Willy Wilcox retires from NCSD #1 after 45 years

Brandie Collins
Posted 7/5/24

NIOBRARA COUNTY - Willy Wilcox is no stranger to the community of Lusk nor that of Niobrara County School District #1 (NCSD#1). After 45 years of service in maintenance, that he has decided to retire.

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Willy Wilcox retires from NCSD #1 after 45 years


NIOBRARA COUNTY - Willy Wilcox is no stranger to the community of Lusk nor that of Niobrara County School District #1 (NCSD#1). After 45 years of service in maintenance, that he has decided to retire.

Wilcox, a draftee of the Vietnam War, entered the army right out of high school.

“I had no idea where it [Vietnam] was or what it was about. It’s funny you always heard about gorilla warfare. It’s strike and get out and it always happened at night,” reflected Wilcox. “I didn’t know what it meant, but I soon found out what it was.”

“I was just a dumb kid that had never been out of Wyoming,” Wilcox said. “Next thing you know, I’m on a bus in Denver and sworn in.”

Wilcox was originally from Glenrock, Wyoming. He grew up on his family’s ranch. In 1970, he was drafted into the Vietnam War. While the prospect of combat was not especially enticing, military did prove to be monetarily rewarding for Wilcox.

“The more things you had hanging on your uniform, the more money you made,” said Wilcox. “I knew I was going to Vietnam. There was no two ways about it, being a draftee.”

On New Year’s Day of 1971, Wilcox was shipped out to Ft. Lewis, Washington and, from there, to Vietnam. He was part of the First Calvary Division.

“We were dropped in the jungle and taken back. I can still hear a Huey [helicopter] coming to this day,” said Wilcox. “I was part of a five-man recon team. The beginning of the third time out, I was made the team leader. We were supposed to go in and sneak around, but we blundered into it and lead would fly. And one day, it wasn’t my lucky day. A grenade went right into my face.”

After several surgeries in Japan, Wilcox was deemed fit for duty and was sent back to Vietnam.

“There were no frontlines. Frontlines were 360 degrees,” Wilcox said. “I was able to get out 14 days early and came back home.”

Wilcox was an E5 Sargent and came home with three purple hearts and a bronze star. After Wilcox came home, he went right into family life. He married and had two sons. He moved to Lusk in 1972.

Wilcox began working for Kansas Nebraska Oil and Gas right out of high school. When he got his draft notice, the company told him they would give him a leave of absence and hold his job. After the war, he returned to his job and worked out of Wheatland. Eventually, he moved to Lusk. “I had been to Lusk two times, once for a music clinic and then another for American Legion Boys and Girls State,” Wilcox said.

Helen Oats, who was school board trustee at the time, told Wilcox about a maintenance position that had come open at NCSD#1.

“I interviewed with Don Schmidt. Mr. Schmidt said as far as he was concerned, I was hired, but he had to talk to the school board first. That was in 1979 and, 45 years later, here I am,” said Wilcox. “I think I saw six superintendents and I lost track of all of the principals.”

Wilcox even played a role in the building of the new Lusk Elementary/Middle School.

“I was able to be a part of the project, from the groundbreaking to the opening of the new school. I was able to walk with the contractors to see exactly where the plumbing and electrical was placed,” Wilcox said.

One of Wilcox’s fondest memories during his employment with NCSD#1 is the staff. He is very fond of a lot of the educators that he has gotten to know throughout the years. Wilcox enjoyed being a part of school functions like prom and homecoming. Wilcox also remembers many students.

“In general, being around the kids was great. At the high school, I knew almost every kid by name,” said Wilcox. “All in all, I think it was a wonderful place. I raised two boys and I think you couldn’t ask for a better place. My heart and soul are in this district. For 45 years, I don’t think there is a better district.”

Wilcox wore many hats within the community too. He drove the Lance Creek school bus route for many years. He volunteered for Art’s Etc., for many years until it ended, which he hated to see end.

Wilcox is still the cake judge for the 4-H Halloween Carnival.

“I hold this position very high and, in my mind, everyone is a winner,” Wilcox said. “For many years, I was the parade director for the fair too.”

Wilcox began volunteering for the Legend of Rawhide and continues to volunteer.

“Jack McMaster had asked me to help with ushering. Back then, the stadium seats were numbered and I had to show people to their seat, which was by ticket,” Wilcox said. “The old grandstand was so steep. It never failed that someone with a can was at the very top.”

Wilcox ushered for about two years. Eventually, Ross Diercks had approached Wilcox about narrating the Legend of Rawhide. Wilcox has been narrating ever since.

“I very much enjoy it. To me it is a great honor,” Wilcox said. “I narrate in the crow’s nest. As the Indians say it, it’s the ‘Voices in the Sky.’ I very much enjoy it and I always look forward to it.” 

Wilcox does the main narration, but he does about six different voices when he’s narrating.

“I don’t think I’m fooling a single person when I am narrating,” Wilcox said.

Wilcox has also volunteered for the Senior Pro Rodeo as an announcer and, on occasion, has been a rodeo clown.

Wilcox was an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) with the Lusk-Niobrara Ambulance Service. Wilcox told the Herald while he was an EMT he and the other EMT’s had to make sure they were coordinating with each other to make sure there was always two EMT’s working during the weekends. At the time he volunteered for the Ambulance Service there were only six EMT’s. “It was scary at times when there was only six of us,” Wilcox said. “Especially when the hospital had closed. We never knew where we were going. We were limited by our abilities with what we could do when we had patients.”

Even after he ended his voluntary service on the ambulance crew, Wilcox remained involved with the EMTs.

“I was the dummy for their training and I would be a guinea pig for the EMT Two folks, who were practicing their IV’s (Intravenous Therapy) on me,” Wilcox said.

Wilcox is also a life member of VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) Post 3511. He is a year-to-year member of American Legion Post #1 in Van Tassell, Wyoming. 

Wilcox is looking forward to his retirement. However, he still is planning on doing the cake walk for the 4-H Halloween Carnival and he will still volunteer for the Legend of Rawhide. He has been doing some volunteering at the Niobrara Senior Center, too.

Wilcox has been a fixture of the community since 1972 and has no plans of ending his involvement with town unctions. He was honored during the 2024 Niobrara County High School graduation in May for not only his time in the service, but for his time working for NCSD #1.

“I love this town and the community,” said Wilcox. “I enjoyed my job. It wasn’t mundane. It was basically something different every time. I’ve seen improvements in every building. Everything from 45 years ago and I’ve seen a lot of those improvements. It is 300-percent better.”