Montezuma’s Van Roekel Family Inducted into Iowa Draft Horse and Mule Association Hall of Fame

The Rae and Brigitte Van Roekel family of Montezuma were inducted into the Iowa Draft Horse and Mule Hall of Fame on Saturday August 20 in the Jacobson Building at the Iowa State Fairgrounds. Pictured, L-R: 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 LexJack; Brigitte Van Roekel; Wyatt Jack and his girlfriend, Jasmine Foster; Shauna and her husband, Jon Plants and daughter, Gracie; Houston Van Roekel and his girlfriend, Kalynn Wanders; Jackie and her husband, Danny. (JO Parker/Special to The Poweshiek County Chronicle Republican)

The late Rae (Razor) Van Roekel loved draft horses and mules and often spoke of the good old days of horse-drawn buggies, wagons and horse caravans as people enjoyed a summer ride and a picnic.

Many of those same friends of Rae, who died on May 31, joined the Van Roekel family when they were inducted into the Iowa Draft Horse and Mule Association Hall of Fame. The induction took place Saturday, August 20 in the Jacobson Building at the Iowa State Fairgrounds during the evening horse show.

Rae’s wife, Brigitte, his children, Danny and Rita, his grandchildren and other important people were at the induction to accept the award in Rae’s honor. During and after the induction, many tears were shed and hugs as family and friends remembered Rae, while congratulating the Van Roekel family on the Hall of Fame honor.

Rae’s wife, Brigitte, said it was really heartbreaking since she had just lost Rae, but she was happy for her family who were there and for the many residents and friends of Montezuma who came out to show their support. .

“The whole family was there and it couldn’t have been nicer,” said Brigitte. “There were a lot of Montezuma people there to show their support and it’s much appreciated.”

“It was a wonderful tribute to a great couple,” said Montezuma resident and town barber Ron Hensel. “It was sad that Rae wasn’t with us, but I’m sure he was watching from above.”

“We are so grateful to the many people who were there to honor Dad,” Rita said after the induction.

“I was so proud,” said Vera Latcham of Montezuma, Brigitte’s sister, who remembers hiking and attending horse shows with Rae and Brigitte. “Over the years they have worked really, really hard. I am delighted that they receive this honor.

“It was a great honor for my parents to receive this award,” said their son, Danny, who was in attendance with his wife, Jackie, and son, Houston. “Thank you to all the family and friends who had the chance to come and attend the awards ceremony. My father was very proud to be honored like this.

“It was their long history of work and dedication to the workhorse and mule industry that got them inducted by a panel of their peers,” said Montezuma alumnus Brad Criswell, who named the Van Roekels for the Hall of Fame. “Their induction couldn’t have been better if Razor had been there with Brigitte to accept the honor. I know he was there in spirit and smiling at us on Saturday night. I’m glad Razor knew that he was inducted before his death.

Criswell credits Rae and Brigitte for the reason he is involved with horses. He currently breeds draft horses and serves as vice president of the Iowa Draft Horse and Mule Association.

The following was read at the induction:

The story of Rae (Razor) and Brigitte Van Roekel begins in the 1960s near Montezuma. Brigitte’s dad asked Rae to work with their team of mustangs. They married around the time the 70s rolled around and had two children, Rita and Danny. The family of four traveled to the area in the mid-70s to catch fun horse shows, often making three a weekend.

It was also in the 70s when Rae and Brigitte had an annual Labor Day hike. The ride consisted of horse-drawn buggies and riderless wagon teams. The approximately 13-mile trail started near Barnes City, ending at the family’s Circle V Ranch near Montezuma. This is where the runners and drivers were welcomed with a big meal prepared by Brigitte, along with other family members and friends.

The family also held field days in the 70s and 80s. Riders and women enjoyed working the land with their horses as was done in the old days.

Grandchildren Shauna, Lex, Wyatt and Houston started arriving in the 90s. Rae had fun buying ponies and horses for each of them. The children could often be seen driving a miniature pony and cart or riding a bareback mule around town. For several years, Rae loaded sophomores into a team-driven wagon on a field trip to their farm near the school.

By the 2000s, the annual Labor Day Ride drew over 125 horse enthusiasts from across the state, including several from out of state as well. The couple then moved the ride to their cabin near Unionville, limiting it to strollers and wagons. They made so many wonderful friendships over those 35+ years that they are blessed to still have today.

Sadly, Rae met our Lord and Savior on May 31.

Rae was looking forward to receiving this honor. He said: “It was better than being elected President of the United States!

A special thank you to Brad Criswell for the nomination and to the Board of Directors for this incredible honour.

Rae (Razor) was known as a legend. After his passing, Rita asked, “What made him a legend?” She was a little scared of the crazy stories that might come out. But instead, she argued that a person doesn’t have to save someone’s life, do them a favor, or give them a gift to become a legend. Just offer a friendly hand to a stranger.

You can see Rae and Brigitte’s photo and writing alongside a century of Iowa’s finest horsemen and women in the Iowa Draft Horse and Mule Hall of Fame room in the north aisle of the stable at the ‘Iowa State Fairgrounds.

Andrew B. Reiter