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1917 - A cautionary tale a message for grads

I have seen the future.

It is just like today, only different.

Oops, it changed again.

Never mind.


         It is truly hard to imagine the kind of world today’s Wyoming High School graduates will be experiencing during their long lives after graduation.

         I have given commencement talks before. This is the one that I would give if asked to speak in high schools in Cheyenne, Laramie, Rawlins, Rock Springs, Kemmerer, Evanston, Lander, Riverton, Afton, Powell, Sheridan, Worland, Wheatland, Torrington, Casper, Newcastle, Sundance, Upton, Greybull, Basin, Pine Bluffs, Lusk, Bridger Valley, or any other city or town where my column appears. Here is that talk in written form:

         Yes, their future is going to be different than any other future that has come before them.

         My parents and grandparents used words like “gumption” to describe someone who worked extra hard to try to get ahead.  What your generation of graduating seniors needs, to cope with what’s ahead, is gumption.

         Now here are six strategies about what you should do to get ahead:

         • Although working hard is a virtue, working “smart” is genius. 

• Education is the key but I am not talking about advanced degrees here.  I am talking about identifying a field you would like to work in and then learning everything you can about it. Best way to do this is talking with people already working in the field.  Another option is volunteering to work in the fringe parts of that industry.  Scanning the Internet for everything you can find out about trends in that field helps, too.  You can never learn enough.

• It is not who you know or what you know that counts in getting a good career going.  It is who you know AND what you know that will make all the difference. Locate and cultivate mentors.

• Responsibility, honesty, and ethics are critical. If you are loyal to those who you work with and for, you will be stunned by how far that will get you in your later careers.

• Timing is the single most important thing in getting ahead.  You must stay on top of trends and always, always check which way the economic winds are blowing.  You must be a man or woman of action.  Jump when you need to, but look before you leap.

• Today’s young people are more idealistic.  They want to save the world.  They want jobs where they feel they are making a difference.

I recall my high school graduation.  The overriding thought that ran through my head was “what is going to happen to me?” 

This is the most exciting time to be alive. Approach these times with optimism and love for your fellow human beings (plus gumption) and you should turn out just fine.

Most folks my age cannot recall what was said during their high school graduations.  But I can remember one thing from mine.  More on that later.

For over 50 years, I have been writing columns called messages for graduates Almost every one of these other columns was concerned about jobs and the economy.

         Instead, today, it is appropriate to go back to that message delivered to my 74 Baby Boomer classmates and me in 1964 in a stuffy gym in Elgin, Iowa.

         A future senator was our speaker. He said we could change the world. Change the world?

         This is a very hopeful message.  So how does one change the world?  Find a cure for cancer? Start a company or a charity or a movement, which will improve mankind? 

Perhaps you could affect somebody’s life who will go on to do wonderful things?

         Let’s go to the core. Let’s talk about ethics.  I am talking about you, as the graduate, looking in the mirror and deciphering what is looking back at you.

         This is a big deal.  Ethics are needed more today by our graduates than ever before. My favorite definition of ethics is how you behave when no one is watching.

         A wise old guy named B. T. McManus once told me: “Bill, if you always tell the truth, it is amazing how easy it is to remember what you said.”  McManus founded the Bi-Rite Drug Store chain.

Over time, you learn there are absolutes in life. 

         Ethics. Morals.  Standards.  Rules.  What are your guiding principles? Are graduates too young to contemplate such a concept? I doubt that.

         Everyone needs a roadmap.  And a roadmap defined by ethics and morals can be the best tool you can have to ensure that you enjoy a successful life.

1916 - Ah Springs, the most bi-polar month

Like most Wyomingites, spring is the season that is most confusing to me.  The season is bi-polar. It cannot decide if it is winter or summer!

         But when it comes to beauty is there a time of year when the state is more beautiful than in the spring?

         The sparkling green of new growth of grass reflected off the canyon rocks with a few white snowdrifts here and there – that is the picture of colorful beauty.

         And our mountains are so white with snow.  Our Wind River Mountains, which run from the northern edge of Sweetwater County, through Sublette and Fremont Counties and end up in Park and Teton Counties were often called the “shining mountains” by the early pioneers.  You could see them from a hundred miles away as the snow would glisten.

         And this description also applies to the Big Horns, the Wyoming Range, the Sierra Madres, the Tetons, and others around the state.

         We spotted the Winds from a long ways off during a recent trip where we were returning to Lander from out west. That long range of mountains truly glistened in the bright sun. The scene of the brilliant blue sky and the snow-packed mountains was magnificent.

         Perhaps the most beautiful area during this trip was the huge box canyon known as Red Canyon about 30 miles southeast of our home.  It is a bright red but with the new growth of green grass and those above-mentioned snowdrifts here and there – well, it was a sight for sore eyes. Best part of seeing it in the springtime on this trip, though, was that a dry highway passed through it. South Pass can be a bugger this time of year.

         That area is also home to the vast Red Desert, which is one of the largest unfenced areas in the United States. Its basin is unique because the Continental Divide splits and goes around it and the assumption is that no water leaks out of it, headed either east to the Atlantic Ocean or west to the Pacific Ocean.

         In the spring, though, the area should be called the Green Desert as it truly blooms.

         Outside of Wyoming, in much of the United States, spring is a time of tilling the soil, putting out flower plants, and long walks in short sleeve shirts.

         Now here, spring often offers something quite different. Wyoming’s other seasons are quite predictable.  For example:

Summer features long sun-filled days, low humidity, the bluest skies in America and cool, wonderful nights. It is a time of golf and of camping. It is a time of enjoying five hours of daylight after work and birds chirping in the crispy, early-morning air.

         Fall is when the famous brown and gold of Wyoming comes to light. Many visitors and newcomers are often disappointed in the over-abundance of these colors in our landscapes.  Veteran Wyomingites feel just the opposite. Many people actually prefer fall as their favorite season.  It is time for the annual hunting trip, which means heading to the upper country or the high prairies.

         Winter is snowy with long nights, wind chill factor concerns, and closures of mountain passes and major highways.  It is a time for snowmobiling, skiing, and watching football and basketball on TV. It is a time when we all bundle up and make sure we are prepared for any emergency.

         But springtime in Wyoming, wow! Normally it is mud season, but not so bad so far. Our fierce winds have dried things out in the valleys. 

Temperatures have soared into the 70s and it is balmy much of the time. April is actually our wettest month of the year with lots of wet, heavy snow

I heard an expression by a TV weather reporter, who kept referring to their all-time record cold weather as coming after they had had a “false” spring.

         My favorite way to describe Wyoming’s four seasons is: Almost Winter, Winter, Still Winter, and Construction.

         Lander’s Del McOmie shared a funny weather description that he found on the Wyoming Going Blue Facebook page. It included one really cool season called “sprinter,” which I think is now.

         Meanwhile up in Jackson, where they had record this winter, a huge pile of snow is causing concern.  It is the result of 12,000 dump truck loads of snow and it is gradually melting.

         It has been named “what in the Sam Hill” after Sam Jewison, the public works director.  He is hoping it will be melted by Memorial Day.

1915 - Wyoming full of interestng facts and figures

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. – Mark Twain


         You could always find lots of cars and trucks around my home.  I am an admitted car nut and just love vehicles of all kinds.

         Perhaps out here in Wyoming it is a throwback to a time when your wealth was tied to the number of horses you had. And if wealth were connected to the number of cars you own, my friend Joe Kenney would be a multi-millionaire.  I think he has ten vehicles, two motorcycles, and an airplane at last count.

         I am down to an old Ford Excursion, a six-year old Lincoln and a 17-year old hail-damaged Lexus convertible.  Oh yeah, we also have a 14-year old motorhome.

         So here is my question for all of you: Wyoming has 579,315 people.  How many cars and trucks are there?  Do you think there are more vehicles than people here in Wyoming?

         Our local Fremont County Commissioner Mike Jones sent me the current most updated 2018 statistics from the United States Census Bureau, which measures all these things. It has some surprising info about my own county and even more surprising data about the state of Wyoming.

         If you guessed that, yes, Wyoming has more vehicles than it has people, you were right.  The 579,315 people in the state own 603,717 licensed cars and trucks.

         People (especially wives) repeat the old saw: “The only difference between men and boys is the cost and size of all their toys.”

         Toys? Yeah, here in Wyoming, we have toys. And most of them are registered with the state government.  Besides cars and trucks, we have 294,164 “other” vehicles.

More importantly, this total includes trailers, lots of trailers. Including RVs, this amounts to an astonishing total of 207,413 trailers. It also includes 26,144 motorcycles.

         Snowmobiles, boats, airplanes, and ATVs are not listed in this total but obviously would add big numbers if they were.

         Wyoming people drive more miles per year than folks in any other state. That average is 16,800 miles for every man, woman, and child. Amazing.  No wonder my tires keep wearing out.

         These miles are traveled on our 30,430 miles of highways and roads in our state. Of this total, 6,075 are federal.  Did you know that the longest highway in America is US 26?  Closely followed by Interstate 80, which I believe is the longest interstate highway in the country, stretching from New York City to San Francisco, closely following the route of famous US 30 Lincoln Highway.  It was Honest Abe who first proposed this national road along about 1863, when he was pretty much preoccupied with the Civil War and getting the transcontinental railroad built.

         In Wyoming, we like to brag about our low taxes but the state collected $686,766,223 in sales and use taxes.  That is a pile of money.

         Property taxes collected across the state amounted to over a billion dollars with a total of $1,344,432,107.  

         My columns are limited to 750 words so I have to cherry-pick items here.  It would fill a whole bunch of pages to write about all of this detail.

         In my business career, after starting out as a reporter and ad salesmen, I developed a love for data and numbers.  This surprised everyone. To me, numbers are not just numbers – they tell big stories.  I used to love the early IBM advertisements for computer systems where they pictured businesspersons pondering spreadsheets. The caption read: “Not just data but reality.” Just love that concept.

School statistics could take up an entire column.  There are 48 school districts in Wyoming with one-sixth of them in Fremont County.

There are 355 schools located from one end of the state to the other. There are 7,248 teachers and 736 administrators. According to these reports, there are 6,884 other staff to help keep things going.

Total enrollment is 93,647 students.  We have a graduation rate of 81.7 percent. The composite ACT score for juniors in high school was 19.5 in 2018.

Total general fund expenses for education were $1,493,600,712 for a per-student average of $17,694. This is one of the highest rates in the country.  In my county of Fremont (with its eight districts), the average per student cost was an amazing $22,299.

I will wrap this up by sharing that the U. S. Government owns 46,313 square miles out the state’s total of 97,093 square miles. The Bureau of Land Management controls 27,162 square miles of this total.

It is a big place with big numbers.

1914 - The Greatest Generation

The few surviving members of the Greatest Generation from Wyoming who fought in World War II are now nearing 100 years old or even older.

         A few weeks ago would have marked my dad’s 100th birthday. He died 19 years ago and was proud of his service in World War II. He has been on my mind a lot lately.

         He was an Irish Catholic businessman in a little town in Northeast Iowa most of his life.

         But he always said he spent 13 of the most fun years of his life here in Wyoming. He moved my mom and three youngest siblings to Lander in 1978.

My three youngest brothers, Jerry, Ron, and Don graduated from Lander Valley High School and also the University of Wyoming.  Ron works in Cheyenne as executive director of the Wyoming Education Association. Although she did not go to high school here, my sister Susan Kinneman is a teacher in Fort Washakie and lives in Riverton.

         Our mother will celebrate her 95th birthday in Broomfield, CO.

         But back to my dad. 

         He was a member of the Greatest Generation that served during World War II. He served in the 363rd Engineers Co, which was charged with building camps and bases. “Seems like we always built the Officers’ Clubs first,” he used to joke.

He spent most of his time in Tehran, Iran, and I can remember marveling at a dagger and a sword he brought home along with various dishes, plates, plaques, and rugs.  Many of them had “Persian Gulf Command” inscribed on them.

         As a young Iowa kid he got to see a lot of the world.  He sailed across the Pacific on a voyage that lasted 57 days.  He visited Egypt twice and among the family heirlooms are photos of him in front of the pyramids.    

         Perhaps the most exciting part of the war for him, after four years, was getting out. The guys in his unit were afraid they would fight with Japan. But each day, a certain number of guys would be given their discharge slips and would head home. 

         Finally, he got his.

         He boarded a plane and flew with stops at Cairo, Tripoli, and Casablanca before boarding a C-54 for a flight back to the states.  Once in Miami, he got on trains that took him back to his home in Wadena, Iowa. He arrived there on July 6, 1945.  (I might point out that I was born eight and half months later – the first real baby boomer!)

         Dad described his service in WW II as,  “A million dollar experience that I wouldn’t give 10 cents to experience again.”

         I remember dad as a very honest person.  He always emphasized that we must never lie. When I was growing up at home, he emphasized to me that I had never lied to him.

         On one occasion when I was about l2, one of my brothers had pulled some stunt. I don`t remember what it was, but I remember the aftermath like it was yesterday. 

         Dad called me aside and firmly told me, "Bill, I know you`d never lie to me.  Now, look me in the eye and tell me what you boys have been up to."

         I don`t remember what I told him, but I do remember I looked him in the eye and I lied!

         So what kind of man was dad?  I would say he measured up pretty well if you note the unconditional love given him by his wife Betty for nearly 60 years.

Dad was an Irishman.  He had freckles and always a twinkle in his eye and a great sense of humor.

         In his old age, he had become the perfect grandfather figure. He could tell you exactly which of the kids or grandkids were travelling and he would monitor the weather and say prayers to get them safely where they were going.

One of my forever visions of him is seeing him asleep in his favorite chair with a little baby also asleep on his chest.

My dad was a man of high principle, lofty ambitions, and passionate political beliefs.  He stressed education to his children and pushed them to achieve their highest potential.  It is interesting that at the time of his death in 2000, his 11 kids had accumulated 44 years of college education – an average of four years per child.

Finally in 1978 with the Iowa economy crumbling, dad left that pretty Iowa valley and moved west to Wyoming. We were sure glad.


1913 - The murder story of Gerald and Alice Uden

Some unsolvable and heinous Wyoming murders were the topic of a cover story of People Magazine a couple of years ago.  They were even the topic of a biopic TV cable program that features unsolved murders.

         The murders of Riverton’s Virginia Uden and her two sons back in 1980 was a 34-year mystery that appeared to be the ultimate mystery.

         Casper native Ron Franscell has written Alice & Gerald: A Homicidal Love Story, which is on sale across the state this month.

         Franscell, 62, is a fantastic author.  His prose is among the best I have ever read. His writings about Wyoming are just wonderful. He now lives in San Antonio, TX.  Prior to that he was a national award-winning editor and publisher of the Gillette News-Record.

         His books The Darkest Night and The Sourtoe Cocktail Club are two of the finest books I have read in the last twelve years.  The first one is about horrific murders of two young sisters in Casper; the second is a personal memoir that tugs at the heart of any man with a son.  He has written 13 books.

         But back to the Udens.

         I am close to this situation because Virginia was a part-time employee when we owned the Lander Journal.

         Franscell has put together a mini-tour around Wyoming from April 10 to April 15. He will be signing books and in some cases, making a presentation.

         One of the best bookstore owners in Wyoming, Vicki Burger from Wind City Books in Casper, has been accompanying him, handling book sales.

         Franscell’s schedule had him in Casper April 10, Cheyenne April 11, Riverton and Lander April 12, back to Casper April 14, and in Douglas April 15. 

Franscell seems to have had unparalleled access to Gerald and Alice and to law enforcement officials working on the case.  He paints a vivid picture of how Virginia Uden and her two sons were murdered. The detail included in the book is amazing and close to home, since so much of it occurred in Wyoming.

         However this mystery seemed destined to be perpetually unsolved. Then, just like that, it was solved.

         And the answers to all of those one-third of a century-old questions are as horrible and grisly as anyone could have possibly imagined.

         Gerald Uden was a worker at the U. S. Steel iron ore mine at Atlantic City, some 25 miles south of Lander in the Wind River Mountains.  Co-worker Kim Curtis remembered him as being  “scary.”

         Virginia must have seen something in the guy as she was married to him for six years.  Uden even adopted her two sons.

         Five years ago, if you were watching TV or reading the newspaper, you knew what happened next.  The story was on CNN, ABC and The New York Times among all the other state and national media outlets.  The story was impossible to ignore; if you proposed to write about the Uden crimes as fiction, the story would not sell because it is so unbelievable.

         Gerald Uden and his new wife Alice both worked at the iron ore mine on South Pass.  As it turned out, Alice had earlier murdered her 25-year old husband and dumped his body down a mineshaft in Albany County.

         Then they conspired to rid Gerald of his obligations.

         An acquaintance of Alice’s, who worked with her at the mine, reported that Alice was always complaining about Gerald never having any money because he had to support Virginia and her boys. Thus, money appears to be the motive for the taking of these three lives.

         On a fall day in September 1980, Gerald Uden convinced Virginia and her boys to meet him in Pavillion, Wyoming, for some target practice.  He waited until Virginia and Reagan had their backs turned to him and shot them both in the back of the head. He had to chase down Richard before shooting him in the head, too

         The photos of the Uden boys may still be appearing on milk cartons.  There were millions of images of the Udens spread across the country over the decades. 

         Officers finally found Alice’s murdered husband’s body five years ago and that led them to her and Gerald, then living in Missouri. 

         Meanwhile, Fremont County officers never gave up trying to connect the dots.  Credit also goes to a UW archeologist who, with eight students, spent some awful summer days in 2008 digging around in Uden’s old pigsty in Pavillion, looking for evidence of the Uden bodies.  They were unsuccessful.

         At this point, Gerald Uden, 76, has confessed as has his wife Alice, 79. Both are serving the rest of their lives in Wyoming prisons.

         What happened to the bodies, which was a mystery for more than three decades, is now known. Gerald claims he put Virginia, Reagan, and Richard in barrels and sunk the bodies to the bottom of the deepest lake in Wyoming, Fremont Lake east of Pinedale.

         Franscell has some theories about all this and his book is one that is impossible to put down. If you attend his book signings, you will be enlightened.