Black Crepe Mourned 'Death' of Office

A wreath draped in black crepe hung on the door of Mary Helvey's office, and a “corpse” sat in her chair.

Pinned to the body was a sign that read, “Please Don't Forget the Good Old Days.” Thus Mary Helvey mourned her last days as the Sheridan County superintendent of schools.

Schools in every county in Wyoming were governed by a county superintendent for more than 100 years, starting with Laramie County, which established the office in 1868. In Sheridan County, the office came into being in 1888, the year that Sheridan County itself was formed. Mary Helvey served four years as deputy county school superintendent before becoming the superintendent in 1967. Two years later, in 1969, Wyoming's Legislature adopted a state education code that abolished the office. The effective date was Jan. 1, 1971.

Helvey's quiet protest of the state's action included a will in which she bequeathed various items in her office to fellow county employees. A mimeograph machine, table and wrapping paper were left to then-Sheriff Pete Frith, a paper cutter and postal scales to the court reporter, two desks to the county assessor. An adding machine and a “book of knowledge,” also known as a telephone directory, were left to Home Demonstration Agent Alice Halsted.

The superintendent's office closed on Dec. 31, 1970. Most of the county school records were taken to Cheyenne in the first week of 1971.

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