2020 year in review: July to December


‘Get our voices heard’

NCHS students bring concerns to school board 

LUSK – Led by incoming Niobrara County High School senior Riley Shaw, students attended the district’s school board meeting on June 22 with the intent of addressing their concerns about Principal Phil Garhart to the public. 

The board moved to an executive session to discuss these concerns. Bystanders were excused, leaving students, their parents, board members, Superintendent George Mirich and attorney Mark Hughes, who was officially hired by the district later in the meeting to hear the student’s concerns behind closed doors. 

K9 Officer joins Lusk PD

LUSK – According to the National Center for Justice research, only 30% of those dogs who attend K9 training actually make it through all levels, certify, and begin working with police departments. Following eighteen months of work, the Lusk Police Department is excited to welcome K9 Loki to their team. 

K9 Loki and his handler, Officer Jake Gordon recently completed their rigorous training in Colorado and are now ready to go to work. Loki graduated with honors and is narcotics, tracking and evidence search and bite certified. He is certified with the United States Police Canine Association. This certification requires a great deal of paperwork and involves intense testing and high standards.

Niobrara County Homemakers pair tradition with
newfound purpose

LUSK – Node Homemakers Club President Heather Polen can rattle off ingredients and measurements corresponding to each of the organization’s signature pies from memory.

Etta Patterson, a first year pie maker, listens to Polen’s instructions, kneading butter, peanut butter and powdered sugar for a Reese’s pie with gloved hands, wearing an apron and a smile. 

The duo spent Monday evening preparing for the impending Node Homemakers Club Day at the Niobrara County Fair, during which they would sell 16 pies and lunch food like hot dogs and loaded french fries topped with cheese, sour cream and bacon. 


School is in session

LUSK – Giggles, smiles, hamming it up for the camera. Mugging for mom and her cell phone. New back packs that hang to the kinder’s knees and middle school kids trying to look bored. 

All of these things and more have been seen at schools on the first day for years. 

What’s new this year? Long lines out the double doors to both the high school and elementary school entrances. Manned by faculty and staff wearing masks and sporting thermometer scanners, they were scanning and logging temperatures and recording answers to questions regarding symptoms. 

In spite of the new safety and health requirements spawned by the novel coronavirus pandemic, most children and their parents were excited and happy for the first day of school. Many parents were grateful the Niobrara County School District was returning fully to in-person classes. 

Local Hereford breeder honored at Wyoming State Fair

DOUGLAS – Si West was “pretty popular,” according to his daughter, Tammie Jensen.

That’s why he was honored as a legendary Hereford breeder at the Wyoming State Fair Hereford Show on Aug. 13. Jensen and other family members accepted the award in Douglas on behalf of her late father and her mother, Si and Rosamond West, Jensen said.

“My dad was passionate about kids, Hereford cattle and ranchers,” she said. 

Halfway through the show, Jensen said she and her husband Casey, her daughter Amber, her brother Brett West and his wife Vicky West were given a serving tray with Si’s and Rosamond’s names on it to honor their memory.

Board approves
reopening plan

LUSK – In conjunction with recommendations from the Niobrara County Public Health officer, Dr. Joleen Falkenburg, the Niobrara County School Board made the decision at their regular meeting Aug. 3 to adopt a three tier “Smart Start” plan for a return to school for staff and students. This plan will start at tier one, the least stringent of any recommendations or requirements.

The meeting was called to order at 6 p.m. by Chair Joel Richardson. Following the pledge and statement of mission and vision, members of the public were invited to voice their opinions on the reopening of district buildings for in-person classes for kindergarten through 12th grade students.

‘We need all the help
we can get’

LEAD, S.D. – As a math teacher at Lead-Deadwood High School in South Dakota, Amy Williams said she was “shocked” to learn she was nominated for the Country Music Teacher Classroom Initiative spearheaded by singer Jake Gill. 

Williams, who is from Lusk, was nominated by her mother for CMTCI when Gill performed at the Niobrara County Fair in 2019.

“He’d asked if anybody knew any good teachers and my mom had been at the concert and just said my name,” Williams said. “I think this has been a work in progress, but I didn’t know anything about it till a couple of weeks ago.”


Get Lost with Brann 

LUSK – Anyone who has ever been around a three year old knows they are in a difficult time of an independent spirit that often exceeds their physical and mental abilities as a child. In Wendi Dutcher’s first published children book, Brann Gets Lost. The little dragon Brann (pronounced Braan) Dutcher details three year old Brann’s adventure into the woods and subsequent challenges and lessons.

Dutcher has experience with kids after raising two of her own and now spending time with her three grandsons, whom the book is dedicated to, along with her late father. She also has a lot of experience in search and rescue after spending more than 30 years in law enforcement. These life experiences contributed to some of the plot behind “Bran Gets Lost.” 

Originally from Lusk, Dutcher is the daughter of Jeannie Zerbe. She first remembers finding her love of creative writing in Mr. Dierk’s eighth grade English class. After high school she moved to Nebraska, Georgia, back to Wyoming, living in Cody and Douglas before landing back in Lusk. She has worked as a communications officer in dispatch, a detention supervisor, animal control, juvenile enforcement and served as a peace officer. In most of those roles she also worked in search and rescue at one time or another. 

Group cleans up
Lusk Veteran’s Memorial

LUSK – Lusk’s Legion Post No. 4 conducted a cleanup of the Veteran’s Memorial in the Lusk Cemetery Saturday morning. Members of Van Tassel’s Legion Post No. 1 and the Veteran’s of Foreign Wars were also present to aid in the cleanup. 

Commander Jim Thorbjornsen of Lusk’s Legion Post told The Herald, “we discussed different options to address the memorial. We talked about removing it entirely, but decided that it would be in our best interest to keep it. We need to make some changes, though.”

Niobrara County hires new
prevention specialist

NIOBRARA COUNTY – Katie Krein, originally from Torrington, is taking over as Niobrara County’s new prevention specialist. 

As prevention specialist, Krein will work on reducing tobacco, alcohol and other substance abuse and will provide mental health support and suicide prevention training through Niobrara County School District No. 1 and throughout the county in general.

With a background in the Department of Family Services and a degree in psychology, Krein said she is “in the people business,” like her husband, Bo Krein, Lusk’s Chief of Police. 

Goshen HELP brings services
to Niobrara County

NIOBRARA COUNTY – Goshen HELP, a community action agency that partners with local communities is now serving Niobrara County.

The organization is funded by a Community Service Block Grant administered by the state of Wyoming. In its third year, the organization sets out to “build community support and cooperation to identify the sources of poverty, and then to seek out solutions to address those causes,” according to executive director Kyle Borger. 

Lusk resident featured on
Channel show

LUSK – Todd Hoelmer’s spot on Main Street is not a visible one. 

The white structure looks like an abandoned garage at first glance. Step inside, and it still looks that way, thanks to remnants of a 2015 flood Hoelmer said he is still dealing with. 

Past empty rooms with concrete floors is The Skeleton Closet, as indicated by his business card. The work area, illuminated by dim lights and filled with fossils of early mammals and dinosaurs alike, is where he restores and preserves these ancient artifacts.

“It’s something I never imagined I’d end up doing,” Hoelmer said. “I had a childhood fascination with dinosaurs like everybody else has but the thought never crossed my mind. So when I got into it I just couldn’t tear myself away.”


Lusk ROCS rocks the town

LUSK – Before Lusk’s business owners open their doors on the first Thursday of each month, they come together at 8 a.m. to brainstorm ways to revitalize our community spirit, hence their organization’s name, Lusk ROCS. 

It all started with a flower pot several years ago, according to Lusk ROCS President Twila Barnette, who owns Bloomers flower shop.

“We decided we wanted Main Street to be beautiful and cleaned up,” Barnette said. “We started trying to decide how we could get things looking better, so we started out just basically as putting out flowers.”

NCSD to contest budget cuts suggested by state

NIOBRARA COUNTY – Niobrara County School District No. 1 Superintendent George Mirich informed board members during their Oct. 12 meeting about a letter from the state legislature’s committee on school finance recalibration that asks district school boards to think about ways to cut their budgets in the next four years.

Mirich said in the 2021-22 biennium, the state would like to see a 16% budget cut, and in 2023-24, an additional 27% cut, which amounts to a 43% cut in total.

He not only opposed the cuts, but also the state’s insistence that the board takes this on themselves.

“(State officials) were elected to do that, you guys weren’t elected to do that,” Mirich said. “And I strongly suggest you stay out of that.”

Cattlewomen kick-off
Mustard Seed
Dinner season

LUSK – Beef, it’s what’s for dinner has been a resounding marketing line for over twenty years. The Niobrara County Cattle Women continue to promote this and so much more about the beef industry. The Cattle Women hosted the October Mustard Seed Dinner serving Sloppy Joes and chips. They had custom decorated sugar cookies that also promoted the beef industry. Also available for sale were their brand books and napkin sets. The beef was generously donated by the Wasserburger family and Bootheel 7 Livestock.

As attendees were seated they had the opportunity to take a beef knowledge quiz and turn the quiz in to entered into a drawing for a gift basket. The winners of this drawing and a random participation drawing were announced the following week. The proceeds from the dinner go to support locally awarded scholarships.


WYVA head of school receives statewide recognition

LUSK – Whenever Dr. Joe Heywood visits somewhere new, he’s sure to bring his students with him – virtually.

As Head of School at Wyoming Virtual Academy (WYVA), which is headquartered in Lusk and part of Niobrara County School District No. 1, Heywood aims to give his students an education that mirrors that of a traditional brick and mortar school, and then some. His work and that of his staff was recognized on Nov. 4 when the Wyoming Department of Education (WDE) announced Heywood was a recipient of a Digital Learning Innovations award. 

Schools honor veterans
from a distance

LUSK – Niobrara County schools have always honored veterans for their service with a lunch and all-school program. This year, the schools wanted to make sure veterans knew they were not forgotten in spite of the fact that major celebrations and programs were not possible due to COVID-19.

Students and staff worked hard to assemble over sixty thank you gift baskets. The baskets were the result of student, staff and community donations. They were decorated and contained thank you notes from students of Lusk Elementary School. 

LEMS coordinated with the Niobrara Senior Center to deliver some of the thank you gifts to those veterans that receive meals from the senior center. Other veterans were able to pick their baskets up from the senior center
parking lot. 

“One, two, three and eyes right here”

TORRINGTON – Most Wyoming residents don’t wear leather flip-flops and a Hawaiian shirt in the dead of winter, but for Jack Gibson, it’s a way of life. 

Most people from Goshen County, Niobrara County, Platte County and parts of Laramie County know Gibson as the man behind the camera when they had their school pictures, team pictures or portraits taken as the owner and operator of Gibson Studios since 1975.

“One, two, three and eyes right here,” has become an iconic phrase for those who have had their pictures taken by Gibson. “It always worked, their eyes were always open and they were always looking right at the camera,” Gibson said. 

4-H Challenge Shoot
continues tradition

LUSK – The annual Niobrara County 4-H Challenge shoot was held on Sunday, November 1. Participants competed in the competition in mens’, womens’, kids’ and family divisions individually and on teams.

Organizer and shooting sports 4-H leader Kenny Jensen expressed a huge thank you to the sponsors, volunteers and participants. This is one of the biggest fundraisers for the shooting sports program and the community support means more resources for kids who are in the shooting sports program.


Niobrara County rancher re-elected to Wyoming Farm Bureau
state leadership

NIOBRARA COUNTY – Niobrara County rancher Chelsea Baars, 24, was elected to her second term as State Chair of the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation’s Young Farmer and Rancher committee, according to a WyFB press release.

“Being state chair means being entrusted with the privilege to serve others by working together to brainstorm, solve problems, and help discover each other’s hidden talents,” Baars said in the Nov. 24 press release. 

The position holds a seat on the WyFB board of directors.

Young Lance Creek resident donates hair to children in need

LANCE CREEK – Laurel Poage, 9, hopped into the salon chair at The Shear Edge on Main Street in Lusk, ready to have 11 inches of her sandy brown hair cut off for a good cause on Nov. 23.

Poage’s mother, Janae Miller, said the Lusk Elementary School student approached her about donating her hair back when she was just four years old. 

“She decided to cut her own hair, so she ended up with kind of a mullet back then,” Miller said. “I told her she had to wait until she was older to do it.”

Poage and Miller chose to donate her locks to Children With Hair Loss, a nonprofit who sends wigs to anyone under age 21 with medically-related hair loss, because they provide children with hair for free, whereas some organizations will charge a fee.

Bloomers brings leafy joy to
Wyoming Women’s Center

LUSK – Jason Brewer’s wife has been incarcerated at Wyoming Women’s Center (WWC) in Lusk since July 1. Each Wednesday since then, he’s sent her a floral arrangement from Bloomers, the Main Street flower shop located around the corner from the facility.

At the beginning of each week, Brewer, who lives roughly 250 miles away in Sheridan, calls the store and asks for a different arrangement dependent on the flowers available to shop owners Carrie Bannan and Twila Barnette at the time. He said he orders a different arrangement each week to make each delivery new and exciting. 

“Why do I do it? I like to make her feel like she’s everything in my world and she’s special to me,” Brewer said. 

Local family offers mustang program for veterans

JAY EM – Kelly Alexander tried multiple therapies to treat his post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury following his multiple military deployments.

He was disappointed by programs offered by the Veterans Affairs program. He said he was struggling with retirement as a self-proclaimed “workaholic.”

Finally, in spring 2018, he was invited to participate in the Mustang Heritage Foundation Veterans and Mustangs Program in Texas.

“Nothing really seemed to stick,” Kelly said. “Going into the mustangs program, I was a little bit apprehensive, not knowing anything about horses.”

During the second week, Kelly said, the unique therapy started to work. He felt a connection with his mustang, Pioneer Endeavor, better known by his barn name, Endy.

Now, he and his wife, Karen Alexander, live on a ranch in Jay Em with Endy and two other mustangs they adopted, named Annie Oakley and Belle Star. 


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