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1705 - Wyoming has old folks perhaps it`s the water

Wyoming’s oldest person is Leonard Ross of Jackson at 107. He attained that singular honor when a hero of mine, Leola Maude Dollard Reschke of Lander died last November at the age of 108.

         Lloyd Baker, 105, of Etna and Betty Schelliner, 105, of Douglas, round out the list of the oldest residents currently living in Wyoming.

         While doing research for this column, I also identified Dottie Turney who died at 107 in 2014, where she used to be the oldest person in the state. She always was proud that she was two years older than her hometown of Powell.

         Another old-timer, Mrs. Hester Smith, passed away last year in Lusk at the age of 107.

         All of these folks were amazingly active into their very high years of age.

         For a long time, Leola Reschke was on my list of Wyoming’s most interesting people. But I never got the chance to tell her that in person.  And now, she is gone. 

         To describe her as active in her old age would be a big disservice. For her 105th birthday, she went horseback riding. For her 108th, she visited Yellowstone National Park. While there she went riding in a 1928 restored car.

         Leola was born in Lander in July 1908, her maiden name was Dollard, a common name around Fremont County. She had two husbands and three children, all of whom are no longer living.

         Leola lived in a nursing home in recent years and that is where, for comparison’s sake, Jackson’s Ross sets a very high bar.  He still lives alone in his hand-built cabin up Pacific Creek Road outside of Jackson.

         He is very bright and tells vivid stories describing his early days in Jackson Hole. He was quite a marksman in his day and his cabin walls are lined with animal heads.

According to a story in the Jackson News & Guide: “He’s just amazing,” neighbor Beverly Babcock said. “He may live to be 110.” The story in the Jackson newspaper continues:

         “He’s pretty satisfied with 107. Most of his days are spent tucked inside his warm cabin, watching wildlife walk past or napping in his chair. Friends often stop by to check on him, bringing by plates of food. When he goes to town for a bite to eat, the waitresses at Bubba’s always have a Pepsi ready for him — something he swears he never drinks otherwise.

         “ ‘He is always in a good mood. He never complains,’ his friend Roland Fleck said. ‘And he’s always been that way.’ ”

         During a recent birthday celebration, he went to town and got a haircut. “They have been giving me free haircuts here since I turned 100,” he told reporter Melissa Cussutt.

         It does appear that he is now the state’s oldest citizen.

         Dottie Turney of Powell always lived at home until she fell off a ladder while washing windows at the age of 100. Her mind was bright and active up to the end when she died in June 2014, at the age of 107.

         Powell Tribune writer Tessa Baker did a story about Dottie, which included: “She brought a lot of joy to others,” said Penny Blake, her granddaughter, adding Mrs. Turney was always happy to see visitors. “She attributes her longevity to hard work. She never smoked or drank alcohol.”

Baker of Star Valley still goes to work at his engineering firm. “Don’t call me Mr. Baker, that was my dad,” he told the local Star Valley Independent reporter. “Call me Lloyd.” He was famous for always carrying peanut M&Ms around in his pockets, according to the article by Julie Dockstader Heaps. Hard work runs in

The late Mrs. Hester Smith (age 107) offered this advice, according to an article in the Lusk Herald by Lori Himes: "Everybody should have to do a little hard work so they understand the value of money. A little hard work never hurt anybody." When asked what she owed her longevity to, she replied, “I just lived a clean life. I never drank or smoked. I worked hard all my life. Everybody always asks about what I eat and I tell them homemade white bread, any kind of potatoes and chocolate ice cream."

During my research for this column, I ran across many others over the age of 100, but these six stood out.

What is most impressive is how lively they all are or were deep into old age.  Perhaps it really is the water.


1704 - The future of energy says Texan

The cold wind is blowing, the snow is piling up and the temperatures are plummeting in Wyoming as I write this . . . from Texas, where it is 74 degrees!

       We make an annual trip to north Dallas each January and it seems that I always learn something about energy that can be applied to Wyoming.

       T. Boone Pickens is one of our nation’s leaders when it comes to energy. He has an amazing grasp of the future and his ideas are worth listening to.

       Two years ago, I heard him speak in person at the Dallas Rotary Club.

       This year, he was featured on the editorial page of the Dallas Morning News with a report of how he sees the future of energy in America and what President Donald Trump should be doing about it.

       He summarizes his full newspaper-sized page list of suggestions with two main ideas:

       1)    Don’t screw up what we have going for us.

       2)    Don’t settle for what we have done so far.

       In his article, he also heaps praise on former Gov. Rick Perry.

       Pickens has kind words for Perry when he writes: “ . . . he understands both the immense needs and incredible opportunities our nation has with regard to energy.

       “That combination is no small thing. Energy is vital to our nation`s prosperity, and the incoming president and his administration will be faced with a lot of big decisions about America`s energy future.

       “During a lifetime in business, I`ve had to make a lot of tough decisions — right and wrong, and many of them very public. Good calls have made me a lot of money, and I`ve lost on the bad ones. Fortunately, I`ve been right more often than I`ve been wrong.”

       Here are four main points he starts with:

       “1. Establish clarity about who makes energy decisions. Currently, decisions about energy are spread among the president, the Department of Energy, the State Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Commerce and numerous committees and subcommittees in Congress, to name just a few. And that`s just federal.

       2. Promote hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling. There are roughly 30 oil- and natural gas-producing states in America. In every one of them, fracking has increased the amount of recoverable natural gas to the point that the U.S. now has the largest reserves of recoverable gas in the world, more than Qatar, more than Russia, and even more than Saudi Arabia.

       3.  Work with industry, not against it. America`s energy renaissance has been made possible by the innovation and ingenuity of private industry. Federal and state agencies and policymakers should make it a practice to work with the oil and gas industry to improve any safety or environmental.

       4. Meet our nation`s own energy needs before we worry about other countries. The best way to help Europe escape the yoke of European dependence on Russian natural gas, and help Mexico maximize its oil resources, is by exporting our technology and expertise, not our oil and gas.

       “OPEC members are on the run, suffering low oil prices and coordinating supply cuts. But they`re playing the long game. It`s not enough to match the influence of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries; we must beat them in the long term. How do we do that?

       1. Work with our allies. With Mexico and Canada, establish a North American Energy Alliance to create an energy powerhouse that will never have to bow to the demands of OPEC again.

       2. Modernize government fleets. Federal, state, county and local fleets should be looking for ways to save taxpayer money, strengthen our economy and reduce pollution by leading the changeover from using gasoline and diesel to using cheaper, cleaner fuels.

       3. Build the electrical grid of the future. Electric vehicles aren`t going to replace oil and the internal combustion engines overnight. But renewable energy sources have a lot of potential, and we need a power grid capable of connecting those vehicles (and everything else) to the next generation of power plants, promoting greater efficiency, and protecting America against cyber or physical attacks.

       4. Continue to research and develop new energy sources. Wind and solar prices are going to continue to drop, and the middle of America is the Saudi Arabia of Wind. States like Iowa have embraced wind energy and offshore wind turbines that are fast becoming commercially viable.”

       Pickens makes some good points here that apply direct to Wyoming’s largest industry – energy.

1703 - Rising from Plains tells about Wyo geology

Re-reading an old favorite book is much like renewing an acquaintance with an old friend.  The experience is rewarding and fulfilling.

         This happened to me recently when I picked up John McPhee’s classic book about Wyoming geology, Rising from the Plains.

         It`s been said there are no boring stories, just boring writers.  With that thought it mind, it would seem that a book about geology would be interesting only to geologists. 

         This early 1990s book ranks as one of the most interesting and most important books ever written about Wyoming. And the author, Pulitzer Prize Winner McPhee, was presented an honorary degree last year from the University of Wyoming, partially because of it.

         McPhee uses the life of a famed geologist, the late David Love, as the centerpiece of this book.  Love grew up in Fremont County and was long considered the dean of geologists in the Rocky Mountain region.

         The author captures the western spirit of Love’s life and that of his parents as they carved out a unique existence on a ranch in an area of eastern Fremont County near Castle Gardens.

         The book is full of references to the unique geology of Wyoming.  McPhee writes in a style that vividly lets you imagine the extreme risings of mountain ranges, the descent of valleys and the rolling together of various landmasses. 

         Intertwined with the geological stories (told mostly through Love`s words) is the life story of the famous geologist and his mother, who came west in 1905 after graduating from Wellesley College.

         McPhee writes:  “Their mother rented a house in Lander and stayed there with them while they attended Fremont County Vocational High School. Lander at that time was the remotest town in Wyoming.  It advertised itself as `the end of the rails and the start of the trails.’”

         The Love Ranch was one of those outposts that were so far from everything else that anyone passing through would stop.  It was smack in the center of the state. Often, people would sleep in the bunkhouse and join the Loves for dinner.

         McPhee writes about one memorable meal:

         “People like that came along with such frequency that David`s mother eventually assembled a chronicle called ‘Murderers I Have Known.’  She did not publish the manuscript, in her regard for the sensitivities of some of the first families of Wyoming.  As David would one day comment, ‘they were nice men, family friends, who had put away people who needed killing, and she did not wish to offend them so many of them were such decent people.’

         “One of these was Bill Grace. Homesteader and cowboy, he was one of the most celebrated murderers in central Wyoming, and he had served time, but people generally disagreed with the judiciary and felt that Bill, in the acts for which he was convicted, had only been `doing his civic duty.`           

“At the height of his fame, he stopped at the ranch one afternoon and stayed for dinner.  Although David and (his brother) Allen were young boys, they knew exactly who he was, and in his presence were struck dumb with awe. 

         “As it happened, they had come upon and dispatched a rattlesnake that day - a big one, over five feet long.  Their mother decided to serve it creamed on toast for dinner.  She and their father sternly instructed David and Allen not to use the world `rattlesnake` at the table.  They were to refer to it as chicken, since a possibility existed that Bill Grace might not be an eater of adequate sophistication to enjoy the truth. 

         “The excitement was too much for the boys.  Despite the parental injunction, gradually their conversation at the table fished its way toward the snake.  Casually while the meal was going down the boys raised the subject of poisonous vipers, gave their estimates of the contents of local dens, told stories of snake encounters, and so forth.  Finally, one of them remarked on how very good rattlers were to eat.

         "Bill Grace said,  `By God, if anybody ever gave me rattlesnake meat I`d kill them.`

         "The boys went into a state of catatonic paralysis.  In the pure silence, their mother said, `More chicken, Bill?`

         “`Don`t mind if I do,` said Bill Grace.”

         And these stories are just a few that are included in this wonderful book.  It is must reading for people who are interested in a well-written story about Wyoming`s recent past and long-distant past.



1702 - Lots of older folks support medical marijuana

One of the most conservative members of the Wyoming State Senate is Cale Case (R-Lander).  He favors approval of a medical marijuana bill and says there is a surprising amount of support for such an effort among older, conservative Wyomingites.

         I happened to be with Case during his recent talk to the Lander Rotary Club. He asked the crowd of 50, how many would favor such a measure?  Some 35 hands were raised – 70 percent!

         Earlier, Cale had joined our Fox News All-Stars coffee group (average age 69) and took a similar poll. All of the nine people there favored it.

         It could be assumed that all these people voting in favor were not anxious to become recreational users. But rather they all know people who have serious illnesses like cancer and worse and whose well-being could benefit from this legislation.

         Case, who has been enduring a several-year battle with Melanoma cancer, has a new point of view when it comes to medicine and medicinal needs.

         He is opposed to recreational use and says most of these folks who favor the medical marijuana implementation have no desire to start using it recreationally.

         The reality is that since Colorado legalized marijuana, there are thousands of Wyoming people who are now using Colorado marijuana in various forms to help their loved ones relieve pain.

         There is an older gal in Riverton who had pain issues and was nearly hooked on OxyContin (Percocet) but found she could get relief and could sleep with a cannabis patch.

         We know a guy in Laramie who makes periodic trips to Fort Collins to provide cannabis drops that help his friend deal with chronic pain.

         In Casper, there is a sick elderly couple that uses edibles to ease their chronic pain and sleep issues.

         There is a national epidemic of addiction by people to pain killers like Percocet.  Marijuana products appear to provide similar relief without the severe addiction properties of opioids.

         Former publisher Bruce McCormack of the Cody Enterprise wrote a very informative editorial back in 2014 favoring such legislation. Some of what he wrote is as follows:

“A new proposal to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes faces an uphill climb in the Legislature. We predict approval of such a measure by next year.

“Views are changing quickly on this issue which, even five or 10 years ago, would have been dead on arrival in the Legislature. But the manner in which cancer continues to ravage society has softened people’s views. It’s no longer Republican/Democratic or conservative/liberal. It’s personal.

“Few are the adult voters who’ve not had a friend or family member battle cancer. Some survive, many do not – but nearly all suffer through treatment with surgery, radiation and/or chemotherapy. It’s a blessing to have such effective treatment available, but it also can be anguishing.

    “Which is where so many people in the U.S. are finding comfort in the medicinal uses of marijuana. It’s been shown to bring relaxation, sleep and a respite from pain, especially constant, painful nausea. It also can stimulate one’s appetite, which is so important for healing. And it’s been helpful in the treatment of AIDS and multiple sclerosis.

     “One of the Legislature’s most conservative members, (the late) Rep. Sue Wallis of Recluse (and) . . . Sen. Bruce Burns of Sheridan, another conservative Republican . . . tell heartbreaking stories of their husband and mother, respectively, finding comfort in medicinal marijuana. These are only the first two of what are sure to be many such touching, personal stories lawmakers will be hearing.”

         So how could Wyoming pass such a law during this session?

         Easy. Just look north.

         Montana passed a very loose law in 2009 and the number of people with marijuana cards ballooned to 30,000 and it was a joke how it was being abused.

         In one famous instance, a reporter for the Billings Gazette phoned a doctor, feigned a sore back, picked up her medical marijuana card and made a purchase within a 90-minute period. That sent the whole state into a tizzy.

         Their legislature over-reacted and killed the whole program. Recently, they passed it again with lots of restrictions and now they have 13,000 people using it for medicinal purposes under strict supervision.

         It would appear that if Wyoming legislators have the intent to help legitimately ill people with a safe medicine that has been in use for centuries, they could look at the Montana plan as an easy route to success.

1701 - Rule for 2017 - money is tight

My immediate thoughts about predicting the first part of Wyoming’s upcoming year 2017 include some not so joyous conclusions.

         This is because the year starts with the Legislative session. Due to retirements of some experienced players and the unfortunate defeat of folks like Rosie Berger and Mary Throne, we find ourselves with a representative bunch that will have a difficult time.

         While many of the legislators are pretty green, other folks active in our legislative process are super experienced. Wyoming has the most effective lobbyists in the world and this year they will shine brighter than ever.  Hard to guess this early, but with the influence already displayed by our lobbyists in the past, this year will be their best ever.

         Lobbyists are people hired by individuals, organizations, companies and industries to represent their interests when it comes to getting laws made or changed and influencing legislators.  Our sessions are too short for many of these poor state representatives to fully grasp what is going on.  We can’t afford to provide them individual aides; thus the lobbyists end up being their de-facto aides and confidants. That is how certain laws get passed and certain programs get cut.  And sacred cows continue to be sacred.

         Despite gloomy predictions, some forty days after it starts, the legislature will emerge with a balanced budget still in place for the biennium. And amid the wheeling, dealing and squealing, some important decisions will have been made and some critical directions will have been taken.

         Although I am a fan of Gov. Matt Mead, I disagree with him on the size of the cuts that need to be made in state government. There are some agencies that could be cut in some areas by more than the 5 percent he recommends.  No sane person likes to cut effective programs or take jobs away from good, hard-working effective people. But good managers will have to figure out compassionate ways to do this. Wyoming’s current level of state services and the size of its government is unsustainable in many areas.

         Two conclusions need to be drawn from our current economic conditions:

         First, if this is the new normal, it just might be the real normal. We must see today’s economic conditions as real life. The recent boom years from 2002 to 2014 were the anomaly.

         Second, we must live within our means. We need to quit spending money as if we are still generating huge amounts of severance tax money from coal, oil and natural gas. Running government like a business means you spend less than you have coming in. Pretty simple, right?

         Now hold on a minute, you might suggest.  With President Donald J. Trump, are not happy days here again?

         Well, yes and no.  Over time, Trump’s policies with federal leasing, encouraging fracking, boosting coal and curbing the EPA, should boost production and thus raise severance tax revenue. But it will take years for this to take effect. It took years for Wyoming to get into this hole and it will take years to climb out of it.

         In other 2017 predictions, we see candidates positioning themselves to run for governor in 2018 as Gov. Mead completes his second term.  Secretary of State Ed Murray, State Treasurer Mark Gordon, retiring U. S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis and a host of others could be jockeying for a possible run.

         It might also be easy to predict that thanks to Trump, we could see a huge amount of construction on highways and bridges here in the Cowboy State if he follows through with his promise to fix the country’s infrastructure.

         In 2017, the biggest fun event will be a solar eclipse on Monday, Aug. 21. Could see 100,000 people coming to Wyoming to enjoy that unique experience.  I keep expecting that some group will hold a “burning man” event surrounding it. Perhaps they could call it “burning cowboy?”

         The original Burning Man is a wild annual event in the Nevada desert featuring crazy giant art and 70,000 wild-eyed folks frolicking at night in front of a gigantic burning man bonfire.

Before saying good-bye to 2016, I need to herald some other sports events besides our Wyoming Cowboys.  How about the Broncos winning the Super Bowl?  Or the Cubbies finally winning a World Series after a 108-year drought?  Or the Cavs coming back in the last minutes of the seventh game against the team that had the best record in NBA history? Wow, what a year.