Wyoming is a BIG state full of BIG sights, BIG ideas and a few BIG men.
To me, a “giant” human needs to be someone over 7 feet tall. There are more in Wyoming than you might think, but two good friends who come to mind are Mike Dabich of Hudson and the late Paul Kruse of Lusk.
Both starred on their high school basketball teams and both played college and professional ball.
Mike Dabich Still Going Strong
Dabich, 81, is still around and still looms at 7 feet tall.
Sadly, Paul died at the young age of 57 on Feb. 21, 2009. He stood a whopping 7-3.
Mike’s younger brother Donnie, who stands a mere 6-6, said that his brother at over 7 feet tall still wasn’t the tallest in the family.
“We had an uncle who was 7-2, he said.
The Dabich family is Serbian, where folks are known to be tall. The great Denver Nugget Nikola Jokic stands 6-11 and is also from Serbia.
The Dabiches moved to America and were steamfitters in coal mines in the Hudson area in 1932.
Mike, who is known as “Moose” to his friends, was the tallest player in Wyoming when he starred for the Lander Tiger boys basketball team.
A humorous side note is that his coach was the diminutive Gene Patch, who was barely over 5-3. Patch would reportedly stand on the bleacher when he talked with his big center during games.
Mike later played for New Mexico State and was drafted to play in the NBA and the old American Basketball Association, which later merged with the NBA. He played for the Oakland Oaks and the Dallas Chaparrals in the ABA. He was drafted by and played for the New York Knicks in the NBA. He also played four years in Europe.
Mike and his brother are retired contractors these days.
‘Tall Paul’ Kruse From Lusk
As a tourism promoter and an outdoor enthusiast, it was inevitable that I would run into Kruse.
Kruse was a key player in working with the federal government to open areas for snowmobiling and outdoor sports.
Former Wyoming Tourism Director Gene Bryan has fond memories of Paul:
“Paul was the poster child for the term ‘gentle giant.’ I had loosely followed his high school and college basketball career as sports editor of the Laramie Boomerang, and I was pleased to make his acquaintance as a member of the Gov. Jim Geringer administration.
“When the National Park Service at long last decided to conduct an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) on winter use in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks in 1997, and for the first time ever, invited outside entities to participate (Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and the five surrounding counties). Gov. Geringer asked me as director of the Department of Commerce to head the state team. Assistant Attorney General Tom Davidson, State Trails and Snowmobile Program Manager Kim Raap and Paul from the State Planning Office, made up the team.
“The first meeting was in Bozeman, Montana, and we flew one of the state planes to the gathering. When Paul, all 7-3 of him, showed up for the trip, it was a memorable experience to watch him wad himself up into that plane. He literally had to put the plane on like a gas mask!
“He was a tremendous help to me in the early stages of the EIS process. I was green as the proverbial gourd, and he and Kim kept me out of trouble throughout. Plus, he held the NPS' feet to the fire because they had no clue what to do with us ‘outsiders.’ In the end, it worked.
“Great guy. Great friend. I miss him,” Bryan concludes.
Paul’s Unique Volvo
Stan Cannon of Lander used to work for both U.S. Sens. Malcolm Wallop and Al Simpson. In those roles, he remembers Kruse fondly. One particular memory popped up:
“I could always say about Paul Kruse, besides being one of the nicest guys in the world, was his need to reconfigure his Volvo automobile since he had to sit in the back seat to drive.
“It always seemed a little strange to be in the front seat and Paul driving from the back seat,” he recalls.
Paul had a bit of notoriety when he was mentioned in Sports Illustrated not long after he arrived at New Mexico U. Seems he fell off his horse back in Wyoming and broke his arm.
Sports Illustrated asked coach Norm Ellenberger what kind of horse Paul had fallen from and his response was “A tall one.”
Kruse’s obituary contained this tribute: “Paul traveled the world but never lost his rural roots and remained in contact with the Kruse Ranch. He had his own herd of cattle and helped when he could with ranch activities. This simple country kid went from being raised in a house with a wood stove for heat and no running water to dining in the White House with United States Presidents and foreign diplomats.
“His true strength was befriending people from all walks of life; the wealthiest individuals to the poorest beggars; they were all his friends. He treated everyone he met like they were the most special people in his life. Paul never married nor had children, but was a father to every child that came across his path.”
Both Dabich and Kruse fit the mold of the gentle giant. Both men were never known to be fast on their feet, but both were fast with their jokes and wonderful stories.
So, big fellas, how’s the weather up there?
I can assume both men would answer: “Here in Wyoming, it is just fine, my friend.”