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Casper – “I remember going into Tom’s office every morning to drink coffee,” says Clay Smith, a former Casper College student. “Being around Tom was always great. We had lots of laughs and memories.”

Tom Parker, who passed away March 15, is fondly remebered by former student Clay Smith.

Students, faculty and community members surrounding Casper College all echoed Smith’s sentiments, using phrases like “honest,” “kind hearted” and “focused on students.”

Heading into the College National Finals Rodeo June  10-17, Parker's leadership legacy are remembered.

Long career

Parker began teaching at Casper College in 1990, and he retired in 2013.

“Aside from teaching, he also coached full-time,” says Heath Hornecker, Casper College Agriculture Department Head. “Tom taught and coached for 23 years. He was a vital member of the ag department for more than two decades.”

For Parker, teaching was about student development and opportunities, continued Hornecker.

“Tom was really focused on student success, and he was really willing to work with students to make sure they succeeded,” Hornecker adds. “He expected students to be there but was willing to bend over backwards to help students out.”

“Tom was really student centered, and he tried hard to get students through school,” he says.

Smith started school at Casper College in the fall of 2007.

“I met Tom for the first time in the fall before to ask him if I could rodeo for Casper,” Smith comments. “I didn’t know if he knew me, but Tom said he had an eye out for me and he would love to have me, so I went to Casper.”

Impacts

Smith notes that Parker was willing to do anything for his students.

“No matter what the circumstance – whether it was rodeo, school or personal – Tom was always there,” he comments. “Tom was always a phone call away, and that was really important for me.”

Even today, Smith says he still reached out to Parker up until his passing.

“I’d call him every time I went through Casper - which was pretty often - just to chat,” Smith says. “Tom always took the time to talk with me and ask how things were going.”

However, it was Parker’s devotion to providing opportunities for students to succeed that was really impactful for Smith, who comments, “The biggest impact Tom had on me was just giving anyone who wanted a shot the chance.”

Smith described Parker as honest and kind-hearted and says that Parker played a big role in encouraging him for his future.

“Tom taught me how to be a better person, both inside and out of the arena. He told me to always trust myself, and he said that to get the best, I had to be the best,” Smith continues.

“I always really liked that Tom never turned kids away from the rodeo arena,” he adds. “Even if he didn’t know what they could do, he always gave everyone a shot. The one thing I always admired about Tom is that he gave everyone a chance.”

Coach

In the rodeo program, Hornecker says Parker came in with big shoes to fill.

“Tom came in after Dale Stiles,” he comments. “I never knew the rodeo team before Tom, but I know that he was always willing to give kids a chance.”

While other coaches may not have offered all students the chance to compete, Parker was well known for offering everyone an opportunity.

“Rodeo teams were big at Casper College,” Hornecker says. “Tom wanted to give kids the chance to rodeo and go to school.”

Co-worker

As a co-worker, Hornecker notes that Parker always provided a level-headed perspective.

“He had advice if we asked, but he let us do our jobs if we didn’t ask,” Hornecker continues of Parker. “Tom was always willing to help us work through things or come up with new ideas.”

“Tom as always concerned about students, and he wanted to make sure students were taken care of,” Hornecker says. “He focused on all students – not only the ones who were academically inclined. Tom knew that some of the best students weren’t the ones who got straight A’s.”

“Tom was a great mentor,” Smith says. “He was always there and always happy to help.”

Hornecker comments, “Tom will most definitely be missed.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

LaBarge – With a love of the land and her animals, Mary Thoman, known as Mickey to most, manages the family ranching operation, W&M Thoman Ranches, LLC.

“We’ve lived on the river since 1953,” says Mickey of their ranch. “I was born and raised out of Kemmerer, and we ran sheep on the desert.”

Mickey’s parents, who emigrated from Austria about 1900, homesteaded on land north of Kemmerer on the Hams Fork River. The family still summers some animals on the property.

“They had a few shorthorns, and they had sheep to start with,” she says. “They always had some sheep.”

When the property where their ranch currently sits, which lies in both Lincoln and Sweetwater Counties, came up for sale, Mickey notes that they bought the place because it was handy and a good location. They’ve been there ever since, running both sheep and cattle.

Big families

“We’ve raised all of our family out here,” says Mickey.

Mickey’s family reaches across the state. She was married to William J. in 1948, and they raised a family on the ranch. She has three daughters, Mary A., Laurie and Kristy Wardell, all who live on and help with the ranch. Her two sons, Bob and Dick, have moved away, with Bob ranching in Riverton and Dick working in the oilfield.

Mickey also lost two children. Daughter Catherine drowned in a riding accident when she was 22, and five years later, Bill Jr. died in a cube hauling accident on South Pass at the age of 25.

The first three of their children were raised in sheep camps.

“I also have 21 grandkids and 12 great-grandkids,” says Mickey. “We are expecting two more this year.” 

For the grandkids on the ranch, Thoman School, which was established in 1957, provides their education, since Green River and Kemmerer are both over 40 miles away and travel gets rough in the winters. The school is the last of the one-room schools in Wyoming.

Mickey’s grandson Rex, 12, currently attends Thoman School.

Diversity 

Ranching has been a big part of the Thoman’s family life.

“We’ve always run sheep,” comments Mickey, “and we have more cows now than we used to.”

Their herd of Rambouillet sheep runs on rangeland year around, summering on the Bridger Teton National Forest north of Pinedale and wintering on the Rock Springs Grazing Association ranges. 

“We lamb our sheep on the Big Sandy and haul them to range. Usually we summer from July 1 until Oct. 1,” she explains. “Our pastures are mainly BLM allotments, and we have shares in Rock Springs Grazing Association.”

Lambing occurs on the range at the beginning of May, and Mickey says, “People who shed lamb can lamb earlier, but we land on the range.”

Her daughters also have a bunch of registered sheep they lamb in March.

The cattle side of the operation runs Herefords, and Mickey says they are adapted to the land and able to take care of themselves.

“We have Herefords, and we have been straight Hereford for forever,” she explains. “I think they are thriftier cows.”

The cattle winter on the desert with the sheep, spending their summers on both sides of the Green River.

With expansion of the Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge, Mickey says that they no longer have hay ground, instead just pasturing their cattle on the river.

They also raise a herd of Thoroughbred-Quarter horses on the property.

Predator problems

The location of their summer range comes with its own set of challenges.

“There are so many grizzly bears it isn’t even funny,” says Mickey. “We got those allotments in 1978, and before that we were on the Wyoming range.”

She explains that in 1997, some grizzly bears were let out on the river where they release the sheep each summer.

“They let them out when we were shipping sheep,” she says, “and since then, it has been a nightmare.”

They utilize Peruvian sheepherders and guard dogs, protecting both the herders and their sheep with electric fences each night.

“It has helped the sheep a lot, because the bears used to get into our herds at night and scatter them all over,” Mickey says of the electric fences. “It would be a couple of days before we could gather them all up.”

Mickey’s daughter Mary has an airplane that she flies to keep track of the cattle and sheep as well. 

Continuing to ranch

Despite the difficulty that accompanies the ranch, and most ranches in Wyoming, Mickey continues to be involved and continues to ranch.

Mickey is one of the 33 founding members of the Green River Valley Cowbelles. She has also been a member of the Wyoming Stockgrower’s Association Board of Directors and Guardians of the Grasslands.

Her involvement spans a number of group and organizations, locally, statewide and nationally.

Because of her involvement, dedication and passion for ranching, Mickey was named 2012 Ranch Woman of the Year in Sublette County.

Making it through

Aside from predators, the Thoman’s have also faced flood, fire and condemned lands.

“In the early 1960s, the ranch was flooded when Fontenelle Dam broke,” say her daughters. “In the 1970s, a careless camper started a wildfire that burned several hundred acres of trees and nearly destroyed ranch buildings.”

They continue that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also condemned part of the family ranch in 1980. 

“No matter what, God can be found in the beauty of the outdoors and agriculture,” says Mickey. 

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Albin — Attending a routine school assembly at Albin Elementary turned into a big surprise for teacher Tracy Petsch. Petsch was recently honored with the Milken National Educator Award for the state of Wyoming.
    The Milken Family Foundation National Educator Awards Program honors one teacher from each state every year with public recognition and financial rewards for furthering excellence in education. It is not an award you apply for, says Petsch. “They find you.”
    During that exciting day Petsch says the entire school attended a school assembly. Petsch says no one in the school, including her, knew she would receive the award. The school officials were only told the school was being honored by the state department.
    During the assembly Gary Stark, representing the Milken Family Foundation, and Jim McBride, superintendant of public instruction, and other state department of education officials presented Petsch with a trophy and a check. “The only ones who knew about it were the superintendant and the people presenting it,” Petsch explains. “Everyone else was totally surprised.”
    Petsch says she’s very honored to be chosen for the award. “The state of Wyoming is fortunate to have many teachers that are exemplary in the field of education,” she says.  “I know that I am not above any of my colleagues.  I am simply honored to represent them, and all of the hard work that they do for students every day. I would like to thank the Milken Family Foundation for all they do to inspire and honor teachers all across our country each year.”
    Next month Petsch will travel to Los Angeles, Calif. to receive her actual award and a check for $25,000. There are no stipulations attached to the check given to Petsch personally, so she can use it however she wishes.
    As an advocate for addressing world hunger, Petsch has decided to give something back to her school and students. “With a portion of the money I received I’ve started something at our school called Read to Feed through Heifer International.”
    The way the program works is similar to a fundraiser where the child does something and people support that by pledging money. In this case, Petsch will pledge the money.
    She has challenged her students to read books and for every book they read they earn points. “I am sponsoring the children in my school for reading books and when they get enough points, they get to choose what kind of animal they will send to needy parts of the world.” Some of the animals the students can purchase are sheep, bees, ducks, geese, chicks, beef, swine and goats. Trees are also included in the program. “Each class is building their own ranch because they get to choose the animals,” she explains.
    Petsch says she intends to finish the program at the end of the semester before school lets out for the summer. “We will tally the points and determine what animals we want to buy and we will send the money to Heifer International.”
    “Heifer International will send the animals, along with instructions on how to raise them, to the different countries,” Petsch explains. “I hope to end the program at the end of May so the students know exactly what they sent so they can have a celebration. I want the children to feel a sense of accomplishment for what they have done.”
    The animals given through this program are production animals and are not for slaughter. They are used for products like milk, wool and for breeding. “After they breed the animals, they will in turn give the offspring to another family. That way, another family will be provided with an income and they are passing the gift on.”
    Petsch says she has known about the Heifer International group for a long time and is very excited to take part in the program. “I had seen it in different philanthropy projects other people have done,” she says. “When I saw the educational portion of it, I checked into it further. I wanted to do something so I could give back to my students,” she explains. “We have everything we need at our school to make our students successful. The only thing you can’t buy is to teach them how to give to other people. I wanted to give them the gift of giving to other people.”
    “I also wanted to foster a love for reading in the students and an interest in it outside of school,” she adds. “I hope I’ve succeeded because I have never seen the children read so much.”
    Petsch says she always has children approach her, saying things like, “I have to read two more books and I can buy a goat.”
    “I wanted to purchase for them the gift of giving,” Petsch continues. “It will be a very valuable lesson for them and hopefully something they can take with them and use for the rest of their lives. I truly hope it inspires them to help other people.”
    Petsch says the students are very excited about participating in the program. Many of the children come from farms and ranches and realize how much these animals cost. “It gives them the ability to give to another country something they are familiar with and know the value of,” she says, adding, “They are familiar with livestock and know the value of animals and being able to provide for a family. Plus, they just love animals.”
    Petsch says she really enjoys teaching the children and watching them learn. “I teach because I love it. It has always been instilled in me to find something you love to do and go for it. Become the best you can be at whatever it is you decide is important to you. It is imperative to me that my students have a solid academic background so they can find the things they can excel in to reach their full potential in their lives. I want them to know that my faith in them is strong, my encouragement is steadfast and my desire for them to achieve is limitless. I want them to know that they matter to me, and I am willing to do whatever it takes to give them that foundation that was given to me.”
    Petsch has taught at Albin Elementary for six years as the reading interventions Title I teacher. She works with students in grades K-6 who need extra help in reading. She is also a mentor teacher/instructional facilitator for Laramie County School District #2.
    Petsch has worked in education for the past 20 years. With the exception of one year in Denver, Colo. they have all been in southeast Wyoming. She has worked as a kindergarten and first grade teacher and was a preschool teacher at a community outreach program sponsored through Eastern Wyoming College in Torrington. The preschool was held in Hawk Springs, Wyoming for rural children.
    Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

LaBarge – Eric Barnes has lived on the family ranch outside of LaBarge near Fontenelle Reservoir his entire life on land that his father acquired early in life.

“Dad was working for the owner of this ranch, a man named Arnold Larson, When Arnold had to leave to take care of his place in Opal,” explains Eric. “He started leasing the ranch, but he wasn’t making enough money, so Arnold offered to sell it to him.”

At the young age of only 21, Calvin Barnes, Eric’s father, began the legacy that he left to his family of eight.

“We’ve been in a partnership on the ranch since dad passed away, and I’m one of the general partners,” says Eric. “I’ve stayed with dad through it all.”

Called back to ranching

As the youngest of eight siblings, Eric felt strong ties to the land and his family.

After his mother passed away when he was only 12, Eric was raised by his father on the ranch. 

“My sisters went to town to live with our older sister,” says Eric, “but I stayed out here with dad as his right-hand man.”

“My dreams are dad’s dreams, and dad’s dreams are something I’m hoping to fulfill,” he adds. 

He left the family operation for a short time on a bull riding scholarship to attend Eastern Wyoming College in Torrington.

“Dad needed help, and I decided to put bull riding on the back burner and come home to help on the ranch.”

Today, Eric continues the legacy his father began, raising cows and putting up hay with his wife April, three-year-old son Timber and dedicated hand Kevin Megayhey. 

Making the land work

“We put up alfalfa and the native grass,” says Eric. “On average, we get two to three ton per acre, and usually we can get two cuttings. This year, our second cutting has been short because it’s been cold.”

“Dad was one of the first ones to try growing alfalfa in this country,” Eric mentions, explaining that his father removed the sagebrush from the land and worked with the Natural Resources Conservation Service to improve the soil. “Some of the land had ditches and water rights, but he put sprinkler systems in as well.”

He adds that when they started, it was warmer and a second cutting was guaranteed, but it seems their growing season is getting shorter.

“I try to keep the land productive,” Eric emphasizes, mentioning that he is trying some new strategies to produce a better crop. “We’ve been trying some different grass mixes with our alfalfa.”

Experimenting with alfalfa

Following the lead of his father, Eric saw some varieties growing in some of the fields on their land that Calvin planted before he passed away and decided to increase the amount of grass in the mixture.

To encourage the growth of the crop, they also irrigate with pivots and wheel lines, flood irrigating their native hay land in the river bottom. 

Running cows

The couple also runs a herd of Angus cows that calves beginning in February. The ranch is a 350 cow/calf operation.

“Our heifer calves develop a lot better if we start them in February,” remarks April, adding that they keep their replacements to sell as bred heifers. “We feel like with the direction the nation is going, as far as low cow numbers, there is opportunity in bred heifers.”

They also run on BLM range, which has proven difficult in the drought year because grass is short. 

“Depending on the weather, we don’t have to start feeding our hay until January,” he adds. “But if we get colder weather or run out of grass, we have to start earlier.”

Into the future

With uncertainty about public lands issues, they say, “If we can survive the public lands changes, that is a big stay-or-go issues for a lot of small ranches like this. We need the public lands grazing to work.”

As long as the range is available and productive, however, the couple will continue to grow, develop and improve their operation. 

Eric adds that he is trying to continue the legacy his dad set forth and accomplish the long-term goals the ranch has had since it’s beginnings.

“We have all been raised to be good stewards of the land,” he says, “and we are trying our best to help the environment.”

“I also like the challenge of surviving out here with the skills and the tools that Dad taught me,” Eric comments. “That’s why I stay here.”

Eric says, “I am very excited about the eagerness of the younger generations in the family being involved in the fall and spring work and learning the ropes.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Show ring holds both lessons and ribbons for Torrington’s Miller Family
Torrington — A Torrington youth was the reserve champion overall Premier Beef Exhibitor during the recent National Western Stock Show (NWSS). Twelve-year-old PD Miller exhibited in the youth market beef show at NWSS this year for the first time.  
    As reserve champion, Miller received a banner and a $1,000 scholarship. He was also named the Champion Junior Premier Beef Exhibitor, which is for competitors under age 13. Miller said he is very proud of the honors and the fact that he and his family raised the Maine Anjou Chianina crossbred, “Smokin Joe,” from a baby calf.
    After placing third out of 15 steers in his junior market beef class with the 1,310-pound steer, Miller was eligible to participate for the Premier Beef Exhibitor award.
    The contest is open to junior exhibitors nine to 19 years of age who qualified to sell in the Junior Livestock Champions auction at NWSS. Individuals from all over the United States traveled to Denver to compete in the event. The Premier Beef Exhibitor Champion was Claire Galley, 18, of DeQuincy, La.
    Miller explains that the premier beef exhibitor contest is divided into five categories of competition and the individual with the highest total score wins the event. The categories were: live and carcass placings of the beef, a quiz containing general questions about the cattle industry, a prepared speech and a personal interview.
    Miller says after he placed third with Smokin Joe he attended the exhibitors’ meeting that afternoon, during which he took his quiz and was given his speech topic. The next morning at 8 a.m., Miller gave a two-minute presentation on, “Do you think the show cattle industry is a good representation of the beef industry as a whole and what is your role as an exhibitor?”
    The speech was followed by an interview with a judge about his quiz and the beef industry as a whole. Miller scored an 80 percent on his quiz, which was the second highest score of the 30 youth competing in the contest. Miller says the 25-question multiple choice quiz was a challenge. “The hardest part of the contest was the quiz,” Miller says. “You have to have cows and be around them to know the answers to a lot of the questions.”
    “A lot of the questions on the quiz I knew from participating in meat and livestock judging in 4-H,” he says.  Miller also has cows of his own and helps his family with their feedlot, which he says helped him with the contest. “The premier exhibitor contest is based on knowledge and ability and being able to speak,” he adds.
    After Smokin Joe was sold in the NWSS Junior Livestock Sale of Champions, carcass data was collected and tabulated with the rest of the scores. The steer tied for third in the carcass value portion of the contest. Miller’s mother, Christine, says, “The judge said the two steers that placed above Smokin Joe (in the live contest) were prettier, but he thought Smokin Joe would probably have better carcass value. I guess he was right.”
    After all the scores were tabulated, Miller’s total score was only .08 of a point below the overall champion. Next year, Miller says he hopes he can qualify to compete in the event again. His goal is to eventually win the contest. “I hope to compete again if I do well enough with my steer,” he says.
    Although he competed for the first time in the youth market beef show this year, Miller is no stranger to the NWSS show ring. For the past five years he has competed in the open breeding heifer show and the prospect heifer show. At Denver he did well in those areas as well.
    His heifer, Izzy, was the champion prospect market heifer and his two breeding prospect heifers, Lila and Nikko, both finished first in their classes. Miller is also very proud of how his heifers performed at the show. “I would like to keep showing Izzy in the market heifer division at shows, but I hope to add her to my cow herd,” he says.
    When the Torrington Middle School student isn’t busy with his cattle, he also enjoys playing on the traveling basketball and football teams. He is a five-year member of the Prairie Center 4-H Club and participates in the swine and beef projects. But cattle seem to be his true passion. “My goal is to own 50 cows by the time I go to college,” he says. “I want to win the livestock judging events at the shows in Denver, Kansas City and Louisville.”
    Cattle are truly a family affair in the Miller household. In addition to PD, Paul Jr. and Christine have two other children, Skyler, 10, and Paige, 7.
    The cattle are a chore the entire family enjoys. Christine says her children have grown up helping with the cow-calf operation, the show cattle and the feedlot. “Our boys grew up with it,” she explains. “They started halter breaking calves when they were three. We couldn’t keep them out of the pen.”
    “The show cattle are a hobby, but it is also a family business,” Christine says. “We buy and sell show cattle. They help pay the bills.”
    To be successful at it, the family travels around the country to various shows and sales throughout the year. “We travel as a family and we show cattle as a family,” she says. “We push our kids a lot. We push them to do it right the first time and to keep doing things right,” she says. “In our family, we have a rule. At the big national shows, if it is their animal, they show it. Sometimes, they have been the youngest exhibitor in the ring in the open shows, but they are out there with the best and it teaches them a lot.”
    Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup.