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President's Reception

Dick Bratton, 2009 President's Award Winner

Dick Bratton

It's July, and you're going to the Gunnison Water Workshop at Western State College. Rolling off Marshall Pass on the western side, you'll glide along the mountain hay meadows of Tomichi Creek, along the riffles, the pools and the lovely curving bends of dancing light into Gunnison.


This is the water conference all of Colorado comes to. Dick Bratton and Duane Vandenbusche started it up in the mid-1970s, hoping to center Coloradans on the virtues of Gunnison, Western State College and water. Vandenbusche, historian, teacher and writer; Bratton, lawyer, entrepreneur and member of the college board of trustees; both seeing an opportunity for open dialogue with other people engaged with water.

A multitude of water topics have been discussed and debated at the workshop during the past four decades. State and federal legislators, county commissioners, city councilpersons, water utility directors, lawyers, Indians, environmentalists, representatives of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and other federal agencies, paleo-hydrologists and other citizens interested in their neighboring watersheds all confabulating inside the meeting hall and outside on the courtyard for after-hours barbeques, beers in hand. The idea, said Bratton, ‘all responsible positions fairly represented.’


Bratton, 2009's recipient of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education's President's Award, in recognition of his leadership and contribution to water education in Colorado, grew up in Salida, on the opposite side of the pass from Gunnison. His mother, Mary, was teaching in a one-room schoolhouse on the east side of Marshall Pass, in Monarch, when the Great Depression hit in 1930. Lyle Bratton, Dick's father, was working as a miner at the Colorado Fuel and Iron limestone quarry at Monarch. His parents met, married in 1931, and welcomed Dick in 1932.


During summer vacation from Western State College in the early 1950s, Bratton worked as a miner in the same Monarch quarry his Dad had. During the school year, he played football, wrestled, ran track, and majored in accounting and economics, graduating in 1954. Prior to graduating, he married Donna Howard, daughter of a third generation ranching family from outside Lake City. Now they have two daughters, Susan and Sara, and three grandchildren. They have a beautiful home overlooking Tomichi Creek, where Bratton loves to fish.


Community Mentor

Bratton benefited from a fine mentor in leadership, education and the law, Ed Dutcher, who brought the young University of Colorado law graduate of 1957 back to Gunnison in 1958 after a short stint in Denver practice. ‘Dutcher was the legal and political brains for Dan Thornton, the Colorado governor from 1950 to 1954,’ says Bratton. ‘Thornton put Dutcher on the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the Upper Colorado River Compact Commission. When Dutcher became a Grand Junction District Judge in 1961, I inherited his law practice.’


In April 1963, Republican Gov. John Love appointed Bratton to the board of trustees of the State Colleges of Colorado that include Colorado State, Adams State, and Western State colleges. Bratton was 31 at the time. Others on the board called him the ‘teenage trustee.’ He served 12 years in that office. Dutcher had preceded Bratton on the same board. When Dutcher went to the bench, Bratton succeeded him as chief counsel for the Upper Gunnison Water Conservancy District.


Bratton worked to build his real estate, business, and water law practice; invested in Gunnison Valley property, particularly along Tomichi Creek; and actively pursued local and statewide politics as a Republican—Gunnison's counterpart to Durango water lawyer and community leader, Sam Maynes, a Democrat. In October 1983, Gov. Richard Lamm, also a Democrat, appointed Bratton to the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority, which he chaired between 1989 and 1990.


Bratton attributes much of his success in the law practice to fine colleagues. In addition to Dutcher, he mentions Tom Whittington, Chuck Alexander, Jim Richards, John McClow and John Hill. And he credits his wife Donna with a business sense and graceful manner that has helped the firm enjoy a good practice and leading presence in the community.


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