Fair Pioneer Dinner celebrates local citizens

Pioneer Dinner Book Photo
A spread from the 2021 Pioneer Dinner book.

Eighty years ago, a gallon of gas cost 12 cents. The cost of an average house was just over $4,000 and you could buy a new car for $850. The annual salary was $1,750 and bacon was just 59 cents a pound.

In Campbell County, at least 13 residents were celebrating their first year of life. Those 13 residents were honored Saturday at the Pioneer Dinner, an annual celebration put on in conjunction with the Campbell County Fair to commemorate those 80 years old and above.

“The Pioneer Dinner is the fair’s opportunity to say thank you to our older generation for helping make Campbell County what it is and to invite them out to the fair,” said master of ceremonies Mark Christensen.

Fair manager Liz Edwards agrees, noting that the event has been held since 1986 with only last year being skipped because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Past fair boards saw an opportunity to highlight our older generations and show them our appreciation,” Edwards said. “The fair board continues to work with its partners and supporters to bring our pioneers this event each year.”

Those residents are:

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Patricia Maher grew up in South Dakota but made her way to Gillette in 1960. She’s married to Jimmy Mobley with whom she has two children, Marty and Carole, and four grandchildren. She’s been an Energizer with the Chamber since 1995 and enjoys attending church at the First Baptist, eating lunch at the Senior Center and spent 12 years traveling on trips with First National Bank.

Originally from Illinois, Helen Harper moved to Gillette in 1954 where she finished school. She was married to Bob Harper for 53 years and has two children, Bobby and Kim, as well as four grandchildren. She spent her career working as city clerk for the City of Gillette and enjoys volunteering at the Senior Center, playing bridge and traveling to Deadwood and Las Vegas.

James Norbert Hanson moved to Gillette in 1978 from his hometown of Lynch, Nebraska. He married Estella Hanson and the couple have been married for 59 years with two children, Jody Hanson, who has since passed, and Travis Hanson, with five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. James retired in 2000 and also worked as a campground host at Keyhole State Park for 16 years.

Lyla Louise (Morey) Pierce moved to Gillette in 1991 from Richey, Montana. Here she married Thomas Scott Pierce. The couple was married for 51 years prior to Thomas’s passing and have two children, Scott and Juliana, and three grandchildren. Lyla worked in the banking industry in the early 90s and enjoys bowling, church and spending time at the Senior Center.

Born in Fort Morgan, Colorado, Carol Jean Alexander moved to Gillette in 1966 where she got married and had two children, Lonnie and Debbie, with six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. When Carol first moved to Gillette, she made donuts at Decker’s Bakery. Later, she volunteered at the soup kitchen and the Senior Center and enjoys quilting and spending time with her grandchildren.

Connie Hulse moved to Gillette in 1967 from her home in Rochester, Minnesota. She has two children, Colan and Colleen, as well as five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. She worked at Smith’s for 30 years and enjoys going to the Senior Center and staying active which she says keeps her young.

Gwendolyn Louise Sullivan married Jesse Sullivan in Oklahoma City before moving to Gillete in 1960 when she was 15. Together the couple had two children, Brenda and Jesse Jr. Gwendolyn worked at the Sands Restaurant and JB Blue’s before becoming a stay-at-home mom. In 1990, she returned to school to earn her GED in 1993, at which point she went to work for her husband at Jesse’s Disposal and Diamond Rentals. In 1996, she jointly operated Crystal Chandelier, but has since retired. Now, she enjoys spending time with her five grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.

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Eugene Curtiss Junker moved to Gillette in 1967 to work in the oilfield from his hometown in Nebraska. Prior to that he helped build a gas station and café, where he worked for years, before leaving to work in construction and the coal mine. In Gillette, he worked on oil rigs for more than 25 years and still volunteers at the National High School Finals Rodeo. He was married to Laverne for 45 years and has two children, Lana and Arliss as well as one grandchild, Johnathan.

Born and raised north of Gillette in the community of Weston, Alice (Flint) Anderson graduated from Campbell County High School in 1959 before attending Hasting College in Nebraska and the CE School of Commerce in Omaha. She married Eugene in 1961, though the couple later divorced. Together they have three children and six grandchildren and spent her career ranching and working for Carter Mining Company and Peabody Coal Company.

Bob Tarver was born in Sheridan and raised in Campbell County and graduated high school in 1958, where he was active in sports, rodeo and was class president for four years. He attended Colorado State University, where he continued rodeos. He then joined the military but returned home to take over the ranch in 1964 when his father became ill. He and his wife Nancy have been married for 48 years and were able to raise their three children, Robert, James and Mike, in agriculture and live out their dream of running a ranch. The couple have five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Karen (Murphy) Brigham was born in Iowa one of 10 children but later moved to Sheridan where she attended high school, followed by Gillette College. In 1959, she married her husband Harold in Casper and the couple moved to Gillette in 1960, with Harold taking a job in the oil field. The couple had two children, Harold “Donnie” and Daniel, as well as four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. After Harold’s death in 2018, Karen worked at Bray’s Grocery, Kmart, Jacob Ranch Mine and Walmart, before retiring.

Originally from Broadus, Montana, Patsy Drum attended Eastern College in Billings, before eventually making her way to Gillette in 1965. Here she married Robert and the couple was married for 47 years until his death. Together they have two children, Darin and Debra, and two grandchildren. Patsy has been a Jehovah’s Witness for 44 years and enjoys horse and reading.

Mary Jo Younglund was born in Forsyth, Montana, and spend her career working as a nurse, in the government and as a window clerk at the post office. She has two children, Debby and Billy, and six granddaughters and four great-grandchildren. She enjoys spending time with her family, friends and neighbors.