Wyoming Obituary: W.J. “Jack” Nicholas

Jack was born in Gillette in 1927 to Thomas Arthur and Mary Margaret Nicholas. He spent much of his time on the family ranch north of Gillette until his family moved to Casper.

Annaliese Wiederspahn

April 29, 20215 min read

Nicholas lander
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

W.J. “Jack” Nicholas
January 8, 1927- April 16, 2021

LANDER – Jack Nicholas’ last request was for the list of phone numbers of his 5 children and 19 grandchildren.

He painstakingly set out to call each one.  He wanted to tell them one more time how much he loved them and how proud he was of them.  If his 24 young great grandchildren had their own phones, he would have called them too.  Although he fought leaving his family, neighbors, and the state he so dearly loved, Jack told Kim, a wonderful nurse at the Lander hospital, that he was ready to go with a smile on his face. 

Jack’s family deeply thanks Kim and all the healthcare workers at the Lander Clinic and the Lander Hospital for helping the family and Jack as he reached the end of his life.  It was a life well lived. 

Jack was born in Gillette in 1927 to Thomas Arthur and Mary Margaret Nicholas.  He spent much of his time on the family ranch north of Gillette until his family moved to Casper.  When he reached his teens, Jack yearned for adventure.  He ran away at 13.  When caught, he ran away again.  On one escapade, Jack endeavored to sneak out of Casper on an eastbound coal train.  Unbeknownst to him, the train headed north!  Jack’s father located him in Buffalo, covered in coal cinders, and dragged him home by the ear.  At 16, Jack clandestinely joined the Army.  His parents foiled his attempt by refusing to sign a waiver required for anyone under 17.   Undeterred, Jack graduated Natrona County High School and joined the Army on his 17th birthday.

Jack served his country proudly during World War II.  When the war ended, he was stationed in Kansas and studied pre-veterinary medicine at the University of Kansas.  After serving in the Army, his adventures continued.  He studied at Casper College and the University of Colorado in Boulder.  He also built houses in Casper with his brothers and cowboyed. 

The time he cherished the most was working for the O’Neil family on their ranch outside of Big Piney.  One of the Big Piney stories he often recounted was when a horse died in the winter.  Jack and another ranch hand dug a grave in the frozen ground.  The grave turned out to be a bit too shallow and the horse’s legs emerged from the snow.  Being ever resourceful, they just sawed off the legs!  Jack got his due while taming a bronc.  The bronc trampled him and broke his shoulder and ribs.  Beat up, Jack headed south to Albuquerque to recover in a warmer climate.  He decided to go to the University of New Mexico while he recuperated.  It was there his life changed forever.

In early 1949, Jack went on a blind date with a cute, spunky girl named Alice.  Alice Marion Howison from Lemon Cove, California became the love of Jack’s life.  He never took off again.  The summer after they met, Jack and Alice worked in a pack station in Mineral King, California.  Alice worked in the kitchen and Jack packed horses and mules in the Sierras out of Mineral King. They were married at Christmas in 1949 in Lindsay, California. 

Jack and Alice finished school at the University of Wyoming.  Alice studied English and Jack studied law.  Alice and Jack laughingly remembered living in the “Butler Huts” where they had to share a bathroom with their neighbors.  Jack worked part-time for New Method Laundry to make ends meet and served as a member of the Wyoming Law Review Editorial Board.  Following law school, Jack and Alice moved to Lander.

Jack’s legal career in Lander spanned over 40 years.  He loved the law and politics.  Jack and Alice were long time volunteers for the Fremont County Republican Party.  Jack was elected to the Wyoming House of Representatives in 1969.  After his term, he successfully ran for Fremont County District Court Judge.  Jack served as district judge for 12 years.  Following his second term, he decided to obtain his Masters of Laws degree from the University of San Diego School of Law.

For over 70 years, Alice and Jack have loved their Lander community, Fremont County, and the State of Wyoming.  Jack was a lifelong member of the Lander Rotary Club and was deeply grateful to the club for sending his 5 children on youth exchanges to countries all around the world.  Jack was also honored to serve as a founding director of the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) and to help establish the Lander Ski Area, the South Pass Historic Preserve, the Inter-Mountain Regional Medical Program (now WWAMI) and the Fremont County Pioneer Museum.  He and Alice were members of the Holy Rosary Catholic Church. 

Jack is survived by his wife and soul mate, Alice, his children Patty and Garry Trautman of Lander, John and Tracy Nicholas of Carl Junction, Missouri, Phil and Karen Nicholas of Laramie, Bob Nicholas, and Lily and Steve Sharpe of Cheyenne, and his brother and sister-in-law, Bob and Manuela Nicholas of Beaverton, Oregon.  He is also survived by 19 of the best grandchildren a man could ever have and 24 wonderful great grandchildren.  He was preceded in death by his granddaughter Kaitlin Nicholas, his parents, his brothers Tom, Fred and Dave, and his sisters Ruth and Patty.

Besides his family, Jack’s passion was ranching and raising livestock.  From the 1960s until he could no more, Jack spent his free time on the ranch.  Forever a cowboy and a teacher, Jack taught his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren how to ride, work and live the Western way of life.  Dad and Grandpa – you will be sorely missed.  And no one will miss you more than Alice.  Happy trails.

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Annaliese Wiederspahn

State Political Reporter