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1510 - New cry for peacemakers, 1-2-3 Joe McGowan!

Last fall, Wyoming’s present and future peacemakers learned about a new hero for them to emulate, when a young Lander man was killed while trying to break up a fight in Laramie.

       I knew Joe McGowan his entire life.  If there ever was a nicer young man, I have not found him.  He had no enemies. When described by his friends, his big smile and wonderful attitude were always mentioned.

       An artist and a skateboarder, he was a student at the University of Wyoming and looking forward to a wonderful life.

       Until Oct. 31, that is.

       During one of those ubiquitous Halloween parties held near college campuses everywhere, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

       The 5-7, 150-pound Joe tried to stop a bully from beating up his friend.  With one blow, Joe was knocked flat to the pavement where he hit his head on the cement curb. He died the next day.

       What do you say to his wonderful parents, Kevin and Anne McGowan and brother Patrick? No words can bring solace. Anne is publisher of the Lander Journal and was hired by me there 20 years ago. Kevin has worked most of his adult life at the National Outdoor Leadership School and is an icon for the thousands of graduates of that institution.

       Lander’s brand new community center had never before seen a crowd like that which attended Joe’s funeral on a Saturday afternoon. Over 1,000 people jammed into the facility and heard story after story about what a great kid he was.

       The parents were very brave during that service as both spoke. Some of their comments included these by Anne:

“So, where do we go from here? 
 How do we move through these days missing our Joe? How do we learn to live with this?

“From the moment Joe died, I thought if we made sure some good came out of this maybe we could find some peace. Already, some heavy lifting has been done on that account.

“ Joe lives on in the seven recipients of his organs. Kevin, his brother Patrick and I get enormous comfort knowing Joe has already changed lives.

 “ A fund has been set up and will benefit the visual arts in Lander. Many really, really good things are happening.

“But what about us?

“How do family and friends and neighbors get through the days ahead in ways that seek and find the good?”

Anne continued: “The circumstances of Joe’s death? There`s not much good to be found there. I’m speaking as a mom right now and specifically to Joe’s friends. While anger is a necessary part of grieving, it can blacken your heart. Do not feed the anger. It could lead to more anguish.

         Joe was born of eastern USA parents, of Irish ancestry, but he was always a western boy. He was, in fact, a Lander boy.

“He was shaped by us, his family, but also by this wild and beautiful place and by you. By his teachers and coaches, by our neighbors, by fellow students, by the NOLS family and by his friends’ families.

“Joe was surrounded by people who loved him at the beginning of his life and at the end. We are forever grateful.

“In the last 15 days, this amazing community reached its arms around us and folded us close. Your love, generosity, prayers and thoughts have comforted us more than you will ever know.

“Imagine if each of us leaves here, carrying within our hearts a bit of Joe`s light, Joe’s kindness, Joe’s spirit.

If we can do that, the world will be a better place and we can all say some good came of this.”

After Anne finished, Kevin talked about how the family dealt with Joe’s dying at a Fort Collins hospital on Nov. 1.

 “We were in a room facing the mountains and when we decided to say our final good-bye to Joe, as the transplant team was due, we saw the clouds lift and the sun come out.

“Later the nurses came running when we all held our hands together with Joe’s and shouted as loud as we could, “1-2-3 Joe McGowan!”


Lander’s new community center survived its stiffest physical test at the end of that funeral service. When Kevin was wrapping up his comments, he asked the crowd to join him one last time in shouting: “1-2-3 Joe McGowan!”

I swear I saw the roof lift.

Along with 1,000 hearts.


1509 - Here comes our Wyoming History book

As of this writing, more than 21,000 of our Wyoming-themed coffee table books are in circulation, a figure that completely staggers my imagination.

         And thanks to all of you who bought these books. 

         So, now on to the next project – a history-themed coffee table book to celebrate Wyoming’s 125th anniversary of becoming a state, which occurs this year.

         Title of the new book is Wyoming at 125, Our Place in the West. This is also the theme of the celebration being planned in commemoration of a century and a quarter of existence by this great state. Much of that celebration will occur June 11-14 in Laramie at the new Gateway Center at the University of Wyoming.

         It normally takes two years to produce one of these books but this one is on a tighter schedule. We are planning to have final copies available by October.

         But the big news is that we are going to bundle this book with the other two books into a Wyoming Trilogy.  Thus there will be 468 pages of coffee table book material packaged in a wonderful gift box and planned to be on sale for $125 each to celebrate the 125th, how about that?

         Our first book, Wyoming’s 7 Greatest Natural Wonders, was all about “natural” things – no people or man-made objects.

         The second book, My Wyoming, 101 Special Places, was more about people and events across the state.

         This third book about history will make a trilogy and complete a compilation of information rarely accomplished in this state’s history.  And with the help of a great many other people who love Wyoming, we will have done it all in about three years.  No wonder we are all tired.

         We are reaching out to newspapers around the state plus local historians and museums to provide us with “interesting” material about their local areas.  Because of the limitation of 156 pages, we are seeking items that are truly fascinating to readers who love Wyoming.

         Before going much further, it is important to thank the 52 photographers and 14 writers who contributed to those earlier books. Many of them will be involved in this new book, too.

         We are also counting on some other folks such as historian Phil Roberts of Laramie and historical photographer Richard Collier of Cheyenne to make this new book something special.

         A cast of dozens showed off their talents in the first two books and at times I was just the concertmaster. Although the books are full of my photos and stories, my job is mainly the publisher and the compiler.  For the last book, for example, I culled the final 188 photos from over 5,000 photos submitted.

         Birth of the concept for this book occurred at the Wyoming Business Forum in Cheyenne last November when some state agency folks suggested we do a book since the state was not going to produce one. “But to do it right, it would take 10 years and 1,000 pages,” I recall telling them.

Since that time a lot of wonderful people like Mary Hopkins, Milward Simpson, Judy K. Wolf, Roberts, Collier and others have come forward to help.  Susan and Cindy from State Archives have been wonderful.  What a treasure trove of photos, maps and materials the state has at its disposal!

We also hope to reach out to the Wyoming Historical Society, the folks at the American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, the Buffalo Bill Center in Cody, the Old West Museum in Cheyenne, plus the state museum and museums and historical groups around the state. A big part of the early history of the book will be about Wyoming’s Indian tribes and we are already compiling information about the Shoshone and Arapaho Indians impact on this area known as Wyoming.

         And so, we intend to use many of our former writers and photographers plus new folks from around the state in this project. 

         This may not be a perfect book and we may leave something important out.  We hope not.  But I can guarantee it will be just as interesting and fun to read as the previous two.

         Like the other books, this one will be 80 percent photos, maps, artwork and illustrations. We will base the book on iconic Wyoming places, people and events.  If you have some ideas for content, please email them to

         And so, let’s get cracking . . .


1508 - Talking to future journalists is an eye opener

Could journalism be any more different today than it was when I started over 50 years ago? How on earth can you give advice to aspiring journalists about their futures today?

         Those questions loomed high in my mind recently.

         So there I was, trying to interpret their futures to juniors and seniors at the University of Wyoming.

         After 51 years in media, it was easy to see myself in their faces, only a half century earlier. They were embarking on a career that might last as long as mine has – but it will certainly be different.

         They are the beginning while I am near the end of what I call a 50-year arc.  What I had to offer to them is what might be called “perspective.”

         The invitation to speak came from Ken Smith, the head of the department at UW and an old friend.  We go back so long, I actually hired him to come to Wyoming back in the 1970s when he ended up as publisher of the Green River Star.

         As my lecture started, we went around the room and tried to determine what sort of career they were anticipating?

         Three absolutely said they wanted to get into newspapers. A gal from Green River said radio. Five wanted to go into public relations.  Three were aspiring coaches who wanted to understand media. Good idea.

         One kid really caught my attention.  “I am totally confused,” he said.   I recall that feeling.

         The only person in the front row said he was going to play in the National Football League. Hmmm.  Good luck on that one.

         The rest were undecided and searching.

         One definition I hear about journalism is “it is our job to explain to people concepts that we personally do not understand.”  That might be truer today than ever before.

         Rather than tell my personal story about starting out so long ago that we built our newspaper pages out of melted lead, well, or how we lugged around cameras that weighed five pounds each and were limited to one shot per time . . . nah.

         So I told them a modern parable about what I learned about journalism by leaving America for a while and seeing how it was done somewhere else.

         In 1986, I earned a Masters Degree and was a guest lecturer at the Centre for Journalism Studies in Cardiff, Wales.  While American newspapers attempted to be objective and neutral, what I saw in Great Britain was something that I thought could never happen here.

         Each night, the major newspapers in the UK were printed and then put on trains to be shipped to all corners of the country.  These national papers (I think there were nine of them) all had different audiences. The union guys had theirs. The conservatives had theirs. And the greens had theirs. The sports nuts had theirs. It seemed like no one was able to get an unbiased picture of anything.

         I said that could never happen in America where journalists have a proud tradition of being as objective as possible.

Newspapers and some media organizations in the USA still maintain that proud tradition.

         And yet, today with Fox News and MSNBC, it seems we now have our own personal TV news sources that tell us our side of the story in the style that suits our personal news. I also told them that I like to watch Fox News but you need to believe it is definitely biased.

         The explosion of Social Media (Internet, Google, Facebook, Twitter) also provides like-minded folks with the opportunity to maintain a closed mind when it comes to hearing the news.

         My predictions for journalism today were somewhat pessimistic.

         For example, I think we need editors more than ever because of the information overload we are getting.  Yet, everybody is their own editor because of all the ways our stuff is being bombarded to us.

         I worry that the decline in accuracy of news is the result of social media and the demands of instant gratification.  It takes so little time today for our news to be disseminated.

         But today, everybody can be a star. If you learn to write a well-crafted news story the potential of it getting spread all over the world is possible, thanks to social media. Not possible during most of my career.

         It is a brave new world these budding journalists are embarking toward.  It is not a life for the timid.


1507 - Is February the most confused month of all?

February can seem to be a confusing month here in Wyoming.

         It is that short month where the weather cannot decide if it is spring or a continuation of winter.

         So far, it has been spring-like.  But cold snaps arrive quickly and you better be prepared for the worst when you travel a vast state like Wyoming.

         As a perpetual weather whiner, I always welcome this month as it means we are one step closer to Wyoming’s manic-depressive spring. Will spring be warm and toasty?  Or will it be full of raging blizzards? Sometimes we rely on furry little animals to predict the weather. Here where I live, we have a mythical prairie dog named Lander Lil who did not see her shadow this year, meaning spring will allegedly come early.

I am writing this on Feb. 7 and a warm Chinook wind is howling outside. It was 51 degrees when I checked the thermometer at 6:30 a.m.  Our endless snowfields, left over from 30 inches of the white stuff back in January, are finally diminishing.

         But February’s biggest effect is that is gets me thinking about what I want to do and where I want to go this year.

         On this short week of the shortest month, it is perhaps a good time to ponder about opportunities to visit wonderful Wyoming places this spring, summer and fall.

Despite being the middle of February, the highways have been generally dry and there are places to see this time of year.

When it comes to Wyoming, I have been to one end of it to the other over the past 12 months. In my other career of peddling books I travel all over the state. I cannot imagine a better job, but you do always need to keep an eye on the weather forecasts and the road reports.

If you decide to hit the road, this is the time of year to attend basketball games at the University of Wyoming.  Or go visit our state’s wonderful museums. You can avoid the crowds and still learn a lot about our wonderful history.

But the best job this February is to lay out the plans for what you plan to do over the next 10 months.

         Spring, summer and fall are times for fishing, golfing, harvesting in the garden, working in the yard, visiting relatives, taking that long anticipated vacation and just doing fun things.

         We are so lucky to live in a place like Wyoming.  When was the last time you went to Yellowstone?  It is so beautiful at all times of year.  Other national treasures like Devils Tower or the Oregon Trail beckon, too. Out-of-state tourists are pretty much diminished by fall, which is when most locals visit our national parks.

         Our state park system is one of the best in the USA.  It really doesn’t take that long to drive over to Curt Gowdy Park, for example, or Glendo or Seminoe.  Time is precious but Wyoming offers lots to see.

         Two stories come to mind about folks who either moved across the state or quit their commuting jobs:

       Former Sheridan resident Jennifer Knight moved to Laramie a few years ago. “For the first time, I drove over the range to Saratoga to canoe 24 miles of the North Platte.  I almost didn`t make the launch because I had to keep stopping to look at the incredible snowfields and lakes and hiking trails on that short 45 mile drive,” she exclaims.  “I was stunned that all this was here in Wyoming. I had no idea.” Sheridan folks are used to pretty scenery.  They do not realize that Carbon County has incredible scenery, too.  As do places all over Wyoming.

         Some years ago, Fred Parady celebrated the homecoming of his wife Lisa who has been working in state government. “She spent 400 hours a year on the road between our home in Rock Springs and Cheyenne,” he said.

         My work involves meetings often in Cheyenne, thus I spend a lot of time traveling between Lander and the capital city. One of a person’s concerns is what else could you have done with all those non-productive hours spent on the road? Cell phones and audiobooks help, but still spending all that time on the road can be frustrating.

         Best thing to do, though, is to enjoy the scenery.  And plan when and where you can go in this wonderful state.