Recently, we have found ourselves saying good-bye to people who were influential to us and other folks around Wyoming.
The Grande Dame of our hometown of Lander was Betty Kail, who died recently at 81. She was an elegant gal with a strong backbone and an ambitious resolve to go where other women had never ventured before.
In the Equality State, Betty truly proved that women are equal to men. She may have proved they are superior.
She was an attorney back when there were few women attorneys. She was the state’s first county court judge. Gov. Mike Sullivan appointed her the state’s first female district court judge.
A tall, imposing woman, she always presented herself in a professional manner and had thousands of friends and admirers all over the region. She also was a former president of the board of trustees at the University of Wyoming.
We thank Gov. Matt Mead for ordering the state’s flags to be flown at half-mast on March 16, the day of her funeral.
Some other recent deaths that deserve mention:
• A note-worthy person who recently died was former U. S. Rep. John Wold of Casper. At the age of 100 at the time of his death, he was the oldest surviving member of the U. S. House.
Ever dapper and keenly involved in local and statewide politics, he was a force in this state for 70 years both in politics and the energy industry. He was truly a giant.
• When we moved to Wyoming from Iowa 46 years, I had never been to a national forest and only knew about Forest Rangers from childhood books.
Hiram “Doc” Smith was the local ranger for the vast Shoshone National Forest out of the Lander office. We became great friends and he took me on my first pack trips back in to the heart of the towering Wind River Mountain Range. To a former flatlander, those experiences were unforgettable.
Most memorable was being surrounded by lightning in a snowstorm at the top of Bears Ears Pass in August with literally nowhere to go. Doc got us out of that mess.
In his earlier career he was a smokejumper and had harrowing stories to tell about putting out fires all over the west. He seemed to always be smoking a corncob pipe, back in the day.
Doc ultimately was transferred away from Lander and died Feb. 25 in Chandler, AZ at the age of 80.
• Carroll Orrison of Casper and I served together on the Wyoming Aeronautics Commission some ten years ago.
What a colorful character! He was the Wyoming Cowboys biggest fan and he had lots of friends since he also was a Budweiser distributor.
He owned an antique Rolls Royce convertible, which he drove around during parades and other promotions. It was not unusual to see him dressed like a Rhinestone Cowboy with over $10,000 in various types of jewelry.
He was everybody’s friend and was generous to one and all. He was 87 at the time of his death.
• The first event I covered after moving to Wyoming as a newspaperman was the fall wrap-up banquet of the local golf club. A nice man with a big smile and friendly demeanor greeted me at the door. He was named Chuck Yardas Sr. and immediately took me under his wing and was a friend for the following 46 years.
He was going to turn 94 on March 20 this year and that was when the community turned out to say good-bye.
A long time lumberyard owner, he was one of the most active members of an economic development group in Lander called LEADER, which held more than 1,000 meetings over a 30-year period. He loved our little town and he attended just about every one of them.
• We were sorry to hear about the premature death of Debra Beck, 58, of Laramie recently. She had fought valiantly against cancer during a four-month battle.
Her husband is Wyoming news legend Bob Beck of Wyoming Public Radio. Our condolences
• A local Lander ranching legend was Bill Ruby, 88, who died recently.
His funeral must have been a hoot. It is my understanding that the local ranching community gave him a first-rate sendoff.
• A Wyoming rodeo coaching legend, Tom Parker, lost his battle with cancer at the age of 69 on March 15. He had done extraordinary things at Casper College and other schools around the state.
He was, coincidentally, a native of Lander.
Check out Bill Sniffin’s columns at billsniffin.com. He is a longtime Wyoming journalist from Lander who has written six books, which are available at fine stores. His latest is Wyoming at 125. His books are also available at wyomingwonders.com.