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Campbell County Teen Embraces Life In Wake Of Fatal Diagnosis

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By Jennifer Kocher

The family Christmas is moving to Autumn’s Butterfly House this year, Londen Tabor said, opening the door of the tiny home in the family’s backyard in southern Campbell County.

Walking past her mom, 13-year-old Autumn Fuernisen twirled in the middle of the living room before plopping onto a purple couch lining the back wall next to a ceiling-high Christmas tree adorned in purple garland and twinkly lights. To her right, a log glowed orange in the brick, cardboard fireplace that Londen crafted to hide the space heater.

Autumn Fuernisen will be hosting Christmas in her Butterfly House in the family’s backyard.

The miniature house was decked out for the holidays just like Autumn in her red and white Santa dress with black tights that matched the frames of her new glasses and hair in two jaunty buns on the top of her head.

The house – complete with a tiny deck and porch swing – was built this summer for Autumn by volunteers from TRI Mountain Homes and Make-a-Wish Wyoming, which grants wishes for children with terminal illnesses or other diseases.

Although initially intended as a playhouse, the Butterfly House – also known as the Butterfly Motel when she and her cousins sleep out there – looked a lot like a regular home with chairs in the corner and a coffee table pulled in front of the couch on top of a butterfly rug. Iridescent purple and blue butterfly decals decorated the walls and shelves along with pictures of Autumn and her family from their various travels.

Earlier this summer real butterflies had actually lived there, too, after metamorphasizing from caterpillars to chrysalis before ultimately being unleashed in the back yard.

She’s always been drawn to butterflies, Autumn said, blinking hazily into the morning sun.

“They’re so beautiful,” she said, “and peaceful.”

Her tiny dream home is a bittersweet reminder of the fatal verdict facing the teen, who three years ago was diagnosed with Juvenile Huntington’s Disease (JHD) at age 11. Huntington’s Disease (HD) is a genetic, neurodegenerative brain disease.

There is no cure or treatment to halt, slow or reverse the progression of the disease. As of now, it’s 100% fatal.

It’s arguably one of the most devastating illnesses, Londen noted, with symptoms mirroring ALS, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s combined.

The disease slowly deteriorates a person’s physical, mental, and emotional abilities, and one’s ability to walk, talk, think and speak, according to the Huntington’s Disease Society of America (HDSA), with patients eventually requiring round-the-clock care until they typically succumb to pneumonia, heart failure or other complications.

Ninety percent of those diagnosed with HD are 30 or older, with only 8% between 13 and 20 years old. Rarer yet, just around 2%, are kids like Autumn who are 13 and younger. Depending on the age of diagnosis, a person might have anywhere from 10-15 years to live.

Gov. Mark Gordon officially proclaimed April Huntington’s Disease Awareness Month in honor of Autumn.

With an HD diagnosis, the older, the better. For young teens like Autumn, the disease manifests three to five times faster with a life expectancy of less than 10 years.

Relatively speaking, the disease is rare with only around 41,000 symptomatic cases in the U.S., per HDSA. Unfortunately, for Autumn, however, the odds of inheriting it are 50/50 from a parent carrying the defective gene like her dad Justin Fender.

Autumn tested positive for JHD just before Justin died at age 36, roughly a decade after his diagnosis. Videos that Londen made at the time show Autumn spooning ice cream into her dad’s mouth as he struggled to hold up his head from the hospital bed. In another, she helps him play a video game in bed, resting a steady hand on his shoulder as he jerks back and forth.

Autumn’s dad Justin died of HD just after her diagnosis at age 11.

When she tested positive, Autumn had been eager to tell her father that she, too, had the disease.

“She wanted to feel connected to him,” Londen said, shaking her head. It had been a hard decision, she said, letting her daughter tell her dad knowing how he would feel. It was just one more hard thing in an otherwise grueling situation.

Though Justin and Londen had never married and had broken up shortly before he learned he had the disease, Londen, Autumn and her old brother Logan were literally by his side until the very end.

Autumn remembered waiting for him to wake up the morning he died.

“It just looked like he was sleeping,” she said thoughtfully with a shrug.

Now, Londen is gearing up to face the inevitable yet again, this time with her only daughter.

“It’s hard to even get your head wrapped around it,” she said with a sad smile. “But we’ve decided to make the best of it and enjoy every moment, huh, Stinker?”

Autumn smiled.

Since receiving her diagnosis, the family has already taken several trips, including California and Moab, Utah, and a trip to Disneyland. The pandemic temporarily put a halt on the family’s summer travel plans, including missing the annual HDSA conference in which Autumn won the Youth/JHD award for her advocacy work along with her mother. Already a voice on the subject, Autumn also just hosted her first “Ask Autumn” show through Help 4 HD on YouTube, answering questions and sharing her own experience with the disease.

Thus far, the onset of her daughter’s symptoms has been fast and furious, Londen said, as Autumn continues to lose dexterity and strength that makes everyday chores like buttoning her clothing, going to the bathroom and brushing her teeth incredibly challenging for her. Now, her mom helps her get ready for school in the morning as her speech continues to slur and her balance likewise deteriorates. Swallowing, too, is becoming increasingly more difficult, so they watch her carefully as she chews.

For her part, Autumn bravely faces every day. As a ninth grader, she’s living out her high school dream of being a cheerleader, which has admittedly been the best part of her entering high school. She just finished the fall season cheering for the Campbell County High School football team and will return to the sidelines this winter for basketball when school resumes.

Likewise, Autumn’s teachers and the staff at CCHS have gone out of their way to make high school as normal as possible for the teen. This means sending out a special bus to pick her up before the start of second hour as the illness makes it increasingly harder for Autumn to get up in the morning. The bus on which she’s the sole passenger also makes an early trip home to accommodate her disabilities.

Autumn marks every stop on the journey with a ‘strong girl arms’ photo as the family travels throughout the U.S.

For Autumn, that’s the coolest thing in the world.

“One morning, the driver even brought me a coffee,” she said with a big smile, moving on to talk about her recent award and her impending trip to go see President Elect Biden’s scheduled inauguration in January, complete with tickets for the parade and inaugural ball that they’ll be attending along with Senator John Barrasso.

As for Christmas, Autumn hasn’t really given any thought as to what presents she wants besides a sim card for her broken cell phone. Maybe some sensory tools for home. She shrugged. Ordinary teen concerns like Christmas presents have no bearing on the girl who has vowed to live life to the fullest and enjoy every moment.

That’s all she has, she knows, as her mother puts on a brave face to once again fight the battle till the bitter end.

The only thing that really gets to Londen is that clinical trials have just begun for HD treatments, though her daughter is not eligible as a teen due to concerns by the drug companies about long-term brain damage, which as far as she’s concerned, is a preposterous pretense in the face of death.

Autumn Fuernisen’s Butterfly House is a gift from Make a Wish Wyoming.

Londen hasn’t given up yet, however, as she continues to learn and talk to everyone she can about both the disease and any options for saving her daughter or postponing the inevitable.

In the meantime, there’s Christmas to celebrate, and once again, Autumn has plans to make pies for her family as she did this past Thanksgiving. Her favorites are pecan and apple, and she makes a pretty mean pie if she doesn’t mind saying so herself.

For a family who has suffered so much, it’s the little victories along the way that get their focus as they prepare for their first Christmas at Autumn’s.

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Old Jeans Bring $8,470 At Powell Auction

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Vintage jeans can be a hot item. How about hot as in $700 a pair?

That’s the price that a lot of 12 pair of vintage jeans averaged in an online auction sale from the Forest Wichern Homestead on the South Fork, which closed June 18. The total paid for the 12 pair was $8,470.

Travis Swenson of Swenson’s Auctions of Powell managed the sale of items at the Wichern homestead at 390 Lower Southfork Road. He said the purchaser of the jeans was a reseller for an overseas market.

“I had movie prop producers from New York to Texas to Oregon bidding,” Swenson said.

The makers of the jeans included Levi, Wrangler and Lee. The vintage jeans were from the 1950s and 1960s, “maybe even the 40s,” Swenson said. “They were very worn.”

The uniqueness that made the old jeans so valuable “had to do with the rivets on the Levis, the Blue Bell emblem on the tag inside the pants on the Wranglers and the type of zipper on the Lees,” he said.

There’s a lesson to be learned, Swenson advised: “Don’t throw your stuff away.”

Then he added with a chuckle: “Call Swenson’s Auctions.”

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Historian publishes book about Nimitz visit to Cody

in Community/military/arts and culture

By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

A Cody historian has turned his attention to a visit to the area by a famous World War II naval officer.

Bob Richard’s newest book documents a visit to the Cody area by Fleet Adm. Chester Nimitz and several other military leaders in 1946.

The book consists largely of photos taken by Richard’s father Jack Richard, a secretary to U.S. Sen. E.V. Robertson, who represented Wyoming at the time.

Nimitz played a major role in WWII, commanding the Pacific fleet and accepting the surrender of Japanese forces in 1945. 

Robertson invited Nimitz and others to Wyoming after the war and Richard accompanied the group as it traveled from Cheyenne to Jackson, Yellowstone National Park and Cody.

The resulting photographs, Jack Richard’s first color photos, are contained in the book “Fleet Admiral Nimitz and Naval War Heroes’ Historic Wyoming and Yellowstone National Park Visit.”

“They fished, they swam in (Yellowstone Lake), then they boarded an old yellow bus and they came to Cody, stopping at our ranch on Rattlesnake Creek,” Bob Richard said. “At the age of 9, Adm. Nimitz patted me on the back and said ‘I hope someday that you’re an officer like your dad and his brother Bob.’”

Richard has published a number of books focusing on the Cody and Yellowstone areas. His first, “Yellowstone Country,” also features the photography of his father.

Other books by Richard serve as visual guides of the Yellowstone area.

“Everybody continues to buy them and they give them to their guests,” he said. “When they want to get (the guests) out of the house for the day, they give them the book on the North Fork and say ‘Go find all the rock formations.’”

Richard is himself an accomplished photographer. One of his shots, showing two bears near a sign that reads “Leaving Yellowstone National Park,” is a picture traditionally given as a gift to Yellowstone employees as they retire.

Richard said he has sold more than 600 copies of the photograph, which he took decades ago.

Wyoming-based group hosts hunts with terminally ill children

in News/Recreation/Community

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

For some terminally ill children, hunting can be a break from the grueling regimen of treatments and a chance to experience normalcy, Muley Fanatic Foundation Co-founder Josh Coursey said.

But for 20-year-old Noah Walters, it could be more — a reason to continue fighting 10 years after doctors predicted he would die, said his mother Denise.

“A few years ago, Noah was dealing with some real depression,” she explained. “If he did not have hunting, I don’t know if he would still be with us.”

Of the 3 million people in Mississippi, Denise said Noah is the only person diagnosed with Morquio Syndrome Type A, a progressive disease that prevents the body from breaking down sugar chains called glycosaminoglycans and can cause abnormal bone and spine growth, resulting in diminished stature and reduced mobility.

Despite his ailments, which include heart and respiratory conditions, Noah harvested his first pronghorn this year in Wyoming with the help of the Muley Fanatic Foundation.

“He may be a little person, but he’s a firecracker,” Denise said. “He does not allow his disease to control him.”

Noah was one of 17 people, mostly children, the Wyoming-based foundation took on hunts through the “Putting the U in hunt” program in 2019, Coursey said. “We know how important this is for children with terminal illnesses,” Coursey said. “We see it as an opportunity for us to do good.” 

‘Furthering the sport’

Founded in 2011, Muley Fanatic is a nonprofit organization dedicated to wildlife conservation primarily in Wyoming, though chapters have recently popped up in Colorado, Utah and Virginia.

“We’ve been facilitating these youth hunts from the outset,” Coursey said. “As a conservation group, part of our mission includes furthering the sport of hunting, and we recognize this as an opportunity to do that good work for these kids who are at a disadvantage.”

The idea for the program came from a friendship between the foundation’s founders and a local family whose child was terminally ill. 

“We knew as a nonprofit we could petition the game commission to have these (hunting) tags allocated to allow for these opportunities in areas conducive to the individual hunter and their needs,” Coursey explained.

Under Section 13 of the Wyoming Game and Fish hunting regulations, the game commission can issue a limited number of licenses for deer, elk, pronghorn and turkeys to nonprofits for the use of terminally ill people between the ages of 12 and 20.

“It allows the youth hunter to be in the area five days prior to the area being opened to the public,” Coursey said. 

To be eligible, applicants must submit their paperwork with a statement from a licensed physician stating the license recipient is clinically diagnosed with a life-threatening or serious illness. The application must be submitted by Jan. 31 of the requested year — a full nine months ahead of the opening of hunting season in some cases.

“It’s a long process,” Coursey said, “but that gives us time to get everything together and the families time to ensure the kids have the green light from their doctors.”

Meeting unique needs

Muley Fanatic provides the young hunters, who come from all over the nation, with an all-expense paid experience for both them and their caretakers.

“They have enough to worry about as is, so we take care of everything while they’re here,” Coursey said. “We buy the tags, provide the meals, pay for the travel and any hotel expenses they might have.”

The average hunt costs about $1,800, he explained.

“We do that through fundraising throughout the year and have donations earmarked just for this program,” Coursey said. “But we couldn’t do it without our volunteers. We have a lot of great resources in Wyoming in our wildlife and wide-open spaces, but our greatest resource of all is our people.”

For hunters with disabilities, the standard array of hunting gear doesn’t always meet their needs. In some cases, the foundation has worked with other organizations such as Holy Pursuits Dream Foundation, based in West Virginia, to supply specialty equipment for the hunters.

“We’ve had five children now that have been able to hunt with a specifically designed firing mechanism using a breathing tube,” Coursey said. “It takes a little practice out on the range to get used to, but we’ve seen some good success with the mechanisms.”

While hunters can request what type of animal they would like to pursue, he said mobility remains a factor.

“We’ve had children that have no motor function from the shoulders down,” Coursey said. “The mule deer hunts require more mobility than the antelope and elk hunts, which takes some of the access away.”

Muley Fanatic volunteer and Red Desert Outfitters owner Jason Faigl said patience is key when looking for an animal the participants could have an opportunity to harvest.

“A lot of the challenge is being able to get the hunter to the area and set up to shoot,” Faigl explained. “We do everything we can to make sure they are comfortable and make sure we’re not affecting their illness in any way.”

Word of mouth

Starting with only a couple hunts in the first year, “Putting the U in hunt” was slow to gain momentum, but participation more than tripled in 2019.

“We typically have about four to five hunters a year,” Coursey said. “This year, we had 17.”

Healthcare data is protected by federal law, so the foundation relies on word of mouth and social media to attract participants.

Having logged about 25 hunts since 2011, Noah and his family are well-acquainted with hunting organizations who help the terminally ill, but it was only recently his family learned about the Muley Fanatic Foundation.

“I’d seen the Muley Fanatic Facebook page, but I hadn’t really reached out until another organization told us about the program,” Denise recalled.

Without word of mouth, Noah might have never discovered his ability to hunt. 

“It was always something he was interested in as a kid, but he wasn’t sure he’d be able to do it,” Denise said, explaining the doctors predicted shortly after birth Noah’s life expectancy would be about 10 years. “The pastor at our church heard him talking about it one day and decided to look into it.”

With the pastor’s help, Noah discovered a group in Wisconsin that was willing to take him bear hunting.

“He’s been hooked on it ever since,” Denise said. “Not every hunt is successful, but Noah says that’s why it’s called hunting. If we were successful every time, he says it’d be called shooting.”

Having hunted all over the country, Noah was excited about the prospect of nabbing a pronghorn.

“We’d seen several antelope that morning, but they were far off or too quick,” Denise recalled about the Muley Fanatic-sponsored hunt. “It takes a long time to set up the shot. Sometimes he sits in his dad’s lap, sometimes he sits in mine. It’s a mom, dad and Noah team effort, but we get the job done.”

The team successfully harvested an antelope during their visit, an experience Denise said Noah cherishes.

“The people are absolutely wonderful, and the state is gorgeous,” she said. “Are we going to visit again? Absolutely.”

For more information about the Muley Fanatic Foundation go to or call (307) 875-3133.

Holiday lights go high-tech

in News/Community/military
Christmas Lights

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

No one really can remember when the Cheyenne Veterans Affairs Medical Center, built in 1934, began displaying its impressive holiday lights and decorations. It’s just been something Cheyenne and Laramie County residents, as well as regular tourists, expect every winter. 

Whether you’re driving by on Pershing Boulevard and just happen to catch a glimpse of the lights or you take a stroll through the campus, you can see the VA’s extensive collection of decorations, from Santa guiding his reindeer to a nutcracker saluting incoming and outgoing guests. 

For many years, the decorative display was unique in Cheyenne because it was considered more “high-tech” than displays seen across the rest of the city. In recent years, the community has begun to step up the size and scale of its decorations and lights, but that doesn’t mean that the VA is going to fall behind. 

“The grounds guys actually came to me this year and were pretty insistent that we needed to get some more lights and decorations for the display,” said Sam House, VA public affairs officer. “We’ve built new additions along the campus, but we hadn’t expanded our holiday display and they wanted to change that.” 

Some of the new decorations included inflatable characters that are shown every evening — as long as it’s not too windy — more lights, a new wreath and pop-up sculptures. 

Since the VA is a federal building, the decorations also reflect the Jewish and Muslim faiths, featuring a menorah for Hanukkah and a painted sign with Islam’s crested moon symbol. 

While not decorated, there is also a sacred area on the property for Native Americans that features a traditional medicine wheel that people can visit.

Since the VA expanded its decorations for the entire campus, House noted that there has been an uptick in visitors this winter. 

“We put those there for the community, so we definitely want them to come onto the campus and take a look around,” he said. “They’re also great for the veterans who stay in our nursing homes, because they love to look out their windows and see these gorgeous lights.” 

The groundkeepers begin looking over the lights and decorations in early November, ensuring none of the lights are broken or burned out and checking to see if any decorations need repair. After Thanksgiving, they get to work setting everything up, stringing lights and posting the decorations all over the campus. 

It’s a lot of work for a display that’s seen for a little more than a month, but House said it’s worth it because the community loves it so much. 

“Cheyenne is a very traditional community and these decorations are a part of our tradition,” he said. “There are so many federal entities that kind of peel away and don’t take part in their community. The Cheyenne VA has been an integral part of the city since the 1930s. Some of our patients were mayors of the community. We want to make sure people know it’s OK to come onto the campus and that our VA hospital belongs to the community.”

But the VA isn’t the only place you can see beautiful lights or stunning decorations. Little America is another location with a sprawling campus with a breathtaking display that guests or community members can walk through.

Cheyenne’s City Hall on O’Neil Avenue is covered with around 3,000 LED lights, with more being added every year. The building is decorated on Thanksgiving and the lights will come down in January. 

There are also lights displayed along the streets downtown, which are put up by the city’s traffic division. These will also be up until January. 

The Cheyenne Community Recreation and Events Department also placed more than 70,000 lights on the Cheyenne Depot Plaza this fall. The white lights that hang on the trees downtown will stay up until April 1. 

But if you’re looking for some more home-spun decorations and lights, the Cheyenne Trolley Tours offers the chance to bundle up in one of the city’s classic trolleys, sip hot chocolate and cruise the streets in search of the best Christmas displays at private homes throughout town. 

The buses depart every evening from the west end of Frontier Mall, 1400 Frontier Mall Drive., at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. Tickets are $12 for adults and $6 for children.

Donations down at Salvation Army kettles around the state

in News/Community
Wyoming Salvation Army

Donations to Wyoming’s Salvation Army kettles have declined this year, due in part to this year’s calendar, according to officials with the charity.

Officials said with Thanksgiving and Black Friday coming late in the year, people had less time to donate than usual. In addition, a blizzard in eastern Wyoming slowed traffic past kettles posted at different locations.

In Gillette, Salvation Army Director Jenny Hartung said donations have declined by about $6,700 from 2018. She attributed part of the decline to the closure of Gillette’s Kmart.

In Cheyenne, donations are down about $22,000, while in Casper, Penny Shoemake estimated the decline at $45,000.

Cheyenne Salvation Army Lt. Chad Lamb said the organization may not reach its goal for the year of $120,000, but added the group is still willing to accept any donations, including change.

“People always apologize for putting change in the kettle,” he said. “Never, ever apologize. We did over $10,000 in just change alone. You pull out a handful of change … throw that in there, because change makes a difference in Cheyenne.”

Kettles around the communities are staffed by both paid bell ringers and volunteers. Rick Flood, president of Cheyenne’s branch of the Platte Valley Bank, said 14 of his employees have been ringing bells for the Salvation Army.

“At this time of year, it is so reassuring and humbling to be reminded of the generosity and kindness of our community,” he said.

Flood and Lamb agreed that Cheyenne residents are generous with their Salvation Army donations.

“In our kettles, in our food donations, in our gift donations, in every respect that I’ve seen in Cheyenne, this is giving community,” Lamb said.

Nagle-Warren Bed and Breakfast shuts down

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

One of Wyoming’s most well-known bed and breakfasts recently shut its doors after 22 years in business.

Cheyenne’s Nagle-Warren mansion operated as a bed and breakfast since September 1997 under the direction of owner Jim Osterfoss.

Osterfoss, who has spent more than 60 years in the hospitality industry, said it was time for him to retire.

“It’s just time to move on,” he said. “Innkeeping is not a contact sport but it’s pretty close. Lots of hours and a lot of hard work.”

Osterfoss said he spent 12 years looking for the perfect bed and breakfast and decided on the Nagle-Warren mansion because it was an “excellent historic stage to play on.”

The mansion, built in 1888, is named after Erasmus Nagle, a wealthy Wyoming businessman, and Francis E. Warren, Wyoming’s first governor and a longtime U.S. senator from the state.

“It’s one of the most important and iconic homes in the State of Wyoming,” Osterfoss said. “President Theodore Roosevelt stayed here. President Taft stayed here. The Vanderbilts and many other titans of the early 1900s stayed here. This was the place to stay in Wyoming.”

Osterfoss dipped deep into his bank account to equip the home with modern-day essentials like air conditioning, to update the electrical and plumbing systems and make other improvements, but he said the structure itself was in “amazing” condition.

“It escaped the horrible renovation period that so many historic homes went through in the 1950s and the 1960s,” he said. “It bypassed the period where people faded out woodwork, ripped out fireplaces, and removed rooms.

“The fireplaces are original, the flooring is original, and the extensive woodwork is original,” he added.

Osterfoss said he has put the mansion on the market but is in no rush to close any deal.

“It’s kind of like selling your daughter,” he said, laughing. “I want to find someone who will take care of the place. I want to get to know what their expectations are and they’ll get to know what my expectations are.”

Although he is officially retiring, Osterfoss said he will continue to contribute to the community by holding an occasional event at the mansion.

Osterfoss is a longtime supporter of the Cheyenne symphony and was instrumental in bringing ballet to the Capital City by providing rooms for performers.

“There are a lot of wonderful events in Cheyenne,” he said. “Whoever we can support, we try to.”

Until the mansion is sold, Osterfoss may be found in one of his favorite rooms — a room he calls the tower.

The third floor octagonal room was a favorite location for authors and writers.

“Somehow the writing community found us,” he said. “They fell in love with the place. When they get up there, they really fall into it and all of a sudden they have a book.”

Osterfoss won’t dish dirt on any of his guests over the past 22 years proclaiming that whatever “happens at the Nagle, stays at the Nagle”.

When asked if there were any surprises that he discovered at the historic home, he said, “The secret tunnels to the old whorehouses in Cheyenne..”


The innkeeper paused for a moment and deadpanned, “Gotcha.”

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Cody man produces, hosts nightly NFR television show

in Community/arts and culture

A Wyoming resident is helping rodeo fans all over the country keep track of what is happening at the National Finals Rodeo this week in Las Vegas.

Cody resident Dan Miller is the master of ceremonies for “National Finals Tonight,” a nightly recap television show on each day’s rodeo action that is broadcast on RFD Television, along with its sister channel, the Cowboy Channel.

Miller also produces the show, which is broadcast from the Orleans Hotel, and appears nightly with his co-hosts, rodeo champions Donnie Gay and Joe Beaver.

Miller, a professional musician who performs nightly in Cody every summer, caught the attention of rodeo fans with his Mesquite Rodeo series on the Nashville Network and ESPN.

The NFR television show helps keep rodeo fans informed about the action at each day’s performance and gives them a chance to hear from the competitors themselves, Miller said.

“This show is a perfect show for a rodeo fan,” he said. “I compare it to going to the Super Bowl and then afterwards going into a bar and the players come in and tell you about the game and what happened. It has that kind of intimacy for us.”

As producer, Miller is in charge of a substantial crew on the show.

“This show takes a lot of work and we have a great team assembled that makes that happen,” he said. “We’re shooting four cameras, I have two editors in the back room that work with me. We have instant replay guys. It is a huge production staff. (Orleans Hotel owner) Boyd Gaming pulls out all the stops, really, to make this show happen.”

Miller said he particularly enjoys the opportunity to showcase Wyoming cowboys and the state’s “Team Wyoming” rodeo team.

“I produce the show and so I can kind of lean toward Wyoming,” he said. “This is the perfect marriage for Wyoming cowboys and rodeo fans.”

Wyoming Native Rob Wallace Runs National Christmas Tree Ceremony

in News/Community

By Jimmy Orr

Things were busy for Wyoming native Rob Wallace on Dec. 5 as he took part in hist first lighting of the National Christmas Tree as an assistant secretary for the Department of Interior.

Wallace, confirmed as assistant secretary for Fish and Wildlife in July, joined three other speakers — including President Donald Trump — in the annual 90-minute lighting.

Wallace joined Trump, Secretary of Interior David Bernhardt, and National Park Service Director David Vela in making comments during the ceremony.

“On a scale of one to ten, behind the president, the secretary of Interior and the director of the Park Service, my speech will be in a solid fourth place,” Wallace said.

Wallace was asked to give closing remarks at the ceremony — which has often occurred during less than ideal weather conditions.

This past Thursday, the weather gods smiled upon event-goers as temperatures were in the mid-40s with no wind. And the thousands of people who showed up cheered loudly when the president and First Lady Melania Trump pushed a button which lighted the 30-foot live Colorado Spruce from Palmyra, Pennsylvania.

Yes, the tree is alive. For now. Wallace explained that a fairly new practice is to transplant a tree instead of cutting it down.

“It happened between 10 to12 years ago,” he said. “The Park Service passed an initiative to make the tree permanent. Sometimes there are transplant issues and the tree doesn’t make it. We hope this new tree from Pennsylvania will be here for a long time.”

The State of Wyoming has supplied the National Christmas Tree just once. That was back in 1972. It was a 75-foot Engelmann spruce from Medicine Bow National Forest.

That doesn’t mean Wyoming doesn’t participate, however. Years ago, smaller trees representing all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories were planted on the Ellipse where the ceremony is held.

These identical trees stand about 5 feet tall now and are decorated by school kids from their respective states.

For Wyoming’s tree, the honor this year went to the Wyoming Indian School, where middle school students created transparent globe-like ornaments with a bucking bronco inside each one.

“It’s indescribable to be part of this tradition,” Wallace said. “It’s an important symbol of the start of a very festive holiday observed throughout the world. It celebrates the best of America.”

A replay of the ceremony will be broadcast on Ovation TV Monday, Dec. 9, at 7 p.m. Mountain Time.

Powell man part of team to row across Atlantic

in Recreation/Community
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)

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.

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