Perry VanDorn sat next to Harry Russel on Saturday afternoon at Sunset Meadows I, and leaned over and stuck his hand out.
“Congratulations, Harry” he said in a raspy whisper, shaking Russel’s hand.
VanDorn was congratulating Russel for being the “oldest man on the Little Snake River.”
At 98, Russel has seen the invention of modern radio, television, atomic power and the computer. He has seen every 20th century war and lived through 17 presidents.
But Russel’s age and wisdom were not alone at Sunset Meadows, where the Preserving the Last Frontier group spent the afternoon recognizing their seven members who have reached 90 years.
Representing more than 600 years of life collectively, Russel and VanDorn, along with Addie Mann, Marie Schneider, Verniece Self and Stella Craig were honored in person.
Harold Babcock, another in the 90-plus club, was reached by telephone.
Each member was recognized with a commemorative sagebrush dried arrangement and a brief description of their lives, including fond memories and distant recollections.
“To some of us that have lived here our whole lives, there is a connection with the community, the land, the people and the history,” said Mary Lou Allen, Preserving the Last Frontier president. “When you know the history of an area, things start to come into perspective and become of interest.”
The stories from their oral biographies outlined a time much different than today.
Schneider, 92, shared the tragic memory of when her brother’s legs were run over by a train. He died on the way to the hospital.
Russel remembered the time when his sister was leaving for high school in Chicago he decided to “heat up a copper wire red hot and brand her on the leg,” just as they would do to livestock before selling them.
VanDorn, 94, smiled fondly at the memory of being grand marshal in the city of Craig’s 100th anniversary parade, a lifelong wish of his come true.
Mann, 94, shared her experiences milking eight to 10 cows a day, and then delivering the milk by horseback to local coal mining camps.
Although the crowd of about 50 members and the public were predominately older, the honoring of these members was important to Beth Gilchrist.
“We’re so caught up in media and movie stars (today), we forget that everything that we are, these people were before us,” she said. “They are our roots. They were the ones who started this area, they were our government and they made the decisions that formed what we are now.”
That sentiment is echoed in the mission of Preserving the Last Frontier, which seeks to remember the Old West as it was.
“We need to make sure we don’t forget what trials and tribulations people went through to get to this point,” Gilchrist said. These people didn’t have modern vehicles or conveniences.
“We shouldn’t lose sight of what it took to get us where we are today.”