HAPPY TRAILS WITH ROY AND DALE

Whenever I drive through the Victor Valley these days, I get a little wistful.

I miss Roy and Dale.

Their museum is gone — in more ways than one. It used to be such a landmark presence in Victorville, right next to the freeway.

In 2003, though, the Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Museum, featuring all the Western and Hollywood memorabilia the two Western stars had collected during their long careers in TV and the movies, moved to Branson, Mo., where it ultimately folded in December 2009.

Meanwhile, the distinctive stockade-style building in Victorville was torn down and the lumber sold for fence wood. Today, the site is occupied by a car dealership.

Yes, I get a little wistful.

But then certain things will come along and I take heart, because I remember that they still are here, in a way.

Roy, who died in 1998, and Dale, who died in 2001, both are buried in nearby Apple Valley, not far from the dream home they built in 1967 and lived in for the rest of their lives.

And their work goes on. The annual “Friends of Happy Trails Banquet,” for example, is a charity benefit for the Happy Trails Children’s Foundation, established in 1992 with support from Roy and Dale to aid young victims of abuse and neglect.

I had the privilege of meeting and talking with both Roy and Dale on more than one occasion. I interviewed Dale at an event at the National Orange Show grounds in the 1980s. Later, I did a phone interview with Roy. And some time after that, I met with both of them in Roy’s office upstairs at their museum, where we spoke for more than an hour.

During the conversation, they often would tease each other affectionately, and they never hesitated to interrupt or contradict each other.

They talked about their differences as well as the many things they shared in common. Dale’s favorite food, for example, was soup, she said. But Roy couldn’t stand it. “I like to CHEW my food!” he said.

Roy loved to go bowling. Dale didn’t care for it. “I let him go as much as he likes,” she said. “It’s the only way I can get some peace and quiet around here.”

On most things, however, they agreed as a team. And the one thing upon which they agreed the most, and about which they spoke the most often, was their love of children.

The couple adopted as their own a number of children from challenged backgrounds. And their love extended well beyond their own family. They devoted much time, energy and resources to the Happy Trails Children’s Foundation. “It not only is a duty to help those little ones who cannot help themselves, it is an honor,” Dale told me.

The foundation has rescued more than 850 children from abuse and neglect, providing shelter and treatment at the organization’s care facility, the Cooper Home, in Apple Valley.

More info: happytrails.org.