In the fall of 2009, the president of Eastern Wyoming College surprised me with a small tribute. He told me that the governor of our state was going to be visiting our campus on October 16 as part of a visit to the new corrections facility being built near our town. The governor was going to stay for the Baxter Black show, and there was going to be a reception before the program. At the reception, said the president, he planned to present the governor with a collection of four of my books that he, the president, had found in the college bookstore. The president said that if I liked, I could attend the reception and present the books myself. I was quite honored by the invitation, and I said that I would have to make sure I didn’t have a conflict. I added that if I thought I had a small conflict such as elk hunting, my wife would make it quite clear that meeting the governor was much more important.
We had met the governor and his wife a few years earlier when they hosted a reception at the Governor’s Residence for an anthology of Wyoming literature entitled Deep West. It was an honor to be included in the anthology to begin with, and it was an additional honor to visit with Governor Dave Freudenthal and his wife, Nancy. During the reception the two of them posed for a photo with our son, Dimitri, and then with the daughter of another writer who was present. All in all, we thought the governor and his wife were very gracious and very personable, in addition to being supporters of the arts. (The wine, cheese, and desserts were very good, too.)
On October 16, then, Rocío and I went to the reception, which was mainly for the purpose of some donors (those who had paid for higher-priced tickets) to meet Baxter Black. When we got there, Baxter Black was already present and was making fast friends with the college girls who were helping with the hostessing that evening. When he was done getting his picture taken with them, he called for a picture with me and included Ron Lovercheck, husband of the president of our board of trustees and also head of the Wyoming Game and Fish.
Not long after that, people got in line for the buffet dinner, and the informal event went along pleasantly. Baxter Black got up and gave sort of a prelude of his humorous entertainment, and he continued to be personable and friendly with the people who had come to meet him. Some farm and ranch people had come quite a ways, and it was nice to see them having the opportunity to meet a celebrity as he moved among them.
Still, the governor did not show up. The college president came around every few minutes and said he thought the governor would be there pretty soon. As the clock ticked, we knew that the show had to start at 7:00, so there was a time limit on our event.
Finally the governor arrived, not
with any pomp or great attendance. He had just had things to do, I suppose. Much
to our pleasant surprise, his wife, Nancy, appeared as well. Because Wyoming
has a small population, people who are active in any kind of activity will know
people from all of the other communities. As a writer, then, I know people all
over the state. The same goes for firefighters, bowlers, real estate agents,
and so forth. Therefore, people like the Freudenthals know lots of people in
every community as well, so they had bits of small-scale visiting to do as they
tried to work on their buffet dinners.
At last the college president told me we were going to make the presentation, so I got up and went to an open area in front of the governor’s table. The president made a small speech explaining that on an earlier occasion, to inaugurate the college’s mobile welding lab, he had presented the governor with a pair of welding gloves. Both the governor and his wife now lit up and nodded in recognition, and Nancy mentioned that her husband had really liked the gloves.
The president went on to say that this time, he thought it would give a good balance if we presented the governor with something from the arts side of the college. With that, he had me present the gift bag with the books. The governor accepted the bag as I imagine he accepts similar gifts and tokens of esteem. Then I got to say a few words. I welcomed the governor and his excellent wife to our campus, and then I commended them for being such strong supporters of the arts. I said I remembered with fondness an earlier occasion when they had hosted a reception for a book of Wyoming literature. Now they lit up again, apparently recognizing me as they remembered the event.
After that, Baxter Black had the microphone for a few minutes and took his turn at political humor (including an Ace Reid and LBJ anecdote). The governor showed his good nature at that, and we all got to sit down.
A few minutes later, as the gathering was beginning to break up in anticipation of everyone going to the Baxter Black program, Nancy Freudenthal came over and thanked me in person for the books. I think the books had become real, rather than just something inside a bag. We had a present chat, and then the governor also stopped by to thank me. As people who know them will agree, the Freudenthals are down-to-earth, sincere people who live in the same world as their constituents. So I would like to thank them again for their exemplary leadership and especially for their support of the arts in Wyoming. It’s a nice world here.