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Rancher, ex-Congressman Mike Strang dies at 84

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Sopris Sun Staff Report

Mike Strang wore many hats — jean-clad rancher, businessman, and tuxedoed auctioneer, perennial MC at numerous events and devoted family man — but there was one hat he wore most of the time.

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“He could wear a cowboy hat to almost any event,” daughter Bridget Strang told The Sopris Sun on Wednesday afternoon.

Strang passed away at his Missouri Heights ranch on Jan. 12. He was 84.

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A memorial service will be held at the Orchard on Snowmass Drive at 10:30 a.m. on Feb. 3. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Lathrop Memorial Fund through the Aspen Valley Land Trust.

Mike and Kit Strang first made the Roaring Fork Valley their home in 1951, when he and brother Bart Strang and Tom Turnbull bought the Big 4 Ranch south of Carbondale. Kit said that when Mike hurt his back, he bought what is now the Strang Ranch in 1965.

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Strang was born into a ranching life. His father, Steve, moved his family from Pennsylvania to a ranch on Ralston Creek outside of Golden during the Depression. Steve made the ranch pay its way in part by running a summer camp for Eastern kids. By the time Mike Strang was 15 he was guiding pack trips for campers in the high country outside of Golden. Through these years, Mike and Bart were homeschooled by their father, who graduated from Princeton in the early 1920s and was literate in six languages.

Bridget said her father, Mike, had a “near photographic” memory, spoke Russian and French and “pretended” to speak Italian when in that country through the use of the 150 words he knew plus a translation book.

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“He was incredibly well versed,” Bridget said.

He probably knew hundreds of people by name. “We’d always ask ‘how to you remember their names,’” she continued. The answer? He joked that it had something to do with remembering the color of their eyes.

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While helping Kit run the ranch, Mike also ran a stock brokerage firm in Glenwood Springs and later in Aspen. As a Republican, he served in the state legislature for two terms in the early 1970s, where he focused on land-use issues and attempted to grapple with some to the sprawl that threatened to carve up agricultural land into un-usably small plots. He also introduced the first marijuana legalization bill, “recognizing somewhat presciently as it turns out, that the societal issues would not be resolved through prohibition,” according to a brief biography provided by son Scott Strang.

He was elected to Congress and served from 1984-86. “He loved Washington,” Bridget said. “He thrived on the energy … he loved the people and trying to solve the puzzle.” One highlight came after Strang presented President Ronald Reagan with a hand-tooled saddle, and Kit sat next to Reagan at a banquet. “He (Reagan) sort of glommed on to mom,” Bridget said. “He leaned over (to her) and said ‘tell me about your horses.’”

Democrat Ben Campbell defeated Strang in the next election but later switched his party affiliation to Republican.

“I asked Dad how he felt about this,” Scott said. “His reply was typically generous. He said he was happy that Ben had seen the light, or something to that effect.”

Scott said of his dad, “ … (he) had more integrity than anyone I’ve ever known. He was generous to a fault, always giving people the benefit of the doubt. He would rather be taken advantage of than be mean.”

Bridgett said various people and kinds of people, some “wayward,” drifted through the ranch over the years. “Dad changed lives … they’d follow his example.”

Strang announced many of the horse shows the ranch hosted through the years and acted as MC at other events. He’d even cut people’s steak for them at ranch events. “He could warm up a room in seconds,” Bridget said.

Lots of people called Mike Strang “uncle.”

He was not a good golfer, but that didn’t keep him from entering and enjoying at least 20 Carbondale Invitational golf tournaments.

When asked, Kit said one of the first things she loved about Mike was he was not just a cowboy and good rider, but a “man of the West” with an intellect as well. “His mind was always thinking of new and different things … life has never been dull (with him).”

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