GUERNSEY – With the final year of the decade now complete, this week we present our choices for the top ten stories that hit our pages between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2019. Selections were made based on the significance of the events and the impact made on the community.
Our top story chronicles the outstanding achievements and dedication of a Guernsey-Sunrise Schools staff member.
Over his 11 years as the Industrial Technology instructor, Troy Reichert sought to build his curriculum in a manner that would give his students a realistic and hands on approach. While looking for ways to make that happen, Reichert managed to arrange several building projects his students could carry out that would meet that need and help the community as well.
One of those projects was a major building renovation at the local VFW post, a group long on community service but short on funds. Over the course of two years, Reichert applied for several grants and awards through nationwide foundations and corporations to help fund the project and received approximately $15,000 from the Wyoming Department of Education, the Home Depot Foundation and Harbor Freight’s Tools for Schools.
But in July of 2019, Reichert’s efforts paid off in a big way when he was notified that the VFW project had been awarded a $70,000 grant from the Daniels Fund. Then in October, he found out the school had been selected as one of the second-place finalists in Harbor Freight’s annual Tools for Schools, netting a $50,000 check to be split 70/30 between the school and the instructor. That award was presented by a Harbor Freight company representative in late October at an all-school assembly.
In 2018, Reichert was honored as one of 10 Arch Coal Teachers of the Year, as well as the Wyoming VFW Teacher of the Year and went on to finish in the top five at the national level of the VFW program. But his efforts and dedication were most notably recognized in November when he was presented the National Medal of Honor Excellence in Education Award during the annual Veterans Day ceremonies held at the school. The award was presented by Medal of Honor Society Executive Director Cathy Metcalf and Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Sal Giunta, who served in Afghanistan. The award recognizes one elementary, middle school and high school educator each year for excellence in teaching and carries a $5,000 monetary award. It honors teachers who inspire their students to live by the values of the Medal: courage and sacrifice, commitment and integrity, citizenship and patriotism.
The July 17 collapse of an irrigation canal tunnel east of Guernsey in Goshen County created an agricultural nightmare for area farmers southeast of Guernsey and Fort Laramie. Over 110,000 acres of irrigated farmland was suddenly without water and efforts to remedy the situation proved to be costly and time-consuming as officials tried to determine the best solution for the problem.
Water flow from Whalen Dam and the reservoir at Guernsey had to be shut down to allow officials the ability to even assess the damage in the early going. The breach also had officials in Nebraska worried as the canal feeds irrigation water downstream to many ag-dependent communities along the North Platte River. The Bureau of Reclamation was immediately involved to help secure emergency funding and the governor toured the site in the first days after the collapse. Although most of the damage was largely canal related, one landowner lost the better part of a developed property that had been in his family since his childhood. Dick Esquibel found extensive damage to the grounds, a septic system, pond, garden and some water damage to the A-frame cabin, which remained. “I’m just glad nobody was here when this happened,” said Esquibel. A benefit concert fundraiser sponsored by Century 21 Implement dealer was held in September to provide financial support to those affected by the disaster.
Severe weather hit the area twice in a four-week span with baseball-sized hail and at least two tornadoes that touched down in Platte and Goshen counties. The first storm hit on Aug. 25 and residents west and south east of Guernsey suffered the biggest share of the hail damage. Broken windshields, windows, siding, roofing and damage to exposed vehicles were reported by residents living in the storm’s path.
Just a month later, an afternoon storm hit the northeastern area of Platte County where a twister was reported to have touched down near the Goshen county line at the home of Jason and Jessica Taliafiero. Jessica and her children sought shelter in the basement after Jessica saw the storm approaching. They had heavy damage to windows and the roof. A trampoline was thrown into the air and landed on the top of a
Another tornado touched down at the Nearing Ranch just northwest of Fort Laramie. A barn was completely leveled, and a horse trailer and silo were moved completely from the property. Another silo was twisted and bent over to the ground. The Nearings were not at the ranch at the time the storm hit.
The Guernsey Volunteer Fire Department was approved for a State Energy Office Retrofit grant that will help them with a substantial renovation of the community’s firehouse. Following an audit to assess energy costs, the areas of concern were determined to be windows, doors, overhead doors, insulation, furnaces and lighting. The Town of Guernsey has been working to improve the building and this grant of $20,000 with a 10 percent match will help address the recommendations to provide a more energy efficient building. The building houses fire trucks, ambulances, a meeting room, housing quarters, weight room and office space.
The Wyoming Cowboy ChalleNGe program, housed and administered on the grounds of the Wyoming National Guard’s Camp Guernsey received full accreditation for their educational program that will allow graduates to receive a full high school diploma rather than just the General Equivalency Diploma or GED. The program completed a detailed process that took eight months to finish. Initially evaluated by the Federal Department of Education, the staff was interviewed extensively, curriculum was reviewed and evaluated and the entire process was also repeated to satisfy the Wyoming Department of Education as required by the state. The Wyoming Cowboy ChalleNGe program is just one of seven across the nation to achieve public school accreditation. The Cowboy ChalleNGe program provides a way for youth between 15 and 18 to get a fresh start if poor choices have put them at odds with authorities, having trouble in school or struggling to stay in school.
The program is a five-month residential situation that teaches life skills, discipline, self-respect, living by rules and the value of education and more. Nearly 800 graduates have obtained GEDs or diplomas and many have gone on to attend college, find employment or enlist in a branch of the service.
The Frederick Memorial Golf Tournament awarded over $10,000 in scholarships to 22 Guernsey-Sunrise graduates to assist them with furthering their education. Held each year in August, the tournament completed its 24th event this year. Scholarships are awarded based on the students’ year in school. Higher dollar amounts are awarded for each year of college the student completes to encourage students to complete their degrees. The tournament has helped hundreds of students continue their education beyond
Guernsey-Sunrise had several organizations and a teacher that qualified for national competitions during the 2018-2019 school year. The Skills USA program team of Destiny Covington, Jayden Butler and TyLinn Cooper picked up a state championship for their entry in the Community Service competition. Their work included a 10-minute presentation outlining the work members and trades class students have been doing with the renovation of the VFW building. Along with Bailey Martin and Dakota Conner, the team also picked up a runner-up plaque for points scored at the state level in 1-A/2-A competition.
Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) members Trinity Ayers, Victoria Sierra, Sierra Ballou and Justin Martinez won gold medals and a state title in culinary competition. Kacey McCoid also won gold and a state champion title in the Life Event Planning competition. The two state champions qualified for the national competition held in the summer.
McCoid also qualified to attend the Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) nationals with a state fourth-place finish in Insurance and Risk Management but did not attend due to a conflict with the dates of the FCCLA nationals.
Business and Physical Ed teacher Nate Reinhardt was the winner at the post (local), district and department levels for the VFW Smart/Maher Citizenship Education Teacher award. He was notified by the VFW National Headquarters in Kansas City, Mo. that he had been selected as one of the Top 10 Teachers of the Year. In addition to teaching, Reinhardt also served as the boys’ basketball coach, track coach and FBLA advisor.
He was awarded a $1,400 scholarship to attend a weeklong summer professional development program sponsored by Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge. He is the second local teacher in three years to win one of the foundation’s scholarship--Industrial Tech instructor Troy Reichert won in 2017. Reinhardt took a teaching/coaching position at Wyoming Indian High School for the 2019-2020 school year.
A proposed subdivision west of Guernsey raised concerns by local ranchers and landowners concerning issues from water to livestock during a March Platte County Commissioner’s meeting. A development company had placed signs advertising tracts of land for sale in a subdivision called “Rabbit Brush Ranch Subdivision” near the Wendover Road turnoff about three miles west of Guernsey. According to Jon Kalev, Platte County Planner, a representative of the company had asked Kalev to “look the other way” with regard to the developer’s failure to have the area rezoned from agricultural to residential designation. Kalev declined, citing his duty to serve the county and to do his due diligence in that service.
Landowners in the area, many of whom are ranchers, raised concerns about what might happen with well or water contamination and availability, livestock being harassed by dogs, the destruction of habitat for a mule deer herd and wildlife in general. Ranchers attending stated the company misrepresented themselves to landowners when they initially told them the land was being purchased to set up a ranching operation and that the roads being built were just for ranch use. In fact, the roads appear to be access to individual tracts of land being sold off separately. Commissioners urged those attending to contact and deal with the landowners directly to voice objections and discuss options. The matter was not resolved at the time of the commissioner’s meeting.
The Wyoming Highway Patrol raised continual concerns about the growing number of fatality accidents during 2019. By mid-April, 45 people had lost their lives on Wyoming highways, over double the number (22) at the same time in 2018 and over triple the number (13) in 2016.
With the reluctance of drivers to put their cell phones away while driving and the state’s raising of the speed limit to 80 on interstates and 70 on many secondary highways, the state patrol believes those two factors have had a great impact on highway safety and the increased fatality count. The lack of use of seat belts continues to be an issue in Wyoming as well and the highway patrol is pushing their campaign to encourage seat belt use. By December 1, 2019, the death toll on Wyoming’s roads had risen to 142.
Rounding out the Top 10 stories for 2019 is the January awarding of a State Lands and Investment Board grant to the Town of Guernsey for a rail extension that will allow expansion of John Bunning Transfer, a company that oversees storage and transportation of oil field pipe. The Business Ready Community Grant was approved in full by the Wyoming Business Council for $717,792 to extend 260 feet of single rail across Buffalo Road in the Guernsey Industrial Park. The company, well over 100 years old and founded in Rock Springs by the Bunning family, came to Guernsey approximately 10 years ago and has created jobs with competitive wages and benefits for local people.