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Powell man part of team to row across Atlantic

in Community/Recreation
FightOrDieTeam
The members of Carl Christensen’s “Fight OAR Die” team, from left to right: John Fannin of San Antonio, Texas, Luke Holton of Juneau, Alaska, Christensen of Powell and Evan Stratton of Denver, Colorado. (Courtesy photo)
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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Fight OAR Die.

No, that’s not a typo. It’s the slogan for a group of military veterans who next week will begin a weeks-long journey across the Atlantic Ocean… in a rowboat.

Powell resident Carl Christensen is part of a four-man team of former military servicemen who will take off from La Gomera in the Canary Islands next month in their “Woobie” to raise awareness and support for the mental and physical health of U.S. veterans. 

The team will take part in the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge, rowing 3,000 miles from the Canary Islands to Antigua. It’s a symbol of the hardships faced by veterans, and the steps that can be taken to overcome them.

Christensen is a 2001 Cody High School graduate who attended the Naval Academy, then served as a submarine officer and an instructor until his service was over in 2014. He said he watched last year’s team, which boasted members from both Powell and Cody, and was inspired to join the movement to support fellow veterans in their struggles with both mental and physical health post-service. 

But the task he’s facing is no small feat, either.

“Last year’s team did it in 54 days. 40 days is the average, the world record is 33 days,” he said. “We do have 60 days’ worth of food on board.”

Fight OAR Die map
This is a map of the path to be followed by Powell resident Carl Christensen and the other three members of his “Fight OAR Die” challenge to row across the Atlantic Ocean.

Christensen’s team represents more than just the Navy, however. Two Marines will be in his boat – one from San Antonio, Texas, and one from Denver, Colorado – and an Army veteran from Juneau, Alaska will round out the crew. It’s the first time for each of them. 

“The goal is to put four new veterans on the team each year,” he said. “We’re showing other veterans that they can row their own ocean, overcome their challenges.” 

He said the Fight OAR Die team has one mission – they want veterans to stop taking their own lives, and start living them instead.

Training is a must for a physical feat such as this. Christensen said he’s been staying in shape as a member of the Park County Search and Rescue volunteer crew. In addition, his wife, who is a personal trainer, purchased a rowing machine to help him train specifically for this journey.

In August, Christensen said the team did a month of training on an actual rowboat in Mobile, Alabama. There, the city’s mayor presented team members with a key to the city for their efforts in raising awareness of post-traumatic stress and post-combat hardship, as well as raising funds for treatment and research.

Part of the team’s mission is to raise support for other organizations that assist veterans, according to Christensen. The Sturm Center at the University of Denver and the Marcus Institute for Brain Health in Aurora, Colorado, are both working on ways to help veterans adapt and heal after their combat missions. 

“We are actually research subjects,” Christensen said. “They’ll follow us for a year.” 

In fact, he says the Sturm Center is now offering students the opportunity to follow a new specialized path – professional military psychologist – specifically to help veterans. 

Christensen pointed out that people who want to support their team’s mission financially can donate to the Sturm Center and the Marcus Institute to further their efforts.

Of the upcoming challenge, Christensen said it’s important to him to continue to serve his brothers and sisters in arms. With 60,000 veterans dying by suicide over the last decade, he said he is proud to be a part of a group that is working to raise awareness – and funds – to help support those who can perhaps end that trend.

“We’re trying to turn the tide,” he said.

“Wyoming through The Lens” Facebook group displays Wyoming’s glory

in arts and culture/Community
Wyoming Through the Lens
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Ever since Lorri Lang came to northeast Wyoming more than 30 years ago, she’s been in awe of the state’s natural beauty. 

There are the obvious choices to check out beautiful scenery, like heading to Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park or trekking to Devil’s Tower. While Lang loves those sites, she also wanted people to understand how absolutely gorgeous other areas of the state are. 

“My family lives here up near the Big Horns, so we travel a lot in that area,” Lang said. “But I haven’t been able to travel the rest of the state as much. So this group was a chance for me and other people to get a different glimpse of Wyoming.” 

Around five years ago, Lang was inspired by a Facebook page she followed, “Nebraska through the Lens,” to create a similar page. As a Nebraska native, she loved seeing photographers from all over the state, whether amateur or professional, take images that captured what life was like in her home state. 

She thought a similar page focusing on Wyoming would provide a great chance to show current and former Wyoming residents, people who had come through the state to vacation and people who love gorgeous photography, a chance to see a unique side of the state. 

She didn’t think it would be a big group. Maybe some friends would join it. They could even possibly get some of their friends added to it. 

Quickly, Lang saw that she had more member requests than she could have ever expected. More and more people wanted to check out “Wyoming through The Lens.” 

Since its inception, the group has garnered more than 111,000 members, trailing not too far behind the Nebraska page that inspired it, which boasts around 188,000 users. 

“I think people have this idea of Wyoming that’s centered around coal and oil,” Lang said. “But there is so much more to it than that. I love Wyoming and I think this page is important because they can see what it’s really like.”

The group is technically private, requiring a Facebook user to answer a few questions (such as why they want to join) to gain entry. Being a Wyoming resident (either current or former) isn’t a requirement, because Lang hopes people all over the country will come to the group to see the glory of Wyoming. 

The cover photo of “Wyoming through The Lens” features a herd of bison lightly covered in snow. It has generated around 1,000 likes or reactions, three dozen comments and more than 60 shares. All of the comments praise the image for how perfectly it defines Wyoming, with some people even inquiring on how to purchase the photo. 

The next post a member will see when scrolling through the page is arguably its most important: the rules. These include staying drama-free, telling members to not use the page to sell photography equipment, letting members know that all photos submitted should be taken in Wyoming and a number of other restrictions. Mainly, Lang reiterates that people in the group should be kind to each other and that political or religious intolerance won’t be tolerated. 

Since the group’s inception, Lang discovered that running a popular Facebook page will show people not getting along. The political posts and comments have become more and more frequent, causing some stress for Lang and even other members. She’s not alone in running the page anymore, though, bringing on another administrator and a few moderators a couple years into the page’s life. 

“At first, there weren’t a lot of political posts,” she said. “But in the last few years, they really gained traction. I don’t like when name-calling occurs, and it definitely has happened.” 

She cited examples such as photos of the Trump family plane landing in Cheyenne and images of dead animals from hunting expeditions as pictures that brought in numerous political comments. But sometimes, people just bring up politics when a photo has nothing to do with anything in the political realm. 

Sometimes comments on posts get turned off if members break the rules, such as a man who posted an image of his living room, trying to subtly show off his custom-made log furniture. One of the moderators called him out, saying “You can’t advertise your business here, even though you gave it a shot of disguising it.” 

Mostly though, people show off just glimpses of their lives. From a woman showing that she was sweeping snow off of her porch in a pair of shorts to a man taking a picture of his Christmas light display. And these are the people who keep Lang running the page. 

Even if the political comments can be a headache, Lang will run “Wyoming through The Lens” as long as people keep wanting to see Wyoming photography. 

“I just want people to get along and not nitpick each other,” she said. “This page is totally worth it to me because I love Wyoming and so many other people do too.”

Wyoming rodeo stock company named PRCA’s top stock contractor

in Agriculture/arts and culture/Community
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A rodeo stock company based near Riverton has been recognized by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association for providing consistently high quality bucking stock.

Powder River Rodeo recently won the PRCA’s Polaris Ranger Remuda Awards.

“It’s our ninth time for being nominated for stock contractor of the year,” said Lori Franzen, who founded the business with her husband Hank 35 years ago. “Which to me is one of the nicest honors you can get because you’re going against about 90 other contractors across the nation and to have the people vote you as one of the top five contractors is a huge honor.”

Powder River Rodeo has grown into a family operation from a two-person company.

“It was just us working from the beginning,” Franzen said. “We’d go out and round up pastures and haul in the cattle and the horses and the livestock to the rodeo (with) me timing and helping secretary and Hank running all ends of it. It’s just come to a culmination of now it is a huge family operation. We’re very proud of the fact that after 35 years, we have what we have.”

Powder River Rodeo is taking nine bucking horses and five bulls to the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas in December.

Buffalo Bill Center exhibition celebrates Wyoming women

in arts and culture/Community
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An exhibition designed to celebrate the women in Wyoming and the barriers they break will be on display at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West for the several months.

The “Women in Wyoming” exhibit, timed to coincide with the anniversary of women winning the right to vote in both Wyoming and the United States, features photographs by exhibit creator Lindsay Linton Buk, a noted portrait photographer.

The exhibit features the photographs of Buk, originally a Powell resident who now has a studio in Jackson and worked for a time in New York.

The exhibit is a little different from traditional displays, said Rebecca West, head of the Plains Indian Museum and director of curatorial education and museum services at the Buffalo Bill Center.

“When we think of arts, photography exhibitions, a lot of time it provides an escape,” West said. “this one is somewhere between an escape and a challenge. When you look at all the women in here, what they’re doing is they’re taking on these challenges and trying to fix things, trying to find solutions.”

Women visiting the exhibition will also have an opportunity to tell their own stories through special “leave a message” telephones at the exhibit or by visiting Buk’s website, West said.

The exhibition opened this year to celebrate the 150th anniversary of women winning the right to vote in Wyoming and will remain up into 2020 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage nationally, said Karen McWhorter, the Scarlett curator of Western art for the Whitney Museum of Western Art.

“So it was critical that we had a longer tenure of this exhibition,” said McWhorter, who worked with West and Buk to design the display.

The exhibit may change how people view Wyoming, West said.

“We’re the Cowboy State and this exhibition shows we’re a lot deeper than just being known as the Cowboy State,” she said.

Midwest rancher recognized for years of rodeo

in Agriculture/arts and culture/Community
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A Midwest rancher and longtime rodeo cowboy has been inducted into the Rodeo Historical Society’s Hall of Fame.

Frank Shepperson, who capped his years in the rodeo with a world championship steer wrestling title in 1975, was inducted in ceremonies held Nov. 8 and 9 at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.

Shepperson said he got involved in the rodeo while working on his family’s ranch.

“When you live on a ranch and you break horses for a living and you’re trying to get a little extra money, it just is natural,” he said. “My father also rodeoed.”

In his school years, Shepperson claimed the national high school title for bronc riding and went on to be a member of the University of Wyoming rodeo team in 1961, when the team won the national college championship.

Shepperson said it was his mother who encouraged him to compete in as many rodeo events as possible.

“When I was a freshman in high school, I filled out my (rodeo) entry form and showed it to my mother,” he said. “The high school rodeo was in Gillette, 90 miles away. She said ‘If we’re driving 90 miles for a damn rodeo, you better get in the bullriding, too.’ That’s the only thing I hadn’t entered.”

Shepperson said he was flattered to have been selected for induction into the Hall of Fame.

“I’m humbled and honored to join a lot of my friends and family and heroes that are already in this,” he said.

Meals on Wheels enjoys large volunteer force

in Community/News
Floyd Osborn
Floyd Osborn loads meals into the back of his truck for delivery. He and his wife Janet have been MOW drivers for 40 years.
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By Mary Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The sign out front says “Volunteers Needed.” 

But that’s not exactly true for Meals on Wheels of Cheyenne.  It’s just easier to fit on the sign than “We have enough volunteers to get by, but we could always use more.” 

Like many charitable organizations, MOW relies heavily on volunteers.  Volunteers not only deliver, but also prepare and package meals for the elderly, disabled and ill people in town who are unable to fix nutritious meals for themselves.  In addition, volunteers sort through and tag items donated for sale in the Meals on Wheels Mart and staff the thrift store.

Harry Kembel, retired, picks up meals to deliver to clients on his route.  Kembel volunteers for several organizations and has delivered for MOW for more than 15 years. 

“Right now all of my routes each day have an assigned driver, but being volunteers, people travel, have surgery or go places during the cold weather, so we need substitute drivers who can fill in,” Merri Burkett, the organization’s volunteer coordinator, told the Cowboy State Daily.

“We have a small staff.  We run everything on volunteers,” she said. “If we didn’t have all those volunteers, we couldn’t do any of this.  There’s no way.”

Flexibility with schedules, opportunities to socialize with other volunteers and the satisfaction of helping other people keep MOW’s volunteer roster full, according to the volunteers themselves.

MOW has 25 routes in Cheyenne to deliver meals to its clients Monday through Friday.  Because the volunteer pool is vital to its operation, it is fortunate that acquiring people to give of their time to MOW is pretty easy.

“Every once in a while, our director does a spot on the radio, and we have our sign out front, but for the most part, people come to us,” said Burkett, adding part of MOW’s recruitment success may be that volunteering is easy and the hours are flexible.

“We need a minimum of 25 drivers each day,” she said.  “We’re very flexible with volunteers.  They can deliver once a day, once a week, once a month or once in a while.”

Stephen Skokowski moved from Texas to Cheyenne after retirement.  When he decided he should make better use of his time, he stopped at the MOW building he routinely drove past and spoke to a volunteer coordinator about being a driver.  That was 18 years ago.  

“She said I didn’t have to do it all five days a week. I could pick whatever day I wanted,” he said.  “I went with the schedule that works best around my road trips.” 

While many of the drivers are retirees, some have full-time jobs, so they’ll deliver during their lunch break.  Because the routes are to clients within the same area, a typical route takes only about one to one and one-half hours to complete, including travel time.

Pat Graham, real estate broker and owner of Our323, delivers on Fridays and whenever MOW is short-handed throughout the week.  A volunteer for 13 years, Graham said he does it because he gets satisfaction from helping and getting to know his clients.

“For a lot of these people, it’s less about the meals and more that they like to have someone to talk with them,” he said. “We (deliverers) benefit as well.”

“I think it’s a feel-good thing,” said Burkett, “that (volunteers) are out there helping someone, even though they may be in the person’s house for five minutes or less.”

“I get to meet people with different backgrounds and talk to them,” Skokowski said.  “I spend an extra five minutes (with clients) to ask how they’re doing.”

Burkett said MOW volunteers are very dedicated.

“Some volunteers are older than some of their clients,” she said, referring to her father, Flloyd Osborn, 86, who delivers twice a week.  “I think a lot of them do it to keep them going, keep them active.  They want to help somebody.”

Finally, MOW volunteers get an opportunity to make friends with other volunteers.  A certain camaraderie develops among the drivers who chat as they wait for their clients’ meals to be prepared for delivery.  

“For some of them, I think this is their McDonald’s coffee hour,” said Burkett.

Volunteers are always needed for delivery drivers and the thrift store, she said.    

For more information or to volunteer at Meals on Wheels, contact her at (307) 635-5542 or volunteer@mealsonwheelsofcheyenne.com.

Art important to the world, says NEA chair

in arts and culture/Community/News
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Making art a part of people’s daily lives is very important to the future, the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts said during a visit to Cheyenne.

Mary Anne Carter visited Cheyenne on Friday for the Wyoming Arts Summit, hosted by the Wyoming Arts Council.

During her appearance, Carter said the arts unite people by bringing members of different cultures and political beliefs together.

“What we’re finding more and more is arts are a big part of healing and health and well being,” she said. “So for the future of the nation and the world, making sure arts are integrated into our everyday lives is really important.”

Art is also a good tool for economic development, said Brian Harrington, an artist and member of Laramie’s city council.

Harrington pointed as an example to Laramie’s Mural Project, a space where artists can join forces to create large-scale murals.

“When you see these things start to build community spaces, you see them strengthen communities and provide a space where we can all get together and sort of move on from there,” he said. “We can gather and collaborate and do things we weren’t necessarily anticipating doing before.”

Carter said the arts played a major role in the women’s suffrage movement in Wyoming. To commemorate that fact, the Wyoming Symphony Orchestra has commissioned a female composer to write a piece in honor of the 150th anniversary of Wyoming giving women the right to vote.

“I think that just goes to show how critical women are to Wyoming, economic development, the arts, just in general and making sure they are well represented is very important,” said Ryan McConnaughey, president of the orchestra’s executive committee.

Sense of community makes Casper neighborhood one of magazine’s 50 ‘nicest places’

in Community/News
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A Casper neighborhood has been identified by Reader’s Digest magazine as one of the 50 “nicest places in America.”

The neighborhood on south Chestnut Street near Casper College was recognized for its sense of community as described by Danica Sveda, the resident who nominated the area for the honor.

“The area is a diamond in a world of disconnectedness,” she wrote in her nomination to the magazine.

Residents who spoke with Cowboy State Daily agreed with Sveda’s description.

“We actually have a community where neighbors talk to each other, we do things over the summer,” said resident Jason Sawdon, a trooper for the Wyoming Highway Patrol.

“Everybody gets along, everybody just goes up and down (the street) and visits with each other,” said Deby Wolfe. “Everybody’s there to help you out, even when you don’t ask.”

Sveda described a race that occurs in the neighborhood during winter storms to see who can clear the most sidewalks.

“We have a friendly competition,” Sawdon said. “We go out and clear the sidewalks and rake the leaves and help each other out. That’s part of our community is to help each other out. We have a mixture of young and old in this neighborhood. Some people can physically do it and some people can’t. The ones that can help out the ones that can’t.”

Several residents noted that neighborhood children can often be seen playing up and down the streets.“It’s really cool to just watch kids,” said Kaysha Martin. “They just play all over.”

“The kids, they do go and they play everywhere,” Wolfe said. “Everybody’s watching everybody’s kids, so everybody knows that they’re safe.”

Residents also take the time to speak with each other, another fact that contributed to the neighborhood’s ranking.

“I’ve lived all over the country and it’s nice to come home and be able to say hi to my neighbors and be able to talk to them over the fence,” Sawdon said. “We can do that here. We all want to be part of each other’s lives in what little ways that we can.”

Hunting with Heroes brings disabled veterans together for healing, outdoor recreation

in Community/military/News
Hunting with Heroes
A guide helps a veteran taking part in the Hunting with Heroes program target an animal. The Wyoming program was established by Dan Currah and Colton Sasser as a way to provide disabled veterans with an opportunity to hunt. (Photo courtesy of Hunting With Heroes)
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

War is hell, but returning to civilian life can be equally daunting for many military veterans, especially those whose wounds complicate the reintegration process.

Hunting with Heroes seeks to provide disabled veterans an opportunity to heal and re-calibrate in a familiar environment with like-minded people, co-founder Dan Currah said.

“We found very quickly that the hunts were therapeutic for those veterans coming back,” explained Currah, a former U.S. Army signal corps officer. “We didn’t do that as Vietnam veterans. We didn’t associate with other veterans. I think there was a social stigma attached to our service, and for the most part, we just came home and tried to forget it.”

Founded in 2013 by Currah and Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation Enduring Freedom veteran Colton Sasser, the Wyoming-based, non-profit organization uses donated game licenses to guide hunts throughout Wyoming. 

Sasser said the experience can be a means for veterans to seize some semblance of normalcy and routine after their world was seemingly upended.

“Some of the best therapy I’ve ever got was hunting or fishing,” he reminisced. “Being out there alone with your thoughts, focused on the task at hand. But, this seems different. It’s more about the camaraderie. The hunting truly is the bonus. It’s the cherry on top.”

From the ashes

While escorting an Explosive Ordinance Disposal team through Afghanistan in 2012, Sasser’s vehicle was destroyed by an improvised explosive device.

“We hit that sucker, and it instantly killed my squad leader,” recalled Sasser, who served as an U.S. Army infantryman. “The truck was upside down, and I woke up and knew it was bad.”

The events directly following the attack remain hazy for Sasser, who blacked out several times during the next weeks. But the damage was permanent — traumatic brain injury, broken ribs, a collapsed lung, a fused spine and an amputated leg.

Months later while recovering at Fort Sam Houston, a Casper newspaper ran a story about Sasser, a Casper native. Currah, also a Casper native, was living in Texas at the time, but kept up on Wyoming news and read Sasser’s story.

After checking around, Currah and his wife discovered they knew Sasser’s parents from their high school days, so the Currahs asked to visit Sasser in the hospital.

“His dad told me he was off on the weekends with nothing to do,” Currah said. “He’s an avid hunter, and I knew some guys that were doing hog hunts, so we lined him up with some hunts.” 

Sasser said getting away from base was great, but it reminded him how much he missed hunting in Wyoming.

Once medically retired from the military, Sasser returned home and the duo started planning expeditions to help other veterans. 

“(Currah) and I just started talking about it over coffee,” he said. “I knew getting tags would be the hardest thing, because how do you plan a hunt when you don’t know when and where people will draw tags.”

Soon after cementing plans to move forward with the organization, Sasser learned about a Wyoming Game and Fish Department program which allowed people to purchase tags and donate them for re-issuance to disabled veterans and people with permanent disabilities who use wheelchairs.

“The first year we were only planning on doing 10 hunts,” he said. “We ended up doing 17, so it was a success from the outset.” 

In 2018, Hunting with Heroes hosted 230 different hunts and since 2013, Sasser guessed they’ve completed more than 1,000.

To be eligible, applicants must be 50 percent or more disabled with a service-connected disability, and they can apply through the group’s website, www.HuntingWithHeroes.org. The program is open to applicants from around the country, and Sasser said many participants come from out-of-state.

Welcome home

Diagnosed with cancer caused by exposure to Agent Orange during Vietnam, Ed Klaput, a retired U.S. Army colonel, sought respite in the solace of the hunt.

“I’ve been undergoing chemo for the last three years, and I’ve been feeling better,” he said. “So, I wanted to get back to hunting elk.”

Klaput lives in Virginia, and without residency, he didn’t have much hope of scoring an elk tag anywhere along the continental divide. While serving, Klaput was stationed in Colorado, and in the late 1990s, he owned a cabin in Wapiti, so he was fond of hunting elk in Rockies. During his time in Wyoming, he became friends with author and former “Outdoor Life” editor Jim Zumbo. Klaput reached out to his friend for ideas about how to get back into the field.

“Zumbo told me about Hunting with Heroes,” he said. “I’d heard of groups like these, but I’d never gone with one.”

In October, Klaput flew out to join Zumbo, Currah and Sasser on an elk and antelope hunt near Rock Springs.

“We went out in the morning, and we weren’t there for too long before we spotted a bull elk,” Klaput remembered. “I lined up my sights, and took him down with a single lung shot. A little later, I got a buck antelope — again with a single lung shot.”

Even among of military-trained shooters and avid hunters, the marksmanship was impressive.

“They now call me Hawkeye, or Hawkeyes, I don’t know which,” Klaput said, chuckling.

Once home, his wife noticed an immediate change in his demeanor.

“She said, ‘You look so good. You’re cured!’” Klaput explained. “It took me out of a definite malaise from depression and the chemo treatments.” 

It wasn’t just the hunt and reconnecting with old friends that pulled the colonel out of his funk. He said Wyoming, its residents and the gratitude shown by tag donors, private land owners and volunteer guides all combined to create the reception Klaput never received on his trip home from Vietnam.

“I can’t put it in words — I could probably put it in tears — but not words,” he said quietly. “The treatment these vets have received from this group and the people of Wyoming is a therapy in and of itself. After 50 years, I felt like I finally received the ‘Welcome home’ we deserved.”

Dia de los Muertos at the Wyoming State Museum

in arts and culture/Community
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In Cheyenne, at the Wyoming State Museum families came to celebrate Dia de los Muertos this weekend. There was sugar skull cookie decorating, dancers, music and preparations for the all important ofrenda.

Many parents expressed the importance of connecting their children to the traditions of Mexico and exposing kids to the rich customs of other cultures.

Our Mike McCrimmon was there to capture the sights and sounds of the day. Step inside the event with his video report.

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