Obituary: John Mackey
by Family and Friends of John Mackey
May 15, 2007
John Mackey: Another Chapter in Pinedale’s History
Compiled by Family and Friends
John Mackey, one of the oldest practicing attorneys in the state, died Sunday, May 6, doing what he loved--practicing law. He was 89-years-old and a member of the Wyoming Bar for nearly 60 years.
John was born in Omaha, Nebraska, on December 6, 1917, the son of Elsie and Clarence Mackey. He was the fifth of six children. Raised in Ansley, Nebraska, he participated in band, football and a summer Civilian Military Training (CMT) unit before graduating from Ansley High School in 1936. His father was a banker in Ansley and his mother was the music teacher for grades 1-12 in the Ansley school system. John always maintained strong ties with his Ansley friends.
John first attended college in Kearney and spent two summers during those years as a fire guard in Yellowstone Park. He first visited the park when he was 12-years old with family friends. A life-long Corn Husker fan, he attended the University of Nebraska for a few years, always noting that Nebraska played in the Rose Bowl when he was a student there. He enjoyed the social life at the University, especially time spent with his Sigma Nu fraternity brothers.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, John left the University in January of 1942 with several buddies and enlisted in the Army Air Corps. John received the Distinguished Flying Cross. He described his military career in an email to another World War II veteran in 2003: "I finished flying school in August of 1942 and was assigned to McChord field at Tacoma, Washington…406th bomb sqdn...flew the sub patrol as co-pilot on A 29’s out of Tacoma and Portland…went to Anchorage and did the sub patrol out of Anchorage, Yakutat and Juneau and then went down the (the Aleutian Island) chain to Umnak, Adak and Amchitka in the 77th Bomb Sqdn as co-pilot… We were due to go back to the states in spring of ’43, so I requested a transfer to the 54th and it went thru so I stayed with the 54th and later was sent back to the states in ’44." It was when John was with the 54th in Alaska that he flew P 38’s.
"After I came back to the states in ’44 I was assigned to Night Fighters, and did the 6 months training in the 4th Air Force and then ended up as an instructor at Hammer Field.” John was set to go to the South Pacific with the Night Fighters (P61’s or Black Widows) but the war ended just as he was headed there. John was discharged from the service in the summer of 1946 after spending a year flying planes from California back to the bases where they were to be decommissioned.
While in Alaska, John met Sally Hill from Laramie, Wyoming. She was working for the Army Engineer Corps as a civilian at Ft. Richardson near Anchorage. They married on March 2, 1944, in Laramie, and daughter Susie was born while John was stationed at Hammer Field near Fresno, California.
Law school was next for John, so he and the family moved to Laramie. He attended the University of Wyoming on the GI Bill graduating in 1948, then staying on in Laramie to practice in the firm of Corthell and King for a year. Son Steve was born in Laramie in 1946, and daughter, Molly, in 1949.
When John and Sally decided to strike out on their own in 1950, a district judge recommend looking for opportunities in Pinedale and Saratoga. They chose Pinedale, “Just because we liked it,” Sally said, adding they loved the clear, sparkling waters of Fremont Lake with the beautiful mountains in the background and all of the camping, fishing and hunting possibilities. “We came to Pinedale at absolutely the right time,” she added. “There were lots of us who’d used the GI Bill and we were all starting out together. Newcomers were welcomed warmly by many local residents--it was a magical time in Pinedale.”
John ran for county attorney in the fall of 1950 when G.B. Hocket, who’d served the previous 15 years, had withdrawn from the election due to poor health. Serving as county attorney for nearly 20 years, alternating terms with Bob Seivers, John was also elected to the City Council. He served as the attorney for the school board and the Town Council in addition to growing his private practice.
John’s first law office was located over the old Pinedale Drug store; he moved it several times, finally building the office on main street in 1968. A picture published in the Pinedale Roundup in 1966 shows him with his dog Loophole (aka Perp) in front of the new construction and is described as following “the old western decour, and when completed will utilize all present trees and shrubbery in its landscaping program.” John shared the office with his business partner and real estate developer Larry Looney for several years.
John was a member of the Wyoming Bar for over fifty-nine years. In April, 1998, John was honored in the Wyoming State Bar magazine, Wyoming Lawyer, in the feature, “Proud to Be a Wyoming Lawyer” by fellow Pinedale attorney, the late Gerald Mason, who noted that, “His clients trust him and they like him. Ethical standards are ingrained and natural to him in his practice.” John earned the respect and admiration of his peers with his love of the law, his great humor and good common sense.
Son Steve says that in addition to keeping up his practice, his focus most recently was as a private citizen who strongly urged the town fathers and officials to protect Pinedale’s water rights during the current land development boom and growth of subdivisions. “He wanted to insure that water users outside the town limits paid their full share for town water so that current residents would not have their water rates increase,” Steve said.
When John was new resident of Pinedale, he relied on many for political advice. He was Democrat in his younger years and admired Wyoming’s U.S. Senator Joseph C. O’Mahoney after meeting him at the Chris Berg home in Boulder. An early mentor to John was Jim Harrower who taught him about Pinedale politics when Jim was the mayor and John was on the Town Council. Later John teamed with Bob Harrower, Jim’s son, to addresses issues concerning the town. He was no stranger to BLM and Forest Service officials and did not hesitate to share his views with them. Recently, he voiced his concerns along with Tom and Jane Johnston and Paul and Betty Hagenstein and others regarding water rights and subdivision development. He was worried, too, about the impact on this area due to gas development.
John was just as actively involved with state and national politics as an energetic letter-writer and e-mailer. He argued that in order to support the troops in Iraq, the US should end what he believed was an unnecessary and unconstitutional war. He also urged those in leadership roles to end deficit spending as one of the best ways to protect this county, finding agreement and support on these issues with his friend Buzz Burzlander.
Susie said she always thought of her dad as the watchdog of everyone from town council members to state officials to presidents and loved his passion for holding them accountable to laws, policies and ordinances. “At times, Pinedale politics looked like a blood sport to those of us on the outside. But I have always admired the way Pinedale citizens take the time to affect the future by speaking out at many forums while doing the hard work on committees and commissions. I know that Dad thrived on the exchange of ideas always taking place,” said Susie.
All of the above said, John just absolutely loved Pinedale people and was lucky to have many friends here and throughout Sublette County. His family knows that his Big Piney friends have some tall tales to tell on him, too. John’s mother used to joke that he thought Sublette County would fall apart if he left town for any length of time, so he was never far from main street, coffee shops or the court house checking on activities and events in people’s lives. He enjoyed his many friends at the VFW and was very proud to be a Vet. He was also a member of the Pinedale Masonic Lodge.
Life on Maybell Street began in the early 1950’s for the Mackey family. With John’s close friend, Sonny Korfanta, much was accomplished: from helping with some of the work when Sonny and Fanny built their house, to raising families across the street from each other; from gathering wood in the fall to getting kids up to the ski hill each weekend; and lately, just checking in on each other. John loved the early neighborhood, too, with Vi and Clem Skinner and their 6 boys on one corner, Murdocks to the back of the house and Zieglers to the south, and the many others who moved in and out through the years. John enjoyed greeting the “Mayor of Maybell”, Ralph Wenz, and relied on “Mabellian” Joe Sondergroth to rescue him when he was stuck in a snow bank or needed the car battery charged because he’d left his lights on.
John was busy in early days as a member of the Lions Club and as one of Madge Funk’s Camp Fire Fathers. The Boat Club was special to John in the 1950’s when the club had parades and celebrations on the lake.
At one time he was a volunteer fireman (he helped fight the fire that destroyed the power plant) and participated in some of the search and rescue missions in the ‘50’s flying his Cessna to help locate lost tourists or spot forest fires. He and Doc Smith sometimes used their planes to fly injured people to Salt Lake.
Some remember John playing the trumpet along with Paul Hanson and others on the saxophone at downtown establishments on Saturday nights. He joined Doc Johnston, Hammer Reed, and the Mad Hatters (Betty Hagenstein, Donna Seivers and Miriam Kerback) for other jazz sessions.
He loved to “get out into the country” as he called it whether it was to snowmobile with Sonny, Les Anderson and Harold Faler, to ride dirt bikes with the Bud and Dennis Davison or to cross county ski with Sally. His hunt for a perfect fishing hole was legendary; Steve remembers family outings with the Falers to Sweeny Creek and Fisherman Creek in the Hoback. The grandchildren remember lots of outings with John to go ice fishing, ice skating and skiing on Fremont in the winter as well as summer hiking and swimming activities.
Molly remembers another dimension of John’s life. “You can’t be a citizen of Pinedale without participating in some of the local antics. We have proof!! There are pictures of him dressed as a “hairy-legged ballerina” for a fundraiser for the Lion’s Club, a hippie in a long wig at a Dance Club party, and the famous skijoring event during Cutter Races when he and Les Anderson raced down main street behind horses with John dressed in his favorite black-yarn wig. He even played a role in “The Drunkard” directed by Ida Mae Pfisterer. And he could never resist sending Buzz Burzlander a sympathy card each time Nebraska beat Colorado in football.
“This last winter was a good one for John,” said Sally. “Not only did Jack Hegart rebuild the fireplace chimney to accommodate John’s penchant for roaring fires, he got to work on his wood pile all winter in the back yard.” She said John had Doug Strike dump about two chords of unsawed logs so John could operate his chain saw everyday. Even though Steve, son-in-law Don, and grandson Jason had offered, he wanted to work on the wood pile himself…but was grateful when Steve did bring his wood spliter to help out. John was triumphant when he finally sawed the last log in April.
On the last morning of his life, Sally said he got up at the regular time, shaved and showered in preparation to attend the funeral of a friend that afternoon, ate breakfast and chopped wood (his favorite daily activity) and built a fire before heading to his office. Once there, he read his email, printed a message from a granddaughter, and headed down to Faler’s store, where he discussed city ordinances with a friend. Back at the office, he went on to take his place as a watchdog from a different perspective—with great love and respect for Pinedale and all who live here. However, he still wants Pinedale to get that stop light on main street and to get the water issue straightened out…and he’s watching!
“ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ…are you still awake?” This is the way John always ended his long emails.
John and Sally were married for 63 years. He is survived by Sally, daughter Susie and husband Don Riske of Cheyenne, son Steve and his wife Marilyn Mackey of Pinedale, daughter Molly and her husband Ken Olson of Hays, Kansas; grandchildren Megan Cormier and her husband Jason, Dylan Riske and his wife Kezia, Julie, Jenny (and her fiancé Aaron Vincent), and Bonnie Mackey, and Ingrid Olson; great-grandchildren Tyler Hearn-Riske, Rayden Riske, Annie Vincent and Reilly Cormier; his sister Louise Brush and her husband John of Omaha, Nebraska, a nephew John Platz of Sidney, Nebraska and many others.
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