It was her 92nd birthday, so Leota Didier gave Dubois a present: a life-sized bronze statue of a cowboy. He now stares steadfastly off to the north from the front of the log-hewn Dennison Lodge, one of our favorite gathering places.
So typical: It’s Leota’s birthday, so she gives a big present to the town. The sculpture is an enlargement of the knight figure from a chess set that her former neighbor, artist John Finley, created in 1979, using Western-themed characters.
“I wanted to be sure to get this done while I still had time,” Leota said, in her deep, gruff voice. “I saw a statue like this in a town somewhere else, and I said: Dubois needs something like that.”
Like what? “Something that represents the spirit of the town.”
John is a diffident fellow, but also an old friend. Somehow she persuaded him to undertake the arduous task of recreating a chess piece as a monument.
Leota has already given much to her hometown. In fact, she was important to the historic Dennison Lodge itself, throwing herself into the effort to bring it to town when it was threatened with demolition in the 1990s. Out in the wilderness where she used to ride, it had been part of a dude ranch where notables such as Clark Gable and Carole Lombard once stayed.
Like so many others devoted to Dubois, Leota is a transplant. She was born in Iowa, and first came to town in 1970 when her husband Bernard, a Presbyterian minister, diverted them here from Denver during a vacation.
“Bernard was a funny man,” she told me recently. “He would get these urges. We came to Wyoming and he fell in love with it.”
She had thought they would be traveling on to California, but Bernard changed his plan. He had read somewhere that dilapidated ranches were going for marvelous prices in Wyoming. They came here instead, and a week later they owned a ranch.
For many years, they ran the Lazy L&B Ranch (the “L” is for Leota) just down the East Fork valley from the Finleys. Two owners later, it’s still a very successful guest ranch.
(I owe my presence in Dubois to Leota, as I love to remind her. We stayed at the Lazy L&B nearly 30 years ago, and never stopped coming back to this area. I was delighted to see her still here when we finally moved to town.)
When Bernard passed away, Leota sold the ranch. As she aged, she slowly gave up her beloved horseback riding and moved to town. You see her often, always elegantly dressed and wearing one of her signature cowboy hats, whether at the rodeo, at church, or checking guests in at the weekly square dance in town (which devotes its earnings to charity).
It seemed like the whole town had turned out at the Dennison yesterday, to celebrate with Leota and join in as Reverend Melinda Bobo gave a blessing.
I was late for the ceremony. “What did you bless?” I asked Melinda.
“The statue,” she said. “The town. The community.”
One of its great blessings sat on a folding chair near the door, evidently enjoying her birthday celebration, and wearing her signature smile.
© Lois Wingerson, 2016
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