven wagon on a field trip to their farm near the school.
By the 2000s, the annual Labor Day ride was attracting more than 125 horse enthusiasts from all over the state, including several from out-of-state as well. The couple then moved the ride to their cabin area near Unionville, limiting it to buggies and wagons. They gained so many wonderful friendships during those 35-plus years, which they are blessed to still have today.
Unfortunately, Rae met our Lord and Savior on May 31.
Rae was very much looking forward to receiving this honor. He had stated, “It was better than being elected as President of the United States!”
Special thanks for Brad Criswell for the nomination as well to the board for the amazing honor.
Rae (Razor) was known as a legend. After his passing, Rita asked, “What made him a legend?” She was a little scared what wild stories might come out. But instead, she leaned that a person doesn’t have to save someone’s life, do them a favor or give them a gift to be a legend. All that is needed is to offer a hand of friendship to a stranger.
You can see Rae and Brigitte’s photo and writeup alongside a century of Iowa’s top horsemen and women in the Iowa Draft Horse and Mule Hall of Fame room in the north aisle of the horse barn at the Iowa State Fairgrounds.
Brigitte Van Roekel, seated second from right, enjoys a laugh mixed with tears as she and daughter, Rita Van Roekel Damery, right, reminisce about the late Rae Van Roekel with Dennis and Vera Latcham, of Montezuma, following the Van Roekel family being inducted into the Iowa Draft Horse Hall of Fame on Saturday, Aug. 20 in the Jacobson Building at the Iowa State Fairgrounds.