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1545 - Wheatland is small town Wyoming very fine

In the past year, two odd stories have occurred, concerning women here in Wyoming that made national news. Both women were matriarchs of their families.

         First, here in Lander, we had the first confirmed death in the state’s history from rabies when Karen Farthing, 77, died Oct. 3 from complications from an encounter with a bat.

         Second, in Casper, a well-known businesswoman, Kris Richardson, 61, just vanished in thin air. Her family has posted an incredible reward of $250,000 for information about that disappearance.      

         First, let’s discuss the Karen Farthing case.

         We have known Karen for 45 years.  She was a beautiful woman who loved her husband Bill very much during 60 years of marriage. She doted on her three children and her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. During her funeral service members of her family recalled her good humor and wonderful disposition.

         Karen had been in great health and came from a family of long-livers. It could be expected that she would live to be 100, or at least into her 80s and 90s as did both her parents.

         One night she had some kind of encounter with bat. The bat somehow touched her while she was sleeping.  She apparently brushed it away and there were no apparent bite marks. Although scary, Karen and Bill went on with their lives until she became very sick and went to the hospital. She was later life-flighted to and died in a Salt Lake hospital.  The case was not positively determined to be rabies until the Centers for Disease Control got involved.

         Here is an official account of what happened:

Testing completed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed a rare case of rabies in a Fremont County woman, according to the Wyoming Department of Health (WDH).

“While rabies is often found in Wyoming animals such as bats and skunks, this is the first confirmed human rabies case ever recorded in our state,” said Dr. Karl Musgrave, state public health veterinarian with WDH. “Across the United States, there are usually only one or two human cases in a year.”

While not all details are available, it appears the woman (Mrs. Farthing) may have been exposed to the virus via bats, which are a known carrier of the rabies virus in Wyoming. The most common mode of rabies virus transmission is through bites and virus-containing saliva.

Working together with Fremont County Public Health and the Utah Department of Health, WDH representatives will follow up with potentially affected family members and healthcare workers in Lander and Salt Lake City to determine who should receive post-exposure treatment to help prevent development of the disease.

“Unfortunately, rabies is a serious, deadly disease once the illness develops,” Musgrave said.

Family member and health professionals involved in the case were all forced to take the painful series of shots used to prevent rabies from reaching the fatal dimensions.

This type of death for anyone here in 2015 but especially someone with so much love of life as Karen is just stunningly horrible.

Meanwhile the Richardson family in Casper has an opposite problem – they are in the middle of an amazing mystery.  A mystery that no doubt will be the subject of TV show some day.

         But they want this mystery to end.  They want their mother and grandmother back. Or at least they want to know what happened to her on Oct. 7, 2014.

         Kris Richardson, her husband and their family established a very successful trucking company based in Casper.  Huge semi-trailer trucks line the company’s yard.

         Her husband died two years ago and she was running the company with her son, that is, until she vanished one year ago.

         Kris is 5-4 and weighs 115 pounds.

Police searched her house the next day and found a cell phone in her bed, her purse with a large amount of cash, identification on the kitchen counter and no immediately identified evidence of foul play, according to an affidavit filed in October. Officers were told a garage door opener usually kept in her purse was missing, and they observed stains on the sheets that could possibly be blood or urine.

These two odd cases involving older Wyoming women were in the news during October here in Wyoming.

In one, the mystery is solved with a very unhappy resolution.

In the other, the mystery continues and the family is hoping someone out there somewhere can help them find the answers to their questions.

1544 - Two Wyoming women involved in strange stories

In the past year, two odd stories have occurred, concerning women here in Wyoming that made national news. Both women were matriarchs of their families.

         First, here in Lander, we had the first confirmed death in the state’s history from rabies when Karen Farthing, 77, died Oct. 3 from complications from an encounter with a bat.

         Second, in Casper, a well-known businesswoman, Kris Richardson, 61, just vanished in thin air. Her family has posted an incredible reward of $250,000 for information about that disappearance.      

         First, let’s discuss the Karen Farthing case.

         We have known Karen for 45 years.  She was a beautiful woman who loved her husband Bill very much during 60 years of marriage. She doted on her three children and her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. During her funeral service members of her family recalled her good humor and wonderful disposition.

         Karen had been in great health and came from a family of long-livers. It could be expected that she would live to be 100, or at least into her 80s and 90s as did both her parents.

         One night she had some kind of encounter with bat. The bat somehow touched her while she was sleeping.  She apparently brushed it away and there were no apparent bite marks. Although scary, Karen and Bill went on with their lives until she became very sick and went to the hospital. She was later life-flighted to and died in a Salt Lake hospital.  The case was not positively determined to be rabies until the Centers for Disease Control got involved.

         Here is an official account of what happened:

Testing completed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed a rare case of rabies in a Fremont County woman, according to the Wyoming Department of Health (WDH).

“While rabies is often found in Wyoming animals such as bats and skunks, this is the first confirmed human rabies case ever recorded in our state,” said Dr. Karl Musgrave, state public health veterinarian with WDH. “Across the United States, there are usually only one or two human cases in a year.”

While not all details are available, it appears the woman (Mrs. Farthing) may have been exposed to the virus via bats, which are a known carrier of the rabies virus in Wyoming. The most common mode of rabies virus transmission is through bites and virus-containing saliva.

Working together with Fremont County Public Health and the Utah Department of Health, WDH representatives will follow up with potentially affected family members and healthcare workers in Lander and Salt Lake City to determine who should receive post-exposure treatment to help prevent development of the disease.

“Unfortunately, rabies is a serious, deadly disease once the illness develops,” Musgrave said.

Family member and health professionals involved in the case were all forced to take the painful series of shots used to prevent rabies from reaching the fatal dimensions.

This type of death for anyone here in 2015 but especially someone with so much love of life as Karen is just stunningly horrible.

Meanwhile the Richardson family in Casper has an opposite problem – they are in the middle of an amazing mystery.  A mystery that no doubt will be the subject of TV show some day.

         But they want this mystery to end.  They want their mother and grandmother back. Or at least they want to know what happened to her on Oct. 7, 2014.

         Kris Richardson, her husband and their family established a very successful trucking company based in Casper.  Huge semi-trailer trucks line the company’s yard.

         Her husband died two years ago and she was running the company with her son, that is, until she vanished one year ago.

         Kris is 5-4 and weighs 115 pounds.

Police searched her house the next day and found a cell phone in her bed, her purse with a large amount of cash, identification on the kitchen counter and no immediately identified evidence of foul play, according to an affidavit filed in October. Officers were told a garage door opener usually kept in her purse was missing, and they observed stains on the sheets that could possibly be blood or urine.

These two odd cases involving older Wyoming women were in the news during October here in Wyoming.

In one, the mystery is solved with a very unhappy resolution.

In the other, the mystery continues and the family is hoping someone out there somewhere can help them find the answers to their questions.

1543 - Seven counties, 700 miles of Wyoming

We had so many record rains this past spring that I thought Wyoming could not get more beautiful that it looked in May and June. Everywhere we went we saw green, green, green.

         Wyoming and the color green used in the same sentence? Really? Heck yes.

         This fall I have been on the road again and the state now is the more comforting brown, brown, brown. 

         And could the sky be any bluer than it has been during September and October?

         With May being one of the wettest months in history, September could not have been much drier.  Many parts of the state got zero moisture.

         Seems like I put in more windshield time than a UPS driver as I travel the state promoting my books. This sort of makes me an expert on Wyoming, and from my vantage point, what I see looks mighty good.

         A recent 725-mile loop drive took me through seven counties.  And I absolutely felt like a gawking tourist, especially going over Boysen Reservoir causeway outside of Shoshoni and then cruising through Wind River Canyon to Thermopolis. That wonderful little town could not have looked more picturesque with all its red rock, green foliage, and the blue Big Horn River winding through it.

         Ellen at the Storyteller has a nice selection of books and serves some of the best coffee drinks in Wyoming.  I made a quick stop at the Wyoming Dinosaur Center – a truly impressive place.  It has several big buildings crammed full of full-sized dinosaur skeletons including an imposing T-Rex. The most unique is the archaeopteryx, the link between dinosaurs and birds, one of something like 10 in the world and among the most complete in the Western Hemisphere.

         On to Worland to the multi-million dollar Washakie Museum and Cultural Center. Cheryl Reichelt shared with me all the amazing programs they have scheduled.

         From there, we zoomed up Ten Sleep Canyon, which is always spectacular. We were about a week late to catch the brilliant fall colors. Cloud Peak loomed over us on the pass as we headed down to another of Wyoming’s prettiest towns, Buffalo. Saw Rob and Jen Hicks enjoying an afternoon stroll past the famous Occidental Hotel, which has been restored to magnificence.

         In my younger days I used to hang out at the famous Union Bar in Hudson where the late John Vinich would hold court. That tavern’s iconic bar is a twin to the one at the Occidental. Thanks Karl Brauneis.

Buffalo’s Office Stationery and Book Store needed some books and even took some of my earlier offerings from 1993 and 2001, which made my day. 

         On to Sheridan to the incredible Mill Inn, known as the Best Rest Out West, where the walls are adorned with black and white historic prints that matched the ones by famous photographer Charles Belden, which we colorized in our new book.

         At dinner that night with Kim and Mary Kay Love at their restaurant Frackelton’s, I had the best duck ever.  I have always loved Sheridan.  Sort of a giant Lander. Lots to do in that town.

         The next day we headed to Gillette. The high plains had a comfortable and familiar brown tone to it. Crossed the famous Powder River, which is  well-known for being a mile wide and an inch deep. I did shout “Powder River, Let’r Buck” as we drove over it.

         In busy Gillette, we enjoyed a wonderful lunch at the Prime Rib with owner Ken Barkey. He invited me to help him “taste wine” as he was choosing some new selections.  His place has 800 different branded wines. Now that is amazing.

         On to Douglas. Enjoyed a memorable cruise through the Thunder Basin National Grassland.  Brought back memories of our first trip on that road when we ran out of gas almost exactly 45 years ago near Bill.  Of course, I love any place named Bill.

         The weather stayed spectacular as Helga Bull reminded it is always nice in her town.  She should say that, as she is the director of the local Chamber of the Commerce. We checked out the new Eastern Wyoming College center there where I will make a presentation in November. What a nice addition to their town.

         From there it was back to Interstate 25 and over to the energy hub of the state, Casper.  Always treated well at the remodeled Ramkota and made a few calls.  Then it was time to complete the loop and head home.

 

1542 - Tourism is booming in Wyoming in 2015

In the past six months, the energy economy in Wyoming has taken some serious hits leaving folks from Gillette to Rock Springs and Cheyenne to Cody nervous and pessimistic.

         Even Gov. Matt Mead has responded by saying he anticipates implementing $200 million in budget cuts now and during the upcoming legislative budget session.

         But all is not so dim when it comes to the state economy.

         In fact the one aspect of Wyoming’s economy that is bright is so bright, it is positively blinding.

         Tourism, the state’s number-two industry, has never seen a year like 2015.

         For the first time ever, more than 10.1 million people visited the Cowboy State. Yellowstone National Park may hit 4 million, which is a staggering number.  This is a 14 percent increase over last year.

         All these visitors spent a staggering $3.3 billion with motels, gas stations, gift shops and restaurants. Ten years ago, the total was $2 billion.  This industry is really growing at a steady pace.

         Tourists spend money in all parts of Wyoming. There truly is no place that does not benefit from the visitor.

         Grand Teton Park and Jackson Hole are up 6 percent. Even places like Fossil Butte near Kemmerer are up 17 percent.

         All these tourists paid $163 million in local and state taxes during 2015, which is an amazing number. Sales taxes, alone, are up 18 percent.

         The state’s investment in new welcome centers is paying off with a 6 percent increase in visitation.

         Much of this and more were revealed to the members of the tourism industry during a recent summit in Riverton. Director Diane Shober was ecstatic about the numbers and said the programs are really working.

         Earlier at the event, members of the industry were warned the 2016 Legislature might try to cut the marketing budget of the tourism department because of the afore-mentioned dip in state revenues,

         My advice to them would be to do just the opposite.  If this is the one area of state government that is making money, why not spend even more and make even more money?

         Wyoming’s tourism industry is supported on a three-legged stool of state spending, local county lodging board spending and industry spending.  Our state is the envy of the country and it is obviously why – it is working!

         Every so often we hear some shrill opponents who decry spending state money on tourism promotion.  They are simply wrong. This is a program that works very well.  We all need to get behind it and try to grow it even more.

         Tourism as the state’s number-two industry boasts 31,520 jobs.  As an industry, it creates new jobs in the rapidly disappearing middle class sector. 

         During the evening banquet at the summit, a large group of high school students from Riverton served delicious food and desserts. They are members of the ProStart class, which occurs in nine high schools around Wyoming.

         These schools teach young people the hospitality business both from the restaurant side and the hotel/motel business. This has been a wonderful program providing young people with the training so they can get good jobs. And it has been a boon to the industry seeking new employees at the tourism industry expands in the state.

         Gov. Mead was the speaker at the banquet and praised the industry for its non-stop growth during the past 15 years. It has certainly been a beacon of hope for the state economy during this time.

         And though energy growth exploded in the 21st century, the hospitality industry has quietly been chugging along showing impressive and consistent growth, too.

         Over the past four decades, Wyoming’s economy has surged up and bottomed out, due to fluctuations in energy prices. But one industry has shown steady, steady growth and that is tourism.

         This year is our state’s 125th anniversary of statehood and I have been studying how the state came into being.  It always astonished me that Montana and Idaho allowed Yellowstone to be in this new state rather than grabbing it for themselves. 

         Yellowstone is the beacon that drives all Wyoming tourism and what a beacon it is! It is truly being packed all season long from April to October.

         So what does 10 million tourists over a year’s time do to a state of 584,000 people? Well, if you divided all those folks over 365 days, it would create a city of over 27,000 people, making it the state’s fourth largest city.

         Amazing.

1541 - Life in small-town Wyoming

It might have been former U. S. Sen. Al Simpson who said all politics in Wyoming is personal.  I would expand on that by claiming Wyoming is such a small state “everything is personal.”

         On a recent Monday we experienced events that might only happen in a small town.  Two members of our community had died. Their families used different funeral homes. And, unfortunately, both funerals were scheduled the same time, Monday morning at 10.

         Luckily, Lander is a city of about 7,500 people with not very long streets. We would try to be two places at once. This could get tricky.

         Nancy loaded her famous scalloped potato dish that was required at the Catholic Church for Mickey Simmons Sr.’s funeral luncheon into my little car (easier to maneuver) and off we went to Holy Rosary.  I handed the dish to Annette Yates in the kitchen. Then we went to the front of the church.  After we signed Mickey’s guest book it was off to funeral #2 at United Methodist Church.

         Joyce Nations Hornecker, 65, was a nice gal whose dad had been an editor years ago at our newspaper. She was revered for having operated the senior center for years.

         After signing her guest book and greeting old friends like Cody Beers, Jean Mathisen Haugen, Sheriff Skip Hornecker, Pastor Mark Calhoun and City Councilman Dick Hudson, it was time to sit and listen to Ralph Mesa sing a few songs and hear about Joyce.  Her brother Jim Nations and her nephew Cody said some wonderful things and a slide show flashed life events about Joyce and her husband Johnny behind them on two big TV screens.

         It was a nice funeral full of pioneer Wyoming folks. The Hornecker family has a long history in the Lander area, much of it in ranching.

         Since we had sat in the back, we quietly slipped out and got into my little car and headed back to the Catholic Church.  Since Mickey’s service was a Mass I knew it would be longer so this was going to work out just fine.  Got there in time to sit with Mayor Del McOmie just behind former Mayor Mick Wolfe and his wife Marge.  Fr. James Schumacher and Deacon Rich Miller conducted the service.

         The elder Simmons, 82, was a long time member of the parish and his son, Mickey Jr., had been public works director for Lander for many years.

         After communion, the decedent’s eldest grandson Lucas Anderson gave a wonderful eulogy. In his tribute to his grandpa, he said the gentle older man left him with two big life lessons:  first was to always be willing to say you are sorry and second, to be quick to offer forgiveness.  Pretty neat lessons.

         Lucas and Becky Murdock provided the vocals during the service. Becky plays one of the best cellos I have ever heard. 

         After the service we slipped out and drove back to the Methodist Church. There we joined the Hornecker family and friends having a brunch following and paid our respects to Joyce’s husband Johnny.

         Not sure how many miles we put on but then went home and changed clothes and I headed to the golf course.

         As a former vice-chairman of the Wyoming Aeronautics Commission, the annual Wyoming airport operators group meeting is always fun. They had invited me to be their banquet speaker. And since someone had cancelled a spot in their golf scramble, they asked if I wanted to play?  Sure, I told them, but I might be late since I have TWO funerals to attend that morning. 

         I managed to play the last nine holes with two guys who help run the Cheyenne airport.  Later Bob Hooper, Cody, who is president of the WAOA, called me a sandbagger.  I had luckily made four long putts in the nine holes I played and ended with a pretty good score.

         That evening, we joined the airport folks.  There was a lot of gossip about the future of Wyoming’s home-owned airline Great Lakes.  Lately the struggling carrier has seen its market share slip. This has boosted flights out of Casper’s airport according to manager Glen Januska.

His staff counts license plates in their parking lots. He says on a typical day their lots are full of cars with Fremont, Johnson and Sheridan license plates.  It appears to be obvious that folks who used to fly out of Sheridan and Riverton on Great Lakes are now flying out of Casper.