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Powell Man Recognized For Worldwide Stamp Collection

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By Dave Bonner, Powell Tribune

A post-World War II uprising in Hungary attracted the attention of a 12-year-old Powell boy and inspired a life of stamp collecting.

Hungarians revolted against their Stalinist government in October of 1956, but their declaration of freedom was quickly crushed by Russian tanks and troops. Wes Learned of Powell remembers feeling empathy as the world watched Russian forces clamp down on the Hungarians’ bid for freedom.

“I came to understand that we just couldn’t help them, and felt bad for them at the time,” Learned said.

He turned to a nascent interest in stamps in response. At age 12, Learned had already been introduced to philately (stamp collecting) under the arm of the late Ray Easton, a longtime Powell funeral home director and father of Don Easton.

“I researched more of the history of Hungary and their stamps,” Learned recalled. “I like the geography of it and learn from it.”

Now 77, he has accumulated more than 4,400 regular issue Hungarian stamps through a variety of sources — individual collectors, auctions and eBay. Learned also knows the owner of the Hungarian Stamp Exchange, from whom he has made numerous acquisitions.

All are meticulously numbered in order and mounted in one of the several albums in his collection.

His early and persistent interest in Hungarian stamps has landed him in an unusual position. Working from his study in his Powell home, Learned serves as treasurer of the Society of Hungarian Philately, a group whose members worldwide have a strong interest in Hungarian philately and have ties to Hungary.

In correspondence with members of the society and the editor of the group’s newsletter, Learned’s background in finance and accounting appeared to sync up with the needs of a soon-to-be vacant treasurer position. He was asked to replace the retiring treasurer and did so in 2005.

The Society meets annually at large stamp shows around the country. He has recently attended meetings in Riverside, California; Mesa, Arizona; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Next year’s meeting is set for Chicago. 

He’s never been to Europe, but has also actively collected stamps from the Baltic Sea states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, along with many others.

Again asserting “geography is my deal,” his stamps portray the relative disappearance of Estonia for some 50 years. From the time of Hitler’s German invasion of Estonia in 1939 through the Russian domination at the end of World War II, Estonia didn’t issue a stamp until 1989-90.

“I’ve collected all of the Estonian stamps — including all the souvenir books of stamps since then,” Learned said.

He has no idea how many stamps he possesses in his various albums. They number in the  thousands.

Cody Regional Health

“I’ve got a U.S. stamp collection, too, but I’m not done collecting worldwide yet,” said Learned, who is also a member of the American Philatelic Society.

Of course, he has a copy of the first postage stamp ever issued in the world. Known as the “Penny Black,” it was issued in Great Britain in 1840, a crude black stamp showing the head of Queen Victoria. Postage stamps debuted in the United States in 1845.

Learned’s nearly 50 years of stamp collecting began as a young boy, then tapered off in his early adult years. He credits his wife, Linda, with stimulating his renewed interest in stamps when he began suffering serious hearing loss.

“Linda said it would be good for me. I’ve been collecting seriously since about 1980,” said Learned. “I don’t spend much time at it any more, but when I was traveling the state in my job, I would take stamps with me. I could spread them out on the table in my room and put them in the proper place.”

Learned worked as an auditor for the State of Wyoming Department of Audit for 33 years.

His favorite stamp is from his U.S. collection, a commemorative stamp issued in a set of five to mark the 100th anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase from France. The acquisition doubled the size of the United States in 1803-04, including lands in 15 present states west of the Mississippi (Wyoming being among them).

The set of five Louisiana Purchase commemorative stamps was sold only at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri. It took some doing for Learned to find all five.

“There are prettier stamps,” he said. “But I had to look so hard for the final one, and it felt so good when I finally completed my set of five. 

“That’s my favorite stamp,” Learned affirmed.

He looks at it every day: His daughter, Rae Eckley of Cody, had the stamp enlarged as the face of a clock that resides in the master bedroom of the Learned home.

History, geography and satisfaction are the takeaways of Learned’s many years adventuring in stamps.

He also offers a piece of advice:

“Stamp collecting is a hobby, strictly for the enjoyment of the collector,” Learned said. “If you think you are going to make a lot of money at it, you’re sadly mistaken.”

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Cowboy State Daily’s Annual Interview With Santa Claus

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

As you know, we here at Cowboy State Daily pride ourselves on our ability to track down what may be the busiest man on the planet in the days leading up to Christmas.

After making calls to several sources who will remain nameless at the risk of putting them on the “naughty list” and checking flight plans filed across the state, I was able to track down Santa Claus (aka St. Nicholas, Pere Noel, Kris Kringle, etc.) in an unnamed small community in northern Wyoming.

Recognizing me from our interview last year, the big man (again, since I share the round little belly, I’m allowed to use the phrase) kindly took time out of his busy holiday season for a quick interview to fill us in on the state of things in his world as he prepares for his round-the-globe trip on Friday night.

CSD: Thanks again for your time, Mr. Claus. I know you’re busy at this time of year.

SC: Please, call me Santa. Mr. Claus was my father. No, that’s an old joke. Actually, since I’m almost 1,900 years old, I guess I’m sort of an old joke. Far too old to stand on formalities in any case.

However, someday, you’re going to have to tell me how you track me down! I don’t mind the interview, but I like to keep my plans a pretty tightly held secret. It looks like there may be some people at the FAA getting coal this year.

But back to your question — we are indeed busy! The elves are putting the finishing touches on the toys, testing the electronics, making sure the reindeer are ready for the trip and loading the sleigh as we speak. But I’ve always got a minute or two.

CSD: How are things different for you this year from last, now that the pandemic seems to be loosening its grip on the world a bit?

SC: Oh, things are infinitely better. The best thing is I’m not hearing from so many boys and girls asking for their friends and family members to recover from COVID. Now, just for the record, making sick people well is above my pay grade. I can make them happier — but making them well is up to the doctors.

Anyway, the kids seem seem so much happier this year. I suspect it’s because they’ve been able to get out, get back to school and see their friends. While kids may complain about going to school, I think they secretly enjoy it. At least, they prefer it to staying at home and having mom or dad as their teacher. Mom and dad probably prefer it as well.

And my travel restrictions have been relaxed considerably! Last year, we all had to get tested for COVID as we flew between countries. Do you know what kind of time that takes? I was held up in customs in Canada for hours! But the Canadians are so polite that I really didn’t mind. Gave me cocoa and the reindeer some carrots while we waited for test results to come back. 

CSD: What about behavior? Are more kids being good this year?

SC: You know, I think they are. As I said, I think once they were able to get out of their homes and resume a relatively normal life, a lot of stress went away. They’re nicer to each other, to their siblings and to their parents. There are a lot of adults — and you know who you are — who could learn from them.

Along those lines, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many harsh words between grown-ups as I’ve seen this year! And over the silliest things. Parking spots. Grocery carts. Movie choices. Politics. Things that really don’t matter in the long run.

You know, I’ve even gotten some Christmas letters from — what is it you call them — trolls, telling me I’m too fat, I’m judgmental and I smell of peppermint. Well, trust me, I know some trolls and most are better behaved than you lot! And remember, I have coal and unlike California, I’m not afraid to use it.

CSD: What are the popular toys this year?

SC: Oh, video games are still big, as are devices like pads and cell phones. But this year, I’m seeing more requests for the non-technical toys like Legos, dolls, board games and books. Now, this is just a theory, but I think the kids got a little burned out on screen time last year and they’re interested in toys that make them think or keep them active.

Of course, I’m getting a fair amount of requests for radio-controlled monster trucks and drones. Those are fun for the kids, but they’re kind of a liability up at the North Pole. See, about the only thing I can drive is a sleigh. I’ve caused so much property damage in the workshop with remote-controlled cars that the elves won’t let me drive them any more. They call me Evel Knievel. And not in a good way.

As a side note, more kids seem to be asking me what I want for Christmas. Which is always a nice change.

CSD: And what’s your answer?

SC: World peace. And new socks.

CSD: Really?

SC: Well, who doesn’t want world peace? And I have access to all the toys I could ever play with. And the elves — while they’re great at almost everything they do — really aren’t all that good at making clothes. Everything they make is too small. Could you imagine a man my size trying to squeeze into a sweater made for an American Girl doll? Trust me, that leaves an awful lot of belly exposed — not something that would bring the holidays home to a person.

CSD: How has the air traffic been? We’re hearing there are fewer commercial flights, so that should leave the skies more open for you.

SC: Well, last year was very quiet. Except for over Libya, where I was escorted by two jet fighters. They’re still a little upset about the shipment of coal their leaders got in 2005.

I expect things will be a little busier in the air this year, but the pilots have always been great about sharing the skies.

CSD: I’ve heard that’s because you refuse to stay in your designated flight path.

SC: Do you want to get coal?

CSD: Moving on …

SC: Look, nothing personal, but I really do have to get back to the Pole. I just got a text that a bunch of Barbie dolls are sporting G.I. Joe heads. I’ve got to get back and straighten that out.

CSD: Understood. Anything you want to say in closing?

SC: I’d just like everybody to remember that, whether you’re a believer or not, the spirit of Santa is something that should be shared with everyone. 

I can’t be everywhere all the time, but maybe if you act a little more like me when you deal with each other — be a little more tolerant, a little more patient, listen a little more, speak a little less, smile more often — it will feel a bit more like Christmas through the year. And I think everybody would agree that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

And with that … Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good night!

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Make-A-Wish Wyoming Helps Dubois Cancer Patient Get His Own YouTube Channel

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

GasMaskGamerWyo’s YouTube channel has 869 subscribers. He posts videos about his dog, family trips to the grocery store, and power outages — and his battle with leukemia.

12-year-old Oughen (pronounced Owen) Karn from Dubois was diagnosed with leukemia two years ago — and thanks to Make-A-Wish Wyoming, his dream of having his own YouTube channel has come true

“GasMaskGamerWyo” refers to the face mask he has to wear during his cancer treatments.

Oughen’s mom, Sara, said that his diagnosis came after he didn’t recover from a minor illness.

“We came down to the clinic thinking it was tonsillitis or strep throat or something like that,” she said, explaining that his glands were extremely swollen, and didn’t respond to high doses of antibiotics.

“We took him over to Jackson, they did some tests, and they immediately sent us to Salt Lake. And it was leukemia. So starting that day, we began living in the hospital for 35 days straight. And we got to come home after that point for a few days, but basically lived in Salt Lake for the first year of treatment for him.”

“I really don’t have a lot of energy,” Oughen said. “It takes my energy away. At first, it was really rough, because I would like, throw up every 10 minutes. Now it’s better, I am getting my energy back. But super slowly, though.”

First Told About Make-A-Wish

Oughen’s family was first told about Make-A-Wish Wyoming shortly after his diagnosis. 

“He couldn’t decide what he wanted,” Sara said. “He kept trying to think of things for the whole family. And we’re just like, ‘Buddy, you’re the one who’s fighting this, you need to think more for yourself, what you want long term.’ And then we just became aware that that was the perfect wish, because we’ve been having to homeschool all three of the kids with COVID. And then you know, the cancer. So his immune system is shot, and so it’s really how he socializes as well.”

Morgan Poloncic, CEO for Make-A-Wish Wyoming, told Cowboy State Daily that Oughen was among 28 Wyoming kids who were granted wishes this year ranging from a golf simulator to a baby grand piano.

Make-A-Wish recipients must be children diagnosed with a critical illness, Poloncic said.

“One of the biggest misconceptions of Make-A-Wish is that our kids have to have a terminal condition to be eligible for a wish, but that’s not true,” she said.

Poloncic said that many different conditions qualify a child for a wish — kids with all types of cancer, even up to a year after the child has gone into remission, due to continued risk; kids who have had or need an organ transplant, and kids who have conditions like Huntington’s disease or muscular dystrophy, or rare genetic medical conditions. 

“We currently have 52 wishes in progress across the state,” she said.

Making A Wish Come True

Making a wish come true for critically ill kids is no small feat. The Karn family has been coordinating with many people to get Oughen’s YouTube channel set up.

“They got a marketing company involved to help get it rolling,” said Sara. “And they came and did photoshoots with him. And they’re in the process of working with us to help get all of his equipment hooked up. So there’s been quite a few people involved in this, which is amazing.”

Poloncic said that the kids they help have had some very creative wishes.

“Right now we have a wish kid who has wished to have a triple tandem bike,” she said. “Not just a tandem bike, with two people riding it, but a triple tandem. And then there’s Oughen.”

Poloncic said their organization had never had a child wish to be a YouTube personality, and it’s taken some coordination to grant that wish.

“We are our own 501 (C)(3) (tax exempt charity) here in Wyoming, so the funds that we raise here stay here in Wyoming,” she said. “But one great thing about being a part of Make-A-Wish America and that national organization is that we can reach out to the 58 other chapters across the country and say, ‘Hey, has anyone granted a wish to be a YouTuber before, and how did you do it?’”

Poloncic said Wyoming’s organization set up Oughen’s YouTube channel and partnered with a Wyoming marketing agency, Kalen Marketing Solutions, and they ran with it. 

“So they created artwork for his channel, so he has his own logo and his own graphics to go along with it,” she explained. “And then they also really helped us figure out what he needed in his house to be able to run a YouTube channel, especially for it to be a video game-themed channel.”

Oughen’s mom said just the process of picking the name for the channel says a lot about her son’s character.

“It was for a school project, he was supposed to come up with an idea for a superhero, and do a drawing” Sara explained. “And so he came up with this superhero name, ‘Gasmask Gamer,’ because his facemask that he wears to the hospital always reminds him of a gas mask. So he was the superhero, and his job is to help other people, other kids who are sick, through his experiences.”

Hoping Sick Kids Will Recover

Poloncic said the work of Make-A-Wish is rooted in hopes that the sick children will recover.

“Our hope for every single child is that they will beat their condition or have a successful transplant and hopefully be able to go on and live a somewhat normal life,” she said.

And Oughen is doing just that. His mother said that thanks to Make-A-Wish, he’d like to do this for a living.

“They’ve set him up just so well, to really make this his dream,” Sara said. 

And Oughen’s big heart has given him a bigger perspective, too — he said that although the cancer has been hard, his family has been blessed.

“A lot of bad has come out of the cancer, but a lot of good has come out of it, too,” he said.

You can find Oughen’s YouTube channel here:

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Hero Bridger Walker Gets To Hang Out With Tom Holland On ‘Spider-Man’ Set

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Cheyenne boy Bridger Walker got the opportunity of a lifetime earlier this year when he visited the set of the latest Marvel film, “Spider-Man: No Way Home.”

Over the weekend, Bridger’s father, Robert Walker, posted a series of photos and short videos on Instagram detailing the boy’s visit to the set to meet stars Tom Holland, who plays the titular character and his alter ego Peter Parker, and Zendaya, who plays MJ.

“When we first arrived on set, I was a little apprehensive that once the ‘curtain was pulled back’ that the magic of the movies would be lost for the kids,” Robert Walker wrote on Instagram. “The opposite was true! Tom, Zendaya…and the entire cast/crew made our kids feel like stars. They don’t just act the part of friendly neighborhood heroes – that’s what they truly are.”

Holland promised Bridger the chance to visit the “Spider-Man” set last year after he gained notoriety for saving his little sister from an attacking dog.

Bridger, who was 6 at the time, stood between his little sister and a charging dog last July. He was bitten “several times” on the face and head, but managed to grab his sister’s hand and run away with her to keep her safe.

Robert Walker said that the look on his children’s faces was priceless when they got to the set and saw Holland in his full Spider-Man costume, “high above the set on a light post.”

“It was emotional to see him waive [sic] at the kids like he was the one that was supposed to be excited – not the other way around,” he wrote.

Robert Walker said Holland and Zendaya were both gracious and kind to the children, and pointed out that Zendaya complimented his teenage daughter on her nails.

“I don’t know if she will ever know how much that simple act means to me – to see my sweet daughter light up with self-confidence and joy,” he said.

The family was escorted around the set during the day by Harry Holland, Tom Holland’s younger brother, and Robert Walker complimented both young men on how humble they were.

“While there are so many reasons [‘No Way Home’] will go down as one of the best ever – I personally think it is because the cast and crew are good, kind, and passionate people,” Robert Walker said. “Individuals who heard about a little boy’s injury, who wanted to make it right. People who were willing to stop a very busy day of shooting to make my little boy smile, and give him a chance to “’web-swing’ with his hero.”

During the day on set, Holland did a web-swing with the boy and taught him how to properly pose as Spider-Man.

The film was released last week and has grossed more than $240 million so far.

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Bridger Walker: Cheyenne Boy’s Heroism Led To Renaming Of World Boxing Council Weight Class (And Much More)

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This was originally published in the December 2021 “Wyoming Lawyer”

By Mary Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Ever since Bridger Walker, then 6 years old, stepped in front of his younger sister to protect her from an attacking dog, he’s received support from people around the world who wanted to commend him for his bravery.  

But who would have guessed that their love and admiration would be expressed with thousands and thousands of rocks? 

Young Bridger, whose father Robert (R.J.) Walker and grandfather John Walker are Cheyenne attorneys, was severely injured on July 9, 2020, when the dog attacked him. The wounds to his face required 90 stitches to close.

Bridger later said he protected his sister because “If someone had to die, I thought it should be me.”

“That quote pushed the story over the top,” R. J. Walker said.  

His story — and the photo taken of him with his 4-year-old sister Brielle, his face swollen and scarred — went viral. From that point on, the outpouring of love from complete strangers overwhelmed the family. 

Dr. Dhaval Bhanusali, a New York dermatologist, contacted the Walkers soon after the incident and offered to treat Bridger’s face with laser technology — pro gratis.  

Still, people wanted to contribute toward the boy’s medical treatment, but the family made it clear it did not want financial assistance. The Walkers asked the public to give instead to organizations that provide help for those whose needs are greater: Mission 22, Operation Underground Railroad and The Wounded Warrior Project.

Mail Trucks Full Of Rocks

But people seemed to want to do things for Bridger, Robert said. Recognizing that, the family let it be known that Bridger is a rockhound and suggested that people take pictures of their favorite rocks to either post on Facebook or send to Bridger. 

“I figured it would let them do something to make them feel good,” Robert said. “We got a small P.O. box at the post office and almost immediately had three or four rolling bins full of boxes. They were HEAVY.  People were sending rocks — tens of thousands of rocks.” 

For weeks, mail trucks full of rocks pulled up daily in front of the Walker home.  

“One person said, ‘I heard Bridger likes rocks,’” said Robert“So the guy sent him driveway rocks in a shoebox. He probably spent $80 sending them to him.”

Beautiful Letters

The letters accompanying the rocks were personal and touching, he added — like the man who wrote that his wife, who had recently passed away, kept some rocks by her bedside. The man explained that he couldn’t think of a better way to honor her than by passing them on Bridger.

“Some (letters) would just break your heart,” Robert said. “For a month, we were just opening those envelopes and crying.”  

Some people sent other items that carried sentimental value — like an honorary green beret someone sent him in recognition of his bravery.  Another man mailed Bridger his Purple Heart. 

He wrote: “I earned this saving my friend.  You did the same thing. I think you deserve this.”


Bridger has also received a lot of attention from celebrities.  In addition to baseball/football player Bo Jackson, actors Chris Evans, Tom Holland, Zachary Levi, Hugh Jackman, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo and others reached out to Bridger to acknowledge his act of heroism.  

Musician Bret Michaels, the front man for the group Poison, sent the boy an autographed guitar. 

“Bridger looked at it and started crying. ‘I don’t know how to play,’ he said,” said R.J., explaining that Bridger believed Michaels had sent him his only guitar and he felt bad taking it from someone else who could play it.   

The World Boxing Council made Bridger an honorary champion “for his courageous actions that represent the absolute best values of humanity” and sent him a championship belt.

“That was amazing,” Robert said. “We have the belt hanging in the basement.”

Later, the council notified Bridger’s father that it was adding a new weight class to heavyweight boxing and requested permission to name it after his son:  the Bridgerweight. The new weight division is for boxers weighing between 200 and 224 pounds. It is a middle division between the cruiserweight and heavyweight divisions. 

All-Family Vacation

The most extravagant expression of appreciation for Bridger’s courage was extended by Yas Island, an entertainment destination in Abu Dhabi, which invited Bridger, his parents Robert and Teila, his siblings and many of his extended family — 24 family members in all — to an all-expense paid vacation in Abu Dhabi.  

Last summer, the family visited the Yas Island Water Park, the Qasr Al Watan (presidential) Palace, the Warner Brothers World, and Ferrari World.  Both amusement parks were bedecked with large signs that read  “Welcome Bridger and his family” and their employees and patrons gave Bridger special recognition. 

Bridger’s grandfather, John Walker, told the Casper Star-Tribune upon the family’s return to the states that he realized his grandson was honored in the United Arab Emirates because of the importance of family to its people. 

“The part of Bridger’s story that touches the very heart and soul of so many of those residing within the UAE is his love for and devotion to family,” he said. 

Though the Abu Dhabi trip was unforgettable, Bridger’s father maintains it is only one small part of Bridger’s story. 

“It’s amazing —  the wonderful, miraculous support Bridger has received from around the world,” Robert said. “I don’t know what his emotional recovery would have been without it. It took his mind off his recovery.  His wound would drip, but instead of worrying about the drops of blood all over his shirt, he always had the next package to look forward to.”

“Not Inflated His Head”

Perhaps just as amazing is the way Bridger has handled the incident itself and the international attention he garnered as a result of his actions.  According to R.J., “the bad has not dragged him down and the good has not inflated his head.”   

“We were out rockhounding and I asked him, ‘How do you feel, getting all this attention?  Does it change who you are? ’ and he said, ‘No, I’m just me.’  That’s been his attitude.”

“The whole situation has made him more sympathetic to others and what they’re feeling. He knows what it’s like to be in pain,” Robert added.  “There was a kid in Laramie County who got bitten (by a dog), and Bridger worked to put together a care package for him.”

Bridger’s face is healing well, thanks to the laser treatments he’s received, and the scars are fading, his dad said.  He has full sensation and muscle control in his face. 

“It’s amazing there’s been no reconstructive surgery,” said Robert  

Bridger has plenty to smile about as the University of Wyoming Geological Museum opened an exhibit of some of his rocks on Nov. 12.  In introducing his son’s exhibit that night at the opening reception, Robert said the collection is less about Bridger’s heroism than it is about the kindness and support people have shown a little boy. 

“They’re only going to be able to display 1/1,000 of his collection,” Robert said.  “It seems like just a portion of the goodness people sent.”

The exhibit will run through June, 2022. 

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Country Singer Walker Hayes Gives Cheyenne High School Shout Out For Viral Video

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Country singer Walker Hayes likely brightened the days of some students and teachers this week when he gave a shoutout to Cheyenne’s East High School online.

Earlier this month, students, teachers and administrators from the high school made a short video which showed them dancing and lip syncing along to Hayes’ hit song “Fancy Like.” The video has become a massive success on the social media app TikTok.

As of Wednesday, the video had almost 700 views on Twitter, where it was initially posted, some of which were from Hayes himself.

“I just wanted to let y’all know I watched your video multiple times,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about. I love seeing everybody coming together and putting that video together. So much happiness, so much joy. A lot of y’all have way better moves than me.”

He told the Cheyenne East crew that he appreciated the video and it made him smile. He wished everyone a merry Christmas and happy New Year, as well.

“Awesome shout out from Walker Hayes on our Fancy Like video! Merry Christmas everyone from Walker Hayes and Cheyenne East!” school officials said on Wednesday.

Hayes is actually not a stranger to Cheyenne, as he opened for country singer Keith Urban during Cheyenne Frontier Days in 2019.

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Wyoming People Who Have Received Holiday Assistance Give Back By Volunteering

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

For many, the holidays can be a a time for anxiety — in part because of the financial pressures posed by the season of giving.

But some, whose anxieties have been eased in the past by generous organizations, are now giving their own assistance to the groups that helped them get through the holidays.

Jennifer went through a rough patch about 25 years ago. A single mother who had just been through some extreme personal difficulties, she was concerned about making Christmas a happy one for her 6-year-old daughter in Cody.

“At the time, I didn’t have a job,” said Jennifer, who asked that her last name not be used. “And I had my daughter, and my mom and dad were taking care of my rent and stuff, but there wasn’t really extra money. I don’t remember exactly how I got in contact with Holiday Helpers, but they let me come out to the armory, and I went through and picked some items for my daughter for Christmas.”

In addition to gifts for her little girl, Jennifer said she was able to pick out some clothes for herself that had been donated.

“I was always so grateful for that,” she said. “And so I continued to receive a couple years after that until I got more on my feet, and then I felt like I really needed to give back.”

Jennifer started giving back by wrapping gifts for other recipients shortly after that first year, even though she was still receiving assistance herself. 

“I went in and wrapped a few times by myself, and then I started taking my daughter with me,” she said. “I did different things different years – I’ve shopped in the past, I’ve helped fill boxes, I delivered packages for quite a few years, I’ve run errands if they need that. Now I’m there every disbursement day.”

Jacque Sims, who has been the Holiday Helpers coordinator for over 20 years, said she has witnessed countless ways in which people give back to the organization after being helped themselves.

“One year, this gentleman came up and he put a $10 bill in my hand,” Sims recalled. “And I said, ‘No, this is free. You don’t have to do it.’ And this gentleman starts tearing up and says ‘No, you don’t understand, without you, my children and I have no Christmas.’”

Another time, Sims said the group was short on volunteers, and the people who were waiting to receive their share jumped in to help.

“One year we didn’t have any volunteers show up to help load the boxes out,” she said. “And I kid you not, the guys who were standing in line said, ‘I’m going to help them,’ and some of them stayed all day long to help us. They are more than willing to give back.”

Sims has witnessed other ways in which the recipients of assistance from Holiday Helpers go out of their way to help others in tough situations.

“People were going down and picking up their Cody Cupboard (food distribution) and then coming down to us, and I’d see two baskets of food in their vehicles,” she said. “And I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s kind of greedy.’ And then I thought about it — some of these people don’t own cars, so people are out there helping each other. The community support from everywhere is incredible, because everybody wants to help somebody.”

The spirit of good will at this time of year is infectious, according to Wendi Henderson, who runs the Toys for Tots program in Cheyenne. The program serves around 2,000 children in Laramie County and Henderson coordinates between 45 and 70 volunteers at any one time during the holiday season.

Henderson said many of the volunteers who offer assistance have been recipients of the program in the past.

“We have had people come and just bring us a big shopping cart full of toys,” she said. “Why? Because we helped them in years that they were having a really hard time. So it does work both ways.”

Henderson said she has had the opportunity to get to know some of the families that Toys for Tots assists and her heart goes out to them.

“I’ve gotten to know some of them pretty well, and we’ve had some pretty in-depth conversations about situations and what’s going on in their life,” she said. “We have an awful lot of grandparents raising their grandchildren, because of what our society’s like right now, and a couple of great-grandmothers raising their great-grandchildren. It’s just real rough on people right now, especially with us coming out of COVID and going back into COVID.

“But they do come back to help,” she continued. “It may not be in the form of coming in and working the warehouse, but they might work the parade with me. There are volunteers that have received from us and then volunteer for us.”

Jennifer’s involvement with Holiday Helpers is now multi-generational.

“My daughter has also been a recipient in the past,” she said. “And she now comes in and helps. She’s helped us on disbursement day, she tries to go down and wrap packages. And my granddaughter, if you ask her, she’ll tell you she’s a full blown Holiday Helper.”

“You say, ‘Gosh, I know that I made a difference this year,’ because you can just see it in their faces when you see the anguish go away, when they see the stuff they’ve gotten,” Sims said. “I mean, people need to know they are important and people care. We all care. This whole community cares. It’s incredible.”

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Wyoming Barn Find: 1958 Chevy Bel Air Stashed in Lander Barn for 40 Years

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

The 1958 Chevy Bel Air was covered in dirt and cobwebs after being stashed in a barn in Lander for nearly 40 years. Two trees had since taken root in front of the barn doors, towering nearly 40 feet in the air and blocking the entrance. 

But a peek through the doors with a little assistance from a flashlight showed that the car nicknamed “La Bomba” was still in prime condition — if just a little worse for wear.

“La Bomba” belonged to Tom Bott, who died at the age of 32 in a car accident with his girlfriend Kathy. The couple had been coming home from a party in Hudson, 9 miles outside Lander, on St. Patrick’s Day when Kathy’s car hit ice and slid into oncoming traffic. 

The two died instantly, leaving behind a huge hole for those who knew, particularly Tom’s longtime best friend Buzz Thurber.

At the time of Tom’s death, his parents had moved to Ten Sleep. They asked Buzz and his other friends if they could help clear out Tom’s rental house and possessions, including the beloved Chevy that Tom had purchased seven years earlier from classmate Brenda (Larsen) Iden.

Distraught, Tom’s longtime friends Thurber, Mike Burns and Sam Parks weren’t sure what to do with the car, so they decided to stash it in a barn owned by Sam’s family until they had a better plan.

But life got in the way and a plan never materialized.

Until Sam’s death in 2020 brought the guys back together when Sam’s daughter, who had inherited the property, asked that they finally do something with the car. 

Now, Buzz, Mike and Tom’s other friends had to figure out what to do with La Bomba.

A Car With History

Buzz can still remember when his buddy Tom bought the two-toned slick Chevy from Brenda in August 1976. The two were back in Lander after graduating from Utah State University, where they’d been roommates.

At the time, Tom was working as a psychologist at the Wyoming State Training School, where Buzz had worked briefly before going into the restaurant industry, first as a waiter then as a salesman for a wholesale restaurant food distributor.

Back then, their lives could not have been more different. 

Tom was a bachelor with a cool car who had just started dating a co-worker, while Buzz was married and a father of three putting in 60-plus hours a week to take care of his family. Before that, Buzz had been a music promoter in Utah, working with big-name acts including Waylon Jennings, Olivia Newton John, Neil Diamond and many others.

As Buzz recalled, the car was a beauty.

On top of the powder blue and white paint job, it had a 348-cubic inch V8, four-barrel carb with 315 horsepower coupled with a two-speed power glide transmission notorious for its notable “W”-shaped valve cover. That year was also the first Chevy to feature dual side-by-side headlamps, making it the “it” car of 1958.

They Were Inseparable

Buzz remembered tooling around in it with Tom and their other buddies. But he had less time to spend in “La Bomba” than the rest of his friends because of his family and work obligations.

As boys, the Buzz and Tom had been inseparable, becoming instant friends when Tom’s family moved to Lander from Cody. Buzz said the two were closer than brothers and shared many great memories. 

One of the best for Buzz was the road trip he and Tom took with buddies Sammy Parks, Greg Waldo and Jim Bell to see the district basketball finals in Cody in 1968. Somewhere along the way, the boys had discovered helium and entertained the crowds by yelling down at passers-by from their second-story window at Cody’s Irma Hotel. 

They’d also weathered some tough times together, such as Tom’s older sister Glenda’s died in her senior year of high school, a victim of carbon monoxide poisoning from her heater. As a boy, Buzz stayed with the Bott family during his parents divorce when he was in junior high school. 

The two were like brothers and Buzz took Tom’s death hard.

He remembers Tom as the most generous person he’d ever met. In fact, he would get on his pal from time to time because Tom had a tendency to bring home random strangers he met at Art’s Bar who were down on their luck. He’d let them sleep on his couch, then leave the next day for work, welcoming them to stay as long as they want and make breakfast. 

Didn’t Tom worry that he’d be robbed, Buzz asked his friend. 

Tom told his friend it was a risk he was willing to take.

Buzz also recalled complaining to his friend back then about not having enough money despite working so much. Tom offered to lend him $100, but Buzz declined. He’d just been complaining.

A couple of days later, when he was gathering Tom’s possessions in the wake of his death, he found his checkbook. 

It showed a balance of $109 in his account.

That was his best friend, Buzz said.

Recovery Mission

This past year when Sam’s daughter Amanda called Buzz to come get the car, he immediately reached out to his long-time friends Mike Burns, Jim Bell and Randy Mitchell. 

As a “car guy,” Randy was the person to ask because Buzz knew nothing about cars or what to do with this one.

After talking to Tom’s older brother Stuart, a Vietnam veteran, as well as Tom’s younger sister Andrea and Tom’s other friends, the group collectively decided they wanted the car to go to someone who would appreciate it and who would restore it to its original condition. 

Randy suggested running a “for sale” listing on Hemmings Motor News auction site. The response was overwhelming, with more 50 bids submitted. 

Barn cars, as Buzz noted, are a much-coveted anomaly. 

Rare Treasures

By definition, according to Motor Trend magazine, a barn car is a classic car that’s fallen off the radar of classic car aficionados due to lack of use. Typically, these are old cars or trucks which, like Tom’s, was stashed away to protect them and keep them out of the way.

In short, they are considered automotive treasures by car collectors because they’ve been hidden away and largely protected from the elements. They’re also not easy to find, and as Buzz found after placing the ad, there are a lot of people looking for them.

The trick for Buzz and company was not just selling the car – the first bids at around $1,500 seemed pretty low to him – but also finding the right buyer. Someone who would not just restore and sell it for a buck but who would lovingly restore it into its original state like Tom would have wanted.

After sifting through the offers, Buzz zeroed in on David, a U.S. Navy veteran in New Hampshire who expressed genuine love for the car itself. 

Because two trees had since blocked the barn doors from being open, the car had to be offered “sight unseen,” but David wasn’t deterred by the situation.

Sealing the deal for Buzz was the guy David planned to send to pick up the car on a trailer. Professional car hauler, Howard Miller had an impressive resume, Buzz said, having hauled cars for Mecum Auctions as well as five NFL teams. 

Howard was also a Vietnam vet, and after a conversation in which Howard explained that David is a legit guy with honest intentions, a deal was made for $3,500, with the money to be split between Stuart and Andrea.

“David also promised to give me a ride when it’s fixed up,” Buzz said. “So that sealed the deal.”

Out of the Barn

Now, they just needed to get the car out of the barn.

Buzz, who lives in Las Vegas now, planned to fly in and get together a group of old friends to be on hand for the rescue operation.

Then, Howard contracted COVID and plans were delayed for a couple weeks. When he felt better, they rescheduled until Howard once again got sick. This time, during a stop at his son’s house in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Again, the plan was put on hold, with Howard planning to send his son Ben and another family member in his stead.

In the meantime, however, Buzz had flown out to Salt Lake City to meet Andrea, who lives there, and had arranged for a handful of their old pals – including Brenda, Cory Huff, Jim Lewis, Debbie Coy, Scott Carlson, Chris Burton, Becky Nicol, Jay Martin and Jeff Archambault – to dig out the car from Sam’s barn. So they went ahead as scheduled, cutting down the two trees in the path, muscling the doors open and clearing a clean path to the road.

It was a bittersweet occasion, Buzz said, full of shared memories and heartfelt loss, particularly where he was concerned.

“It’s hard to have to have such wonderful friends who occupy such a big part of your heart die,” he said. “It’s just really hard.”

Loading La Bomba

A few days later, another friend met Ben’s father-in-law and cousin who drove to Lander to help them load La Bomba onto the waiting trailer.

Although Buzz and the others weren’t on hand to see the car get trailered, Buzz nonetheless appreciated the updates from the now-healed Howard as he made his way eastward.

Howard reported receiving plenty of thumbs-ups, appreciative honks and waves from passing admirers on the drive home, as well as the “red carpet” treatment from a hotel owner in Topeka, Kansas, who granted Howard a prime parking spot on his overnight stay.

When La Bomba finally made it to New Hampshire, David was happy to report that his barn find had arrived in prime condition.

“The whole process was a lot of love and God blessed,” Howard told him.

Shortly after, David also got COVID, so Buzz will be checking in on him to see if everything is OK and when he should plan on booking his ticket back East to see his dear friend’s newly restored car back in mint condition. 

“I’ll be looking forward to that ride,” Buzz said. 

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Powell Man Hires Diver to Rescue Late Father’s Fly Rod From Bottom Of Cody Reservoir

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By Mark Davis, Powell Tribune

Ben Borcher was on the water with his son, Christian. Fishing is a long tradition in the family and on this day, it was just the two of them in a small raft on Cody Reservoir.

Alongside Ben was a very special fly fishing rig. He had helped pick it out for his father’s 59th birthday. It was the nicest fishing pole Lynn Borcher had ever owned.

“He never had great gear, but he loved to fish,” Ben said.

Shortly after receiving the gift, Lynn was out fishing on the North Fork in a deep hole near a rock formation locals call “Laughing Pig.” He was on a rare Monday trip instead of in his Powell office selling insurance. 

After a great day on the river with his brother, Kenny, the 59-year-old stopped to chat on the trail leading back to the truck — and he fell. Lynn suffered a massive heart attack, his fishing gear in his hands.

“It was the best worst thing that could have happened,” Ben said. “He died doing what he loved.”

After his father’s untimely death in 2008, Ben wasn’t about to retire his father’s fishing gear. Despite the sentimental value, he wanted to keep it in the rotation. Every time he held it happy memories of time on the water with his father would rush in. 

“I used it exclusively,” he said. “He used it all the time, so I did the same.”

But on this day on the reservoir — Friday the 13th — the happy memories suffered a setback. While paddling to a good spot, the straps securing his father’s fly rod to the raft came loose and it sank to the bottom of the lake. Ben immediately went in after it.

“I tried to jump in and grab it, but it sank too fast. Lost my shoes, too,” he said.

Efforts to rescue the equipment failed that day, but he didn’t give up. He and his children, including his daughters Rowan and Peyton, returned several times to try and snag it with a casting rod to no avail.

“I was pretty much at peace with not getting it back, but still miffed at myself that I had lost it in such a careless way,” Ben said. “I knew I’d never be lucky enough to snag it.”

He eventually called off his search. But then his wife, Jessi, took to social media and told the story of the missing pole. Some locals took to the water, also trying to snag the rod and reel, but nobody could get a hook on it.

Then Jessi got a message from Kris Brock who tagged her husband and expert scuba diver, Paul, and suggested he could help. Ben made the call immediately.

“I got on the phone with him and he said, ‘do you think you can find it?” Paul recalled. “I told him, if you can put me within 100 feet of it, I can find it.” 

In the high desert region of northwest Wyoming, Brock is a master diver. He used to run a local dive shop, but it has since transitioned into a scuba-themed travel company called Yellowstone Divers LLC. in Cody. He travels internationally, taking clients on bucket-list underwater adventures.

Paul still dives in Wyoming, but much of his time in the water in the Cowboy State is spent volunteering his services for Park County Search and Rescue. Kris volunteers for the team as well, running trained cadaver dogs on rescue and recovery missions throughout the area.

Unfortunately, Paul has yet to have the opportunity to make a rescue in his 15 years of volunteering for the organization.

“They’ve all been recoveries,” he said of his many missions across the West.

Paul has traveled to several states to assist in human and evidence recoveries. Despite never saving a victim, he said “it’s important to bring [the victims] home so the family can have closure.”

Park County Sheriff Scott Steward has been very impressed with the husband and wife team.

“With his wife being on [Search and Rescue] with her dogs and Paul with scuba, they make great assets,” Steward said, adding, “It’s very important to have a master diver. They are in short supply in this area. We have very few on [the team] that are scuba qualified and we no longer maintain any scuba equipment.”

Soon after making contact, Ben and Paul headed to the small, but deep reservoir together. Ben watched Paul disappear into the blackness of the deep water while attached to a rope. The idea was, if Ben thought Paul was out of the general area he thought the pole would be, he’d give the rope a yank.

Under the water, Paul was in absolute darkness. It might freak out some folks, but it was nothing new for Paul. Much of his time underwater with Search and Rescue is in murky water with very low visibility. “I’m out there searching underwater and you can’t see a thing. So I’m just feeling my way along.”

While keeping his eyes on the bubbles, Borcher gave the rope a yank. Paul surfaced with one of Borcher’s lost shoes in his hand.

Knowing they were in the right area, Paul went back for another pass. A short time later, Brock slowly worked his way to the surface of the dark water with the long pole leading the way — “like a narwhal,” Borcher said.

“It was amazing,” Brock said. “When I came out with his fishing rod he was ecstatic. I found his other shoe, too.”

Finally reunited with his father’s fishing gear, Borcher plans to continue to use it. But he’ll be a little more careful in the future, holding on a little tighter to the fly rod and his fond memories of his father.

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Wyoming Christmas Light Guy Battles 70mph Winds, Sub-Freezing Temps

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

On a brisk November day, Tom Moulton was 35 feet above the ground in a crane being battered by winds gusting at more than 70 mph.

The Cheyenne resident, swaying with each blast of wind, wasn’t on duty fixing power lines or battling a fire. He was decking the halls.

Moulton is known as “The Christmas Light Guy” — or at least that’s what he calls himself — now in his ninth year of putting up festive lights in whatever weather comes his way.

And at this time of year, every day counts. So if the forecast is balmy and 65, he’s out there — and he’s grateful.

If the temperature is 25 degrees with winds gusting over 70 mph, like it was the day Cowboy State Daily caught up to him, he’s still out there — but not as grateful.

“There’s only so many days before Christmas,” Moulton told Cowboy State Daily. “There’s only so many days people want lights up on their house. So if that means I have to go up in a hurricane, so be it.”

When the customer is ready to go, so is Tom.

It’s a seasonal job, of course, and during the rest of the year Tom is a handyman. Although his Christmas decorating job starts earlier than you may think.

Around the second week of October is when Tom’s phone starts ringing and his first lighting job of the season is usually complete by Oct. 15.

Word-of-mouth and Facebook are his two media for advertising, although towing a giant cherry-picker behind his self-monogrammed truck helps out as well.

Now his work takes him outside of southeastern Wyoming to Scottsbluff, Nebraska, and Fort Collins, Colorado.

After nine years, Tom has yet to be electrocuted or fall, but he did slide off a roof once.

“That was enough to scare me into making sure that everything was right — like wearing a harness or wearing ropes if you’re on a steep roof,” he said. “Killing myself would be bad for business.”

Tom said he has put up lights and decorations in every type of weather. This past week in Cheyenne, except for Tuesday, was among the warmest and least windy weeks he’s ever experienced.

Often, he goes to work when the temperature is in the teens, it’s snowing and the wind reaches “hurricane force.”

In addition to helping him get used to the wintry elements, the seasonal job has alleviated his fear of heights.

“It’s no big deal anymore to be 35 feet up in the air in a blizzard and a tornado happening at the same time,” he said. “I welcome it. I kind of prefer it. It’s part of the job.”

He credits his long list of customers to his “perfectionism.”

That was on display last week when he came out to a customer’s house to touch up the lighting on a tree that he didn’t think looked as good as it could — although to a layman’s eye it looked fantastic.

Regardless, he wrapped the tree again.

“It needed to look better,” he said while re-wrapping the 1,400-plus lights around the tree.

The end result — some four hours later — is impressive.

Tom enjoys the work, he said, because he didn’t have the happiest childhood while growing up in Pinedale and the holiday season was hard.

“Things weren’t always the best, especially around Christmas time,” he said. “I know what it’s like to not have everything you need. I know how hard it is for some parents this time of year.”

To that end, the week before Christmas he finds someone who is struggling to make ends meet and puts up decorations and lights for free.

He said he also gives them money to pay their electric bill because “power is not cheap.”

For those thinking about hiring a contractor for decorations, Tom suggests new customers have an idea of what they want done beforehand and to call him early.

He said he frequently goes out and buys lights for the project or customers can rent them from him.

All but two customers have treated him well over the last nine years. The two outliers? They never paid.

But Tom didn’t go “Die Hard” on them seeking revenge. He merely took the lights down after Christmas.

“Even though they did me wrong, I couldn’t take them down before Christmas,” he said. “It wouldn’t have been right.”

Tom can be reached at: 307.338.0724.

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