By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily
Former three-term Cheyenne Mayor Bill Nation died last week at the age of 96.
Nation was a World War II U.S. Navy veteran, a member of the Wyoming House of Representatives, and served in Cheyenne’s top elected position from 1962 to 1964, 1964 to 1966, and 1972 to 1976.
Nation, whose name is used for a major Cheyenne street — “Nationway,” — also ran for governor in 1966 but was defeated in the Democratic primary.
Nation remained active in the community even after serving as mayor, being seen frequently at public events, ribbon cuttings, and receptions.
Affable by nature, the former mayor often laughed when discussing how much simpler it was to get things done in government some 50 or 60 years ago.
Curt Gowdy State Park
In a 2018 interview at the Plains Hotel in Cheyenne, Nation recalled the time he played a major and instant role in the renaming of Curt Gowdy State Park.
Nation at the time was a member of the Wyoming State Recreation Commission, the organization that named state parks. He said while attending a meeting of the commission, he received a phone call from Frank Norris, who chaired the Wyoming Travel Commission.
Norris said his group was planning on honoring national sportscaster and Wyoming native Curt Gowdy at a reception and wondered if Granite State Park could be renamed in Gowdy’s honor.
Nation said he told Norris to hold, put the phone down, walked back into the room where the Recreation Commission was meeting and made the motion.
“I move that we change the name to Curt Gowdy State Park,” Nation said. “The chairman said ‘Great. Is there a second? Yes. All those in favor say aye.’ Of course it was unanimous.”
Nation said he walked back to the phone and said, “Frank, It is named Curt Gowdy State Park right now.”
“He said, ‘Nation, you get things done,'” the former mayor said with a laugh.
But that wasn’t the only time Nation navigated through bureaucracy quickly.
When he read in the newspaper that the Big Boy steam engine, the world’s largest steam engine, was being retired, Nation said he called the president of Union Pacific Railroad to make a case for it to be put on display in Cheyenne.
It didn’t take much lobbying, he said.
“I hear you are going to get rid of that steam engine,” Nation recalled of the conversation. “I got a perfect spot for it. We want it in Cheyenne. We’re a railroad town.”
Nation said the UP’s president “immediately” thought that was a good idea and asked him where he wanted the engine placed.
“Holliday Park, right next to the highway,” Nation said.
Union Pacific was able to get the engine transported to where the mayor wanted it, but the trip almost ended in disaster, he said.
“It was moving too fast and almost ran through the YMCA,” he said. “But they got it slowed down and they parked it right there.”
Nation is survived by his children, Michael, Martin, Nancy and Molly, six grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.
He was preceded in death by Ed Nation, Helen Rasmussen and Marie Hall of Cheyenne, as well as his other nine older siblings.