SUNRISE – The town of Sunrise, known as a ghost town to most people in southeastern Wyoming was flooded last week with a flurry of activity.
On Aug. 4, Sunrise had archaeologists George and Geri Ziemens working at the world heritage dig site where over 12,000 Clovis man artifacts have been unearthed, a talk and tour given by Sunrise owner John Voight and Troy Reichert, Guernsey-Sunrise High School shop teacher held the second camp of the year that brought in students from all over the nation to help in the restoration of the Sunrise YMCA.
Jillian Balow, the Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction, was on hand for the tour and said that she has followed Troy Reichert’s work as an educator.
“I follow Troy’s work because he’s amazing and inspirational,” Balow said. “I love what he does and when I heard about today’s activities I wanted to come over and visit with the girls and see the project. This is so amazing. The building is a hidden treasure, but the way the partnerships are coming together to restore it is miraculous. That cliché is apropos; “If you build it, they will come.’ I know that is how the funding is going to come.”
Jeremy Haroldson, a member of the Wyoming House of Representatives, representing the 4th District was also present for the tour and to witness Reichert’s camps.
“I think it’s so amazing that John would be willing to preserve history on a place he wouldn’t have to, but he’s choosing to do that and keeping the integrity,” Haroldson said. “This is a diamond in the rough that needs to definitely be grabbed and polished. I am a high functioner and I would be overwhelmed by what John has taken on. I think there is so much potential. I think we have a place that people would drive from many states to come see.”
The Sunrise YMCA, originally built in 1917 by John D. Rockefeller Jr. is undergoing some renovations that will help to restore and repurpose the old building as a museum for the thousands of artifacts that have been discovered in a four-year archaeological excavation at the now defunct Sunrise iron mine.
Voight came with a very special vision came to the rescue. Now, some people will rescue dogs, other horses and even people. The town, north of the metropolis of Hartville which has 62 people living in it. That is 61 people more than the town of Sunrise.
There have been renovations here and there as Voight took on the project not knowing exactly what to do with it. He did know that he just couldn’t pass up the opportunity. It was almost as if the echoes of the past were calling his name and crying not to be forgotten.
The land began to yield up its treasures in the form of thousands of Clovis artifacts. Today, it is not a ghost town, although it is said to be inhabited by one ghost.
The long-forgotten town is beginning to be recognized as a major community of current vision, ancient history and dedicated research.
The entire town was purchased and is currently owned by Voight.
“So, it all began by the fact that I knew the prior owner,” Voight said. “It was in the 1990s and I was working a historic property downtown Cheyenne. I had several buildings down there and having good luck working some old projects, and I loved it because it gave me the chance to work old buildings, update them a little bit and get them productive again.”
It was there that Voight who was born in Wheatland and raised on a ranch in Chugwater, met the man who inherited not only some old buildings in Cheyenne, but also the entire town of Sunrise from his father.
“Having grown up in this area, 60 miles south of here, not knowing about Sunrise; that intrigued me,” he said. “So, I came up and visited the place in the late 1990s for the first time in my life. It still amazes me to this day why we never talked about Sunrise. In fact, I can never remember it coming up in history class or social studies class. And here was this very large consequential mine; one of the largest iron mines west of the Mississippi, so close by and we didn’t know about it.”
At one point, Voight evaluated his age and began to wonder if perhaps his vision would outlive him. There was only so much one man could do with limited funding. Especially in the restoration of an entire town.
Enter Guernsey High School teacher Troy Reichert who, as it turns out is a master of grant writing and has secured a lot of funding through SkillsUSA to help renovate the Guernsey VFW.
“I met John Voight about 7 or eight years ago when I took a group of summer school students out to Sunrise so John could give them a tour and give them the history of Sunrise,” Reichert said. “At the time, John didn’t know what he wanted to do with the town. After the 100th anniversary celebration of the (Sunrise) YMCA originally built in 2017 and seeing how much interest there was in the building, I thought it would be a great building to try to renovate but didn’t think much more about it after that event.”
Looking at the rundown and dilapidated building, Reichert thought that it just seemed too daunting of a task at the time. Today Reichert’s vision has become a reality. There were two camps of students housed at Sunrise this summer, one for the boys and one for the girls that was unique in that they were used to teach the students hands-on remodeling skills.
“What took place this summer is called the ‘Sunrise Skilled Trades Camps,’ said Reichert. These camps were not affiliated with SkillsUSA. The camps were made possible through funding from Harbor Freight Tools for Schools. The camps aren’t associated with SkillsUSA or Guernsey-Sunrise public school in any way. This fall during the school year though, my SkillsUSA students will be working 2 or 3 Saturdays a month to keep improving the YMCA.”
Reichert was pleased with the commitment of all of the campers and was amazed at how much they had accomplished in the weeks of camp.
“I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect and the boys camp went smoother than I could have imagined,” Reichert said. “Then the girls came, and they also did an incredible job. I got the grant to do this from Harbor Freight Tools for Schools which gave us a $10k grant and we had to run that through the Heritage Foundation and that finally happened at the end of April. The Wyoming department of education gave us a little over $12,000 for tools so basically all the tools these kids are using and all the materials they got are a result of those grants.”
Kristen Goodman, a student from Williamsport, Pennsylvania, heard about the camp from her shop teacher.
“My shop teacher looked at us all and told us that there was going to be a really great opportunity in Wyoming,” Goodman said. “He then asked if any of us wanted to take part in it, and here I am. I thought it would be good.”
Morgan Martin, a teacher at Cheyenne South High School heard about Reichert’s camps via email and decided that she wanted to come on board the YMCA renovation project as a girls’ chaperone.
“I saw an email sent out to all CTE teachers in the state,” Martin said. “I wanted to be a part of this. Me and the girls are staying up in one of the former mining homes with no electricity or water. It’s been a wonderful experience where I’ve gotten to learn and engage like the girls.”
Former State of Wyoming archaeologist George Ziemens who is one of the organizers for the Powers II fair and a speaker on how the Powars II dig became a reality has a new excitement along with a renewed spring in his step as he sees the building being renovated.
“You know we have been given this grant to refurbish the YMCA and turn it into a museum,” Ziemens said. “Our corporation the Western Plains Historic Preservation Association was given a great gift by a great man. John Voight has given us this building to set up a museum of the artifacts mined here in Sunrise.”
Voight, who longed to see the YMCA turned into a museum, education and training center for Wyoming archaeology was excited to be able to help promote the Powars II dig and gladly donated the building.