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Luke Duke From ‘Dukes of Hazzard’ To Appear In Wheatland This Weekend

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

We’ve got to hand it to the organizers of the Blue Mountain Car Show in Wheatland — they sure know how to pick their celebrity guests.

Actor Tom Wopat, best known for his role as Lucas “Luke” Duke on the hit TV series “The Dukes of Hazzard,” will appear at the Blue Mountain Car Show in Wheatland this weekend.

We are personally hoping someone can talk him into sliding across a car hood and hopping into the front seat.

Wopat played Luke Duke on the series from 1979 to 1985, but has regularly reprised the role over the years for TV movies and video game appearances.

Many Wyomingites might also recognize him from his more recent role as Sheriff Jim Wilkins on the “Longmire” series, adapted from Ucross author Craig Johnson’s books about Sheriff Walt Longmire. Wopat appeared in six episodes of the series over a five-year period.

In addition to his film and TV work, Wopat has appeared on stage in musicals such as “Annie Get Your Gun,” “Carousel,” “Chicago” and “Guys and Dolls.”

The car show in Wheatland will be held from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, with the event stretching throughout downtown. Other activities, such as matchbox car races, a cornhole tournament and a dunk tank, will also be held throughout the day in the same area.

This is the second year for the event, which managed to raise more than $5,000 last summer for Project SAFE, Inc., a nonprofit serving victims of domestic violence and stalking.

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Hughes Charitable Trust Donates $10 Million Toward Private Housing in Teton County

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By Cowboy State Daily

The unprecedented $10 million gift for affordable housing comes with a message to the human services professionals in Teton County: we see you and we value your commitment to our community. 

The $10 million dollar gift made by the Hughes Charitable Foundation is the single largest private donation toward affordable housing in the history of Teton County. Wayne and Molly Hughes said, “We wanted to do something meaningful to support our community’s safety net workers. They are the unseen heroes of our community, and we want to help ensure that they can continue to meet our community’s needs in perpetuity.” 

A recent survey found that more than half of all Human Service Council (HSC) employees are paying more than 50% in rental rates than what they can afford. HSC comprises the 10 non-profit human service agencies that work together to meet the needs of our most vulnerable community members. 

Anne Cresswell, Executive Director of the Housing Trust, said “It is disturbing to know that so many of our essential human service providers are priced out of Jackson. The fact is, we need these frontline workers to live in Jackson, so they can continue to handle 24-hour crises with our community’s at-risk children and families. This historic gift will make it possible for dedicated human service professionals to come home to stable, proximate, affordable housing at the end of a long day.” 

Sarah Cavallaro, Executive Director of Teton Youth and Family Services, said “This gift is a game changer for essential professionals who need to live where they work. The impact of this gift is twofold: we can attract and retain human service workers, and we can stabilize essential services for our community’s most vulnerable populations.” 

This generous gift will enable the Housing Trust to accelerate its next project and break ground in the summer of 2022. By 2023, 10 essential human service organizations and three public service entities will have the opportunity to offer stable, secure housing to key employees. 

The 10 Human Services Council organizations are: Senior Center of Jackson Hole, Community Entry Services, Community Safety Network, Curran-Seely Foundation, One22 Resource Center, Teton Literacy Center, Children’s Learning Center, Climb Wyoming, Jackson Hole Community Counseling and Teton Youth and Family Services. The Human Services Council, formed in 1984, strives to bring non-profit human service agencies together to ensure that urgent, core and essential services are available, integrated and accessible to vulnerable, at-risk, and in-crisis community members in Teton County. The three public service entities are: Teton County Sheriff Department, Jackson Police Department and Teton County-Jackson Fire/EMS. 

The Jackson Hole Community Housing Trust is a non-profit affordable housing developer dedicated to cultivating a vibrant community through housing. Since 1991, the Housing Trust has developed or acquired 181 homes that have served more than 525 people in Teton County. 

The Hughes Charitable Foundation is Wyoming-based and dedicated to funding projects that serve our state’s vulnerable populations. You can learn more about the foundation at hughescf.org. 

To learn more about each of the HCS organizations, you can visit these links below: 

Teton Youth and Family Services 

One22 Resource Center 

Teton Literacy Center 

Senior Center of Jackson Hole 

Community Safety Network https://www.dropbox.com/s/b6w96bgp1pp4owr/HT_AnnualReport_2020_v6.pdf?dl=0 

Community Entry Services 

Curran-Seely Foundation 

Children’s Learning Center 

Climb Wyoming 

Jackson Hole Community Counseling 

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Wyoming’s $7.4 Million Payout For Unclaimed Property Sets Record

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

A Sweetwater County woman was no doubt surprised when she was notified of the pending arrival of a check for more than $582,000. 

The windfall was the result of a life insurance policy that had been turned over to the state in 2020 for which the resident was listed as the beneficiary. 

“Our office conducted a search for the individual and were able to connect with her spouse, who then got into contact with us to make the claim,” Jeff Robertson, administrator of Unclaimed Property Division for the Wyoming Treasurer’s Office, told Cowboy State Daily Tuesday.

The payment is just part of a record amount returned to Wyoming residents by the state treasurer’s office this year.

This year, the state paid out a record $7.423 million to current and former residents for the fiscal year ending in June, exceeding last year’s payout by $2.3 million and beating the previous record of $6.86 million seen in fiscal 2019.

In the past fiscal year, the state added $10.102 million to its unclaimed property fund, the first time more than $10 million was deposited in the fund in one year, according to a release from Wyoming State Treasurer’s Office. 

Along with the big payout in Sweetwater County, a resident in Campbell County also scored big with a return of $305,778. The funds, according to Robertson, stemmed from a claim that was initially started in early 2020 but had since gone dormant. When the claim was reactivated this past February, the Unclaimed Property Division worked with the owner to get him the mineral royalties dating back to 2015.

Another sizable sum was returned to a Laramie County resident for an uncashed check for more than $159,000 tied to a property claim held by the State of Wyoming. 

An additional $152,934 went to the heirs of a former Johnson County resident after a bank turned over matured CDs and savings certificates to the state in 2017. The state then hired an asset finder to track down the recipients.

In addition to these claims, 12 people received checks for $100,000 or more and another 108 received checks for more than $10,000, according to the release.

All of the individuals declined to provide their names for promotional purposes, Robertson said.

Under Wyoming law, when a business, agency or government entity owes money or securities to someone they have been unable to find, they turn those assets over to the state. 

The money is put inside a special account for payment to the proper individual.

Currently, the state still has $93 million waiting to be claimed. Until that property is claimed by the owner, Wyoming law dictates that the state hold on to it in perpetuity. 

Residents can search for any unclaimed property on the state treasure’s website. 

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Wyoming Discus Thrower Ready To Represent U.S. At Olympics

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

He’s 6 feet, 8 inches tall. He is 335 pounds. He was a theater major at the University of Wyoming. 

And now Mason Finley is heading to Tokyo to represent the United States in the Summer Olympics.

The 2017 world championships bronze medalist won the Olympic Trials competition on June 25, throwing the 4.4 pound discus a distance of 63.07 meters — about 206.92 feet, which is longer than the height of Wyoming’s tallest building (the Wyoming Financial Center in Cheyenne is just 148 feet tall).

“I was able to settle in my technique and just get comfortable,” Finley told Cowboy State Daily, “and able to win my second Olympic trials title, which I guess only two other discus Americans have done. So that was really cool.”

Finley was born in Kansas City but moved with his family to Salida, Colorado, when he was a child. When he was in fifth grade, he found his dad’s discus in his closet, from when he was in college at the University of Wyoming.

“It was just something that he thought we both could do and enjoy,” Finley said. “And we did — we threw pretty much all year round. I did all the other high school sports, but we would just check in with it. It was just kind of like father-son fishing time — only throwing stuff.”

Finley said he attended UW because it was his dad’s alma mater, where he was a theater major from 2012-2014, but after working with coach Paul Barrett, he was able to compete in discus at a higher level. 

A much higher level, as it turns out — Finley qualified for, and competed in, the 2016 Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro.

“My first international meet was the Olympics,” Finley said, laughing. “So that was really wild, throwing against all my idols that I’ve been watching on YouTube, and so I was very starstruck. But I made it out of the qualification round, which was a big deal for me, I think I took 11th.”

Finley isn’t star-struck anymore.

“I’m definitely comfortable with it now,” he said. “I’ve competed against the top guys many times, I’ve gotten the bronze medal at the World Championships in 2017. So, I’ve been on the podium, and I’ve competed countless times against the top throwers in the world. So I feel very comfortable this round.”

Finley, now a Colorado resident, joins a very short list of Olympic athletes who have ties to Wyoming. Among them are shot putter John Godina, an alumnus of Cheyenne Central High School, whose record includes three World Championship wins and two Olympic medals; Jesseca Cross, who attended the University of Wyoming on a basketball scholarship and then competed for the United States in the hammer throw and shot put at the 2000 Summer Olympics, and David Taylor, who grew up in Evanston and who will compete as a wrestler in this year’s games.

And of course, there’s Rulon Gardner, the wrestler from Afton who competed at the 2000 and 2004 Olympics and won the gold medal in 2000, defeating Russia’s Aleksandr Karelin in the final. He won a bronze medal at the 2004 Games.

For Finley, this year’s games will be a different experience due to public health restrictions.

“There’s no foreign spectators allowed at all, nobody outside of Japanese population will be even able to attend,” Finley said. “But they’re planning a watch party down here in Kansas City, so that’s gonna be good, but I hope the time difference isn’t too severe.”

And Finley said he’s got his eye on the prize.

“My goal is to really overcome anything that’s thrown at me over there,” he notes (no pun intended). “And, yeah, get on that podium and try to get the shiniest medal possible.”

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Guided by ‘Love Your Neighbor’ Mission, Hughes Charitable Foundation Serves Wyoming Nonprofit Organizations

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By Cowboy State Daily

Since 2017, the Hughes Charitable Foundation has given over $4 million to 76 Wyoming-based nonprofits. 

Now the Hughes Charitable Foundation is launching a new website, a Facebook page, and has recently opened an office in Jackson.

The Hughes Charitable Foundation primarily supports nonprofits that serve people who are in the “impact zone” – as described by Foundation Chairman B. Wayne Hughes, Jr.

The impact zone is a surfing metaphor describing waves that are insurmountable,” Hughes said. “Many people live in the impact zone – they are challenged with one major crisis after another, and struggle to gain steady footing. Our foundation is here to let people know that they are not alone,” Hughes said.

“We hope that our grants will be game changers for Wyoming’s single mothers, at-risk children, housing insecure, mentally ill, missing and murdered indigenous women, foster youth, veterans and emergency responders. We are guided by the golden rule, ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’ We love Wyoming deeply,” said Molly Hughes, Executive Director.

The Hughes Charitable Foundation is committed to supporting non-profit organizations that are directly helping people across the state who need it the most. 

The foundation’s board members are B. Wayne Hughes, Jr. and Molly Hughes (Jackson, WY), Ty Green (San Luis Obispo, CA), Liz Brimmer (Lander, WY), Lydia Heinbockel (Alpine, WY), and Jim Gersack (Jackson, WY).

Cody Girl A Rising Star In Male-Dominated Shooting Sports

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

The shooting of clay targets or “pigeons” was once considered exclusively a man’s sport. 

But watch out, boys, because the girls are taking charge.

Cori Gordon is just 15 years old, going into her junior year at Cody High School. This summer, she was one of just 11 young people from across the country chosen to attend the 2021 Olympic and Sporting Clay Development Camp in Ohio. 

There, Gordon learned from world record sporting clay coaches and former Olympians, igniting her drive to excel in a sport that seems to come naturally to her.

“When I was younger, I had really bad asthma so I couldn’t compete in a lot of other sports,” she said. “When I was 10, some friends of ours took me out to a Pheasants Forever shoot. They took me up to the trap field and I just fell in love. And some coaches were recruiting. So when I started shooting, it just kinda found me a good road that I could keep going on.”

And she’s definitely going — skeet shooting has allowed Cori to travel the region and compete on a national level.

“We compete across Wyoming and Montana for the most part, we go to quite a few shoots down in Billings, and then this year, I will be going to nationals in Ohio,” she said.

Renae Gordon, Cori’s mother, said the fact that her daughter is competing in a traditionally male-dominated sport doesn’t faze her.  

“A shotgun is something that levels the playing field – any type of gun levels the playing field,” she said. “It doesn’t matter how fast you can run, it doesn’t matter how strong you are, per se, but you can put anybody and it’s a battle of skills. It’s a battle of talent.”

Because of Cori’s interest, her parents have become involved in the shooting sports as well, according to Renae.

“We are 100% supportive of whatever she chooses to do,” she said. “I do go to all the meets, and I actually am an assistant coach.”

However, Renae Gordon noted that shooting is a very expensive sport.

“The cost has skyrocketed. A case of ammo is about $100 a case now, and that’s 250 rounds, which you know, she’ll shoot 350 rounds at regionals next week,” Renae said. “So you have that cost, entry fees, etc, etc.” 

But sponsorships have helped to offset that cost – which has helped other young shooters pick up the sport as well, boosting membership in the Scholastic Clay Target Program team Cori belongs to — the Cody Clay Crushers.

“We do have great sponsors – Wyoming Outdoorsmen is a huge sponsor for these kids,” Renae said. “And so Midway USA, Pheasants Forever, Wild Sheep Foundation, they helped to keep our costs down a little bit, which has helped our team to grow overall. We bumped up to 16 kids this year from maybe five or six.”

But Renae said Cori doesn’t rely just on sponsorships — she’s expected to contribute as well.

“We are very much the family that thinks our kids need to work for something in order to appreciate it,” Renae said. “So we did buy her her first $400 shotgun, that didn’t even make it a year. She saved up birthday checks and money whatever she could find doing odd jobs to buy her first shotgun, it was used, from a girl in Billings for $700. And then from there she has house-sat for various friends, and had various jobs. She’ll help with the vet clinic, and then she also raises animals through 4H in order to get to that next level.”

And there are some pretty impressive competitions coming up for Cori, according to her mom, including the Scholastic Clay Target Program national championships in Ohio in July.

“So she’ll be competing in international skeet, American skeet, American trap, doubles trap, doubles skeet, and sporting clays,” Renae said.

Cori said the sport is setting her up for bigger and better opportunities in the future – and she encourages other girls to not let traditional gender biases get in the way of competing in a sport they love.

“I think that if you want to do it, you just have to go for it,” she says. “If it’s a guy sport, then you can try it and go for it. You have to do what you want. You have to push your way through it.”

And Cori is setting her sights high.

“To me, I want to go to the Olympics and I want to win,” she said. “That’s my goal.”

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Pony Express To Head Through Wyoming Next Week

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A reenactment of the Pony Express will take riders across southern Wyoming later this month as members of the National Pony Express Association from California to Missouri.

The event will bring riders into southern Wyoming on June 21 and they will leave the state on June 23 when they cross the state border into Nebraska, according to the ride tracker. A rider is expected to enter Wyoming around 6:30 a.m. on June 21, hitting areas from Granger to Torrington in the two-day period.

Each June, members of the association recreate the Pony Express in a commemorative re-ride over a 10-day period. Letters are carried in a mochila, or specialized leather bag, over the original trail. The ride began in California on Wednesday.

There is a GPS tracker inside the mochila that “pings” every 10 minutes, allowing people to track the riders in real time.

Participants in the 1,966-mile, eight-state event make sure at least one rider is moving at all hours of the day until the mail is delivered to its destination in St. Joseph, Missouri. Around 1,000 letters are mailed each year and more than 750 riders participate.

The Pony Express only lasted for 18 month, between April 1860 and October 1861, but has had an enduring legacy due to its ties to Old West culture. It was a major innovation in communication, speeding up the time for mail to travel between the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to about 10 days.

The Pony Express ended due to bankruptcy when telegraph service was created.

Rumors have circulated that Buffalo Bill was a Pony Express rider, but this has not been confirmed.

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Big Boy 4014 Will Leave Cheyenne In August, Return In September

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Union Pacific’s famed steam locomotive, the “Big Boy,” will travel through 10 states in August and early September in its first major trip since its restoration was completed two years ago.

The Big Boy, the longest locomotive ever built, will leave from Cheyenne for its month-long trip on Aug. 5.

“We’re excited to be bringing the Big Boy back, and sharing the locomotive with the public once again, especially after the past year,” UP senior communications manager Mike Jaixen told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday. “If our 2019 tour is any indication, we can expect crowds to come and experience history in motion. People came out by the thousands to experience a unique piece of railroad history and to learn more about the impact railroads have made on our society in the past and today.”

This is the steam engine’s first tour since it was restored for 2019’s Great Race tours celebrating the 150th anniversary of the transcontinental railroad’s completion.

The multi-year restoration took place at Union Pacific’s steam shop in Cheyenne, following a retirement that spanned six decades.

“Weighing in at 1.2 million pounds, the Big Boy makes a big impression in communities it visits, reminding us of bygone days and the important role the railroad continues to play in our global economy,” said Scott Moore, senior vice president – corporate relations and chief administrative officer. “This summer, we are proud to announce that the Big Boy will be back to tour through 10 of the states and hundreds of the communities which Union Pacific serves.”

No. 4014 will leave the Union Pacific Steam Shop in Cheyenne on Aug. 5, making brief whistle-stops in communities across Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas and Wyoming.

The locomotive will be on display in the following cities:

  • Aug. 14: Fort Worth, Texas
  • Aug. 17: Houston, Texas
  • Aug. 21: New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Aug. 29: St. Louis, Missouri
  • Sept. 6: Denver

The Big Boy will return to Cheyenne following the Denver stop.

Twenty-five Big Boys were built exclusively for Union Pacific, the first of which was delivered in 1941 to handle the steep terrain between Cheyenne and Ogden.

Of the eight still in existence, No. 4014 is the world’s only operating Big Boy.

The other seven can be found on display in Cheyenne, Denver, Frisco, Texas, Green Bay, Wisconsin, Omaha, Nebraska, Scranton, Pennsylvania and St. Louis, Missouri.

Union Pacific strongly encourages visitors to keep safety top of mind while viewing and photographing the 4014 on its journey. For everyone’s safety:

  • Remember, trains can’t stop quickly to avoid people or vehicles on the tracks.
  • A train’s distance and speed can be deceiving.
  • The average train overhangs the track by at least 3 feet – take extra precaution and stand back at least 25 feet.
  • Railroad tracks, trestles, yards and right of way are private property.
  • Never assume tracks are abandoned or inactive – always expect a train.

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Men Planning to Climb Devils Tower to Raise Awareness for ALS

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

More than five years after the ALS “ice bucket” challenge took over the Internet, two men are planning to climb Devils Tower to continue raising awareness about the disease.

Eric Gamble of New Orleans and his friend Chris Nolan are planning to climb Devils Tower in mid-July to raise awareness for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as “Lou Gehrig’s disease,” a nervous system disease that weakens muscles and impacts physical function.

Gamble wants to climb the monument as a part of his “bucket list,” a concept taken from the film of the same name in which the main characters make a list of things to do before they die. But he also wants to use the opportunity to raise money for an ALS charity.

“We have chosen to support 2 organizations that help people living with ALS and countless others through advocacy, support and ultimately bringing an end to the disease,” Gamble wrote on the GoFundMe page he launched to raise $2,500 for two ALS charities.

The two chose the cause of fighting ALS due to the diagnosis of a relative with the disease in 2016.

“Of course this could have crushed him. But it didn’t,” Gamble wrote about the relative, Sean Nolan, on his website. “Instead, the United States Army Veteran took control by becoming an ALS Research Ambassador so he could educate others with ALS. Plus he wanted to teach the public about the importance of clinical trials and ALS research.”

Gamble and Nolan have raised $1,000 toward their goal.

Chris Nolan has climbed the tower before, but this will be Gamble’s first attempt. None of the money raised will go toward their climb, just the charities they designated.

Their climb will take place on July 17.

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“The Revenant” Author to Release Novel On Wyoming Massacre

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The author of famous revenge tale “The Revenant” is preparing to release a novel regarding a little-known massacre that took place in Wyoming in the 1800s.

Michael Punke’s latest book “Ridgeline,” expected to hit shelves June 1, focuses on a clash between Native Americans and white settlers in the Powder River Valley in 1866. While the book is technically fictional, it is based on real people and events, much like “The Revenant.”

The book revolves around Col. Henry Carrington’s arrival in Wyoming to lead the U.S. Army in defending the opening of a new road for gold miners and settlers.

Carrington also intended to build a fort in the middle of critical hunting grounds for the Lakota, a plan that propelled the Native Americans and Carrington’s soldiers into a battle that lasted over the fall and winter.

Reviews for the book so far have praised it for its vivid descriptions and fast-paced narrative. If you’re curious, the book is just under 390 pages in length.

Punke, now a Montana resident, is a Torrington native who spent many summers as a teenager working as a “living history interpreter” at the Fort Laramie National Historic Site.

Punke also formerly served as the U.S. Ambassador to the World Trade Organization in Switzerland under President Barack Obama.

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