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1549 - Friendly people in northeast Wyoming

It is amazing the difference a year can make in Wyoming when it comes to the economy.

         In November, 2014, I spent some quality time in Douglas, which was the hottest boomtown in the state at that time.  Drilling rigs were all over the place and the RV parks were so full the city opened up the normally just summer-only RV sites at the State Fairgrounds to accommodate all the oil field workers.

         The oil boom, thanks to a technology called fracking, had arrived in Converse County with a bang. New motels were being built and old ones were being remodeled.

         This year, I stopped by again and Tom Saunders at the Converse County State Bank said things had cooled down a lot but “the town is doing very well.” He said although the boom was an amazing experience there was something to be said for just normal growth.

         Helga Bull at the Chamber of Commerce said the same thing. She pointed to all the new facilities that Douglas now has, one of which is the Eastern Wyoming College center there. Sue McBride, who owns the Whistlestop, operates the center.

         I spoke at Rotary at the remodeled Douglas Inn (a former Holiday Inn) and the work being done was impressive.  The facility is amazing. Rotary President Vicki Robertson, a Riverton native, treated me to lunch. Thanks.

We stayed at the brand new Hampton Inn and it was very comfortable.

         Next, we headed north on dry roads to Gillette for another Rotary gig at Ken Barkey’s Prime Rib, one of my favorite places.

         On the way, we paused in the little town of Bill, Wyoming, which means a lot to me for various reasons:

First, you have to love a town named Bill.  It got that name from four ranchers in the area all named Bill. When they were trying to come up with a name for the place when they established its first Post Office, Bill seemed to make a lot of sense.   At least to four of them, anyway.

         Second, we ran out of gas there in 1970 when interviewing for jobs here in Wyoming.   I saw Bill on a map and assumed it was a town where I could get gas.  Just a Post Office, sorry. We just were not aware, back in those days, of how remote places in Wyoming can be.

         While roaming around Gillette, you have to be impressed by the hospital and medical center.  Folks in Campbell County have had a lot of money to spend in the last three decades and they have spent it right. High quality everywhere.

         Their recently completed veterans memorial is first rate.  I was especially impressed with the bronze statues. They were done by Ben Foster, my neighbor here in Lander.

         Ran into banker Luke Wilkins in Gillette and also visited with Fremont County native Chris Ringer, an attorney. Rotarians were planning their annual Cajun Night, which makes $25,000 annually for civic projects.

         Earlier in the trip we sold some books at an event in Sheridan at Kim Love’s Frackelton’s where one of their specialities is truffle fries. Very good.

         Also stopped by 609 Engineering in Sheridan to visit Brian Venn, head of one of the most progressive outfits in the state. The name comes from the “number” of a champion carrier pigeon flown by his dad, who is from Casper.

         It was on to Casper where I ran into a bunch of the Geo-Wives, a happy group of women who operate as a service and social club that meets once a month. I talked to them a year ago and they were a wonderfully attentive audience. Hope to visit with them again some day.

         Karin East at the Ramkota helped me store a few of our extra  books, as they get pretty heavy lugging them all over the state. Thanks!

         Talked to State Sen. Dan Dockstader of Afton in the hallway at that hotel. He was attending a statewide meeting concerned with the defense of traditional marriage.  Lots of folks from all over were there.

         Dale Bohren, long-time publisher of the Casper Journal, is the new executive editor at the Casper Star-Tribune. He is doing a masterful job.  This is good news for Wyoming newspaper readers.

         Sure thankful for dry roads during this trip. We have traveled all over the state in October and the first two weeks of November and constantly marveled at the wonderful weather during this six-week period.


1548 - Wyoming pioneers, past and present

It is an event that I call the “Annual Wyoming Reunion.”

         It occurs each November when 650 people from all corners of the state gather in Cheyenne to celebrate our state, renew old acquaintances and take some vital readings on the condition of business in Wyoming.

         Every other year the Wyoming Business Alliance/Heritage Society also inducts folks into the new Business Hall of Fame.

         This year’s inductees came from all over the state. They offer classic examples about what being a good Wyoming citizen really means.

         Before recognizing these folks, a few words about the program:


         • The group recognized the National Outdoor Leadership School of Lander for celebrating its 50th anniversary.

The school, which has the distinction of training astronauts and Seal teams, has more than 280,000 graduates from around the world.

Most of these grads look back at their times in connection with the Wyoming-based school as the best times of their lives.

This was well-deserved and well-timed.


         • Main speaker at the event was Rob O’Neill, a member of Seal Team 6, which killed Osama Bin Laden.

         Wow, what a talk.  Way too much to cover here but he did stress the difference between fear (which forces you to prepare) and panic (which causes you to fail).


• Gov. Matt Mead is the main host of the event, which is carefully put together by Bill Schilling, the president of the Alliance.

         Mead gave an excellent introduction where he provided very optimistic facts about the diversity of Wyoming’s economy, while also being cognizant of future declines in tax revenue because of low energy prices.

         As someone who flies in and out of Wyoming’s airports sometimes up to four a day, he commented on how he always notices the state has big fences around the runways.

         “You might think this is to keep the bad guys out,” he laughed. “But in reality, it is to keep our wildlife out of the way of the airplanes.  Is this place great or what?”


         • Because this event occurs in mid-November each year, you can bet that weather and bad roads will come into play.

         This year, we headed down early Monday and missed most of the excitement.  Interstate 80 was closed during much of the two-day event as winds over 80 mph slammed southeast Wyoming. I saw the snow falling parallel to the ground on Monday night during the brief blizzard.


         • Two long-time fixtures of the Business Alliance gathering who were no longer there were Dave Raynolds, Lander, and Mick McMurry of Casper.

         Although not present in their physical forms, their spirits could be felt hovering around the banquet halls at Little America.

         The Hall of Fame inductees included the most famous person in Wyoming history, Buffalo Bill Cody, who was given the “Frontier” Award. Folks from the Buffalo Bill Center of the West were there to talk about this most famous scout.

         The “Historic” award went to Curt and Marian Rochelle, who combined to do historic things, create jobs and become the biggest donors in University of Wyoming history.

         Marian’s daughter April Brimmer Kunz accepted the plaque and spoke eloquently about her mom Marian and Marian’s husband’s love for the state and its only four-year university.

         Another “Historic” award went to Admiral Beverage Corporation of Worland and founders Newell Sargent and Forest Clay.

         CEO Kelly Clay outlined the growth of the company, which has expanded from a tiny bottler in north central Wyoming to a colossus that has 2,000 employees and maintains operations in seven states.

         There were three men who were presented with “Contemporary” awards.  They were George Bryce of Casper, Jim Neiman of Hulett, and Dave Reetz of Powell.

         Bryce, 69, has been “a fixture of Casper’s growth and transformation” over a 45-year period.  He is the epitome of the individual performing public service while maintaining a successful business and raising a fine family.

         Neiman, 63, has been at the helm of a family business entering its fifth generation in Hulett that has pioneered their timber and ranching businesses.

         Besides creating jobs and pioneering evolutionary timber practices, he and his family have been consistent and generous donors of programs at the University of Wyoming.

         Reetz, 69, has been a pioneer in building his adopted hometown of Powell in just about every way, from banking to working at Northwest College. He led the effort to have his town named an All-American City back in 1994.

         There is no other event in Wyoming and perhaps the country like this forum.



1547 - Celebrities stories about Wyoming

Sometimes, it is just fun to write about odd and crazy stuff. And there has been no shortage of that here in Wyoming over the past few months.

         UFOs from Wyoming were in the news recently in Australia. You can find this on Facebook where a photo went viral all over the world, especially down under.

         It proved to be a photo of a Jackson Hole lake that had a lampshade reflected in a window.  Looked just like a UFO was floating out there in space.   Someone went to Signal Mountain Lodge and duplicated the photo so believers would change their minds.  The photo had 314,000 shares on Facebook before taken down.

         Down in Saratoga, actor Tom Hanks officiated at the wedding of scorned NBC news anchor Brian Williams’ daughter at the Brush Creek Ranch. Hanks had earned his “official” ministerial degree on the Internet.

         More on the celebrity front, it appears that actress Sandra Bullock is trying to make a $10 million purchase of the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar in Jackson. Might be a long shot but she loves that scenic Wyoming town. 

         Some years ago, she was in the news when her private jet went off the runway there. Most recently she celebrated her 50th birthday at the Cowboy Bar.

         Denver Bronco quarterback Peyton Manning recently paid for the flight for a Rock Springs gal, who has breast cancer, to Denver. After getting a letter request, Manning arranged to fly Kari Barnett Bollig of Rock Springs (who has stage 4 breast cancer) and her husband Ed to Denver and gave them tickets and sideline passes for the game against Baltimore.

         Peyton greeted them. “It was so sweet because he shakes my hand and says, ‘ I’m Peyton Manning.’ It was cute. It was kind of like, I know who you are, Peyton,” Mrs. Bollig later recounted.

         Mrs. Bollig’s sister, Dana Benbow, of Indianapolis, wrote an open letter to Peyton in the Indianapolis newspaper: From Benbow:

“I didn’t love you before, Peyton. Even when you were in Indianapolis, even when you won a Super Bowl for the Colts during the 2006 season. I didn’t love you even when you made me cry with laughter in Saturday Night Live or those goofy ESPN commercials.

 “But I want to tell you something. I do love you now. I love you for what you did for my childhood friend from Greenfield, IN. Ind., who is so sick with breast cancer.”

One of my favorite column writers in Wyoming is Sagebrush Sven (usually interpreted by Jim Hicks), who tried to explain how wealth is distributed around a community.

This very complicated economic theory takes on new overtones with Sven’s explanation (which may have had its origin on the Internet from another source):

Down at the coffee shop a discussion got started over the popular idea of “redistributing: the wealth of the country

One of the smarter guys there said he had an explanation of wealth re-distribution. He said:  “It is a slow February day in Buffalo.  The cold wind was blowing and the streets are deserted.  Times are tough, everybody is in debt and all are living on credit.

         “On this particular day a rich tourist is driving through town and stops at a local motel. He lays a $100 bill on the desk and says he wants to inspect the rooms before he picks one for the night.

 “The owner gives him the master key to all the rooms, grabs the $100 bill and runs up the street to pay his bill at the drug store.

 “The drug store owner takes the money and slips next door to pay the bill he owes for new boots at the sports store.

 “That store owner slips over to the grocery store and settles up for last month’s charges.

 “The grocer runs quickly takes the $100 to the feed store pay a bill for dog food, and the feed store owner gives the money to the motel owner to pay for a room he rented last month when his in-laws were in town.

 “About that time the traveler comes back into the office and says he thinks the rooms are not very clean so he’s going to look somewhere else to spend the night.

He picks up the $100 bill and leaves town.

 “No one produced anything.

“No one earned anything.

 “However, everyone in Buffalo is now out of debt and looking to the future with optimism.”

1546 - Clay James was Wyoming`s Mr. Hospitality

My first chance to watch the late Clay James in action was when he was helping to preserve world peace from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in 1989.

         James, the long-time general manager of the state’s second biggest lodging complex, was hosting U. S. Secretary of State James Baker and Eduard Shevardnadze, the minister of Foreign Affairs for the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, for the world peace accords at the end of the Cold War.

         The location during a spectacular September period was Clay’s domain at Jackson Lake Lodge, nestled below the Teton Mountains between Jackson and Yellowstone.

         My good friend Clay, 75, died Oct. 27.

Stories about the peace meeting were told along with other interesting recollections during a celebration of Clay’s life at his beloved lodge Nov. 5.

         Over 400 of his friends gathered in the main hall to toast a man whose life works affected people all over the world.

         Wyoming has enjoyed an amazingly snowless October. On this evening it was snowing. The normal view of the mountains visible through that giant wall of glass, well, the view was dismal. We all knew the Tetons were there. Tonight a pesky snowfall obscured the famous view.

         Or as former Teton Park Supt. Mary Scott said: “Clay is gone. It looks like he took the Tetons with him.”

         The celebration was a huge success but involved a lot of last-minute good work since the lodge has been closed for two months. One of Clay’s successors, Alex Klein, announced: “This is how Clay would have handled this event. I hope we are up to the task.”

         The Grand Teton Lodge Company is the state’s second largest hospitality operation behind Yellowstone. It was Clay’s domain for 32 years.

         He hosted presidents, foreign leaders, governors, and celebrities and did it all with a grace and professionalism that set standards that thousands of employees took with them into future careers.

         The workforce at GTLC is seasonal. Most are young people getting away from home for the first time. Young people from all over Wyoming and the world got their first jobs there.

         Clay found a job for my youngest daughter, Amber.  She said standards were high and she was expected to be the “best employee” she could be. Our daughter called us after and said Clay had often checked on her.  Her new job was public area attendant.

         We agreed that she would “be the best public area attendant” she could be. I asked her, by the way, what kind of job is that?

         “I’m cleaning the restrooms,” she replied.

         Many thousands of young people worked for Clay. He and his wife Shay watched over them.  Clay felt he was the luckiest man alive to be working there in the shadows of the Tetons. He wanted all those young people to look back on their GTLC times as the best times of their lives.  And they were.

         There are people all over the world holding big jobs in the hospitality industry and every other industry who learned about work from Clay.  One example is Trey Matheu, who is executive director of Operations of Xanterra, up the road in Yellowstone.  He recalled working for Clay as pivotal to his career.

         I served with Clay on the Jackson Hole Visitor Council, the Wyoming Travel Commission board and the board of the Mountain AAA Auto Club over the past 26 years.  We both with our wives Nancy and Shay were looking forward to celebrating our 50th wedding anniversaries next year. And we always enjoyed a good Scotch.

         During the Nov. 5 festivities, Clay’s son Scott toasted his dad while folks passed out hundreds of custom-made glasses with the GTLC logo plus Clay’s initials, which were filled with a single malt, scotch shot. Scott led us in a wonderful toast to one of the greatest gentlemen ever.

         One of the main organizers of Clay’s celebration was Joan Anzelmo, former public affairs chief for Grand Teton Park. She reminded everyone that Clay was a former Eagle Scout and she ticked off all the attributes of being a scout including “courteous, brave, trustworthy,” but she also got a laugh when she reminded them that being “thrifty” was also one of those attributes.  Clay loved nice things but he always had a good business head when it came to making and saving money.

         Joan wrapped up the program nicely by referring to Clay as “a grand man, in a grand hotel, in a grand park.”