Sniffin

Bill Sniffin

Wyoming columnist

Once my wife Nancy and I reached a certain age, our approach to reading about deaths of folks in the local news services changed.

We call it “obituary roulette.” It is not something to joke about. We go down the list of folks who died and if they are older than we are, well, that might be okay. But when they are younger, heck, something is just not right in the world.

In my day job as publisher of the Cowboy State Daily, we recently started publishing a statewide list of folks who have died. I think we are tracking down most of them. Folks who, for some reason, saw that a Wyoming death was omitted should send their information to staff Writer Jen Kocher at jenniferkocher@gmail.com, and she will be happy to make the addition.

In the latest list, there were 46 statewide deaths in a one-week period from June 10-16.

When it came to our roulette game, there were just 17 younger than us. Seriously, our condolences go out to all these folks and their families.

Although we lost a few folks during the 2020 pandemic, including my 96-year old mother, and some local folks like Steve Mossbrook of Riverton and Sue Krebs of Lander, it seemed like we sure did not see as many deaths as we are seeing now.

Lately, we have been seemingly bombarded by news of the deaths of folks we knew. Not a good trend. It is almost like the grim reaper was in hibernation. Statistically, some medical reports claimed that flu practically disappeared in 2020 since everyone was staying home and being masked up. A huge reduction in the common cold occurred during this time, too.

As a young reporter back in 1964, I did not appreciate my job of having to write obituaries. I knew they had to be accurate, which they always were. But I never made an effort to make them more interesting.

Later in life, it suddenly hits you how interesting most peoples’ lives really are.

Some recent funerals featured some moments that need to be mentioned, too.

A local surgeon, Dr. John Whipp, 79, died in his sleep. At his funeral, we found out he was truly self-made. After Vietnam, he rode his motorcycle from San Diego to Kentucky, as I recall, to attend medical school.

John and his wife Marie, had five children. Their first child, JP, was killed in a wreck of his pickup truck many decades ago.

John knew he was sick and had written a wonderful letter to his family, which they saw after he died. His brother in law read the last part of it during his eulogy. After expressing love to family, he ended by saying: “So now, if you don’t mind, I am out of here. I am going to check in with JP.”

Chuck Guschewsky, 64, unexpectedly died of a heart attack. He was CEO of the 12 Fremont Motor car dealerships in Wyoming and Nebraska and was a good friend.

His funeral was at their ranch. Rain was threatening. Chuck, who loved flying, was given credit for holding off the weather.

Part of his service was a fly-over by local pilots. Solemn and impressive. They flew in the Missing Man formation.

A big tent was set up for refreshments where we toasted our friend in a memorable downpour.

Probably the biggest funeral I have ever attended was for Foster Friess, the great Jackson philanthropist. Nearly 1,000 people attended his services in Scottsdale, Jackson, and Rice Lake, Wisconsin.

His good friend, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, gave a remarkable eulogy for Friess saying “Foster had a Ph.D. in friendship.”

One of Friess’s four children, Michael, is deaf. He gave a stirring eulogy about his dad in sign language. It was emotional and powerful.

Tucker Carlson of Fox News gave a rousing speech at Foster’s Celebration of Life and described how Foster had a rule when folks sat down for dinner. “Only one person could speak at a time. And everybody got to talk. You can imagine how hard that was on me, as voluble as I am!”

As I write this, we are anticipating the service for retired Judge Jack Nicholas, 94, and also a service for wonderful neighbor Leonard Yost, 82.

Writing about deaths, funerals and obituaries should probably be more somber than this column. We need to celebrate lives well lived and mourn lives cut too short. Amen to that.

Bill Sniffin is a longtime journalist from Lander and a publisher of Cowboy State Daily. Email: bsniffin@wyoming.com.

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