Volume 7, Number 9 - May 24, 2007
brought to you online by Pinedale Online
Penton loves being guardian of Pinedale VFW Post 4801
Darlene Penton loves her job. She’ll admit it’s hard for anyone to get her to leave work.
And every morning, every day, Penton arrives at Pinedale’s Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 4801 on the north edge of town at 8 a.m. and as bar manager, makes a fresh pot of coffee, cleans counters, supervises repairs, tends the books, makes orders and watches “The Price is Right.”
Penton shares her coffee pot with her morning “regulars” like retired Judge John Crow who strolls each morning in to visit with her.
“Judge Crow and I watch ‘The Price is Right’ in the morning while we’re drinking our coffee,” she said. “We get a kick out of it.”
For her, the VFW club is more than a place to work, and its members and guests are more than just customers.
“I love it here,” Penton said. “I wish I’d have started years and years ago. I said I would manage it (in September 2001) until they found someone they really wanted and I’m still here. It’s a great place and a great local bunch of people.”
The club is steeped in preserving the patriotic history of local soldiers who have served or are still serving active duty in combat zones abroad, with fading portraits of past post commanders, dog tags, certificates and plaques of appreciation, clipped newspaper articles and many other mementos.
Strands of red, white and blue icicle lights hang from the club’s beams; there are similar patriotic touches of color throughout the large room.
One gift Penton is very proud to display is a framed Wyoming state flag donated by then-Captain James “Jamie” Schmidt of the 4th Infantry Division “who flew the flag against orders” on July 4, 2003, during Operation Freedom in Tikrit, Iraq.
“We keep it hanging right there where everyone can see it,” she said, noting that Schmidt now works at the Sublette County Sheriff’s Office.
Another treasure is a photograph taken the tragic morning of Sept. 11, outside the Pinedale Post Office. Sharing solemn conversation under a still American flag are Paul Hanson, recently deceased John Mackey and Bill Sours.
The whole club is Penton’s territory and she cares about everything and everyone in it like she’d care for her own home and family. The tables are clean and shining, mirrors and glass are sparkling and the bar-chair seats were just re-upholstered.
When VFW members first built the club, they couldn’t afford anything to sit on but “cowboy bar stools,” she said. The stools were moved to tables and in their place, local residents purchased and donated a chair each, often in the memory of a loved one who served. On the back of every chair is a small plaque with the donor’s name or message inscribed.
“I redid just the seats so they wouldn’t wear out,” Penton said. “So we won’t lose them.”
One reason the club looks so good even in daylight is because Penton took charge when she became manager, according to Windy Noble, Ladies Auxiliary member and frequent morning visitor.
“It was in shambles,” Noble said of the interior.
“Everything in here had to be replaced since I started,” Penton said. “I tell the members I’m going to be the oldest thing in here; I’m going to stay here until I’m 90.”
Noble’s strong commitment to the VFW and Ladies Auxiliary came about in her childhood, she said.
“My granddad used to be post commander – Bob Tamblyn,” she said. “From the time I was a little girl he was in here doing something. As I got older I just kept coming in. It’s like family here.”
Noble said her two daughters are Auxiliary members as well. Women are allowed to join if they have a father, grandfather, uncle or brother who actively served in a foreign war.
“My Grandma Ruby, since I was a little girl, paid my dues,” Noble said. “It gives you a connection. Every time I come in and see Granddad’s picture, it gives me a connection to him.”
Each of the women credits the other as being energetic, caring forces behind VFW events and the principles their families’ soldiers fought for. Noble works with Sublette County students in Pinedale and Big Piney with essay contests and scholarship programs.
And the two women together will, come Sunday morning, head up to the Pinedale Cemetery to place 50 to 60 American flags on deceased American Legion members’ graves, then return the next evening to remove them. In addition, VFW member Ron Reckner and his wife place about 200 flags on VFW and other veterans’ graves each Memorial Day.
“It’s really beautiful up there with all the flags,” Penton said.
Besides serving local veterans and guests, Penton follows the tradition of welcoming traveling VFW members who are “excited when they see the VFW sign” and has them sign the club visitors’ book, then buys their first drink on the club.
Veterans will always receive a hero’s welcome when they walk through that door, she said.
Ty Zeirlein, active soldier and son of Stan and Sharon, is a new member, she said.
“Tyrell had just turned 21, ” Penton said. “He came in and everybody was thrilled to see him, glad to see him home. He came in to tell us goodbye (before returning to Iraq) and everybody hugged him. It was a real weepy session.”
With Ty gone, his father was able to visit not long ago with another young soldier, Greg Allen, a school friend of Ty’s who was home on leave from Iraq and is now a VFW Post 4801 member, Penton said.
“Stan sat over there and visited for hours with him,” Penton said. “Stan misses Ty so much, it was really good for Stan. They really had a great time talking and laughing.”
VFW Post 4801 Commander Jim Washam said when any veteran is discharged he will welcome them back and if they are qualified for VFW membership, the club pays their first-year dues. Those in Iraq now who are members have their dues paid while they are enlisted, he said.
Hugs and handshakes are thick when soldiers come home or have to leave.
“To me, that’s what this place is all about,” Penton said. “Kids that have served, anybody’s that’s served and are serving now, coming in here. It just makes you feel so good.”
From somewhere in another room came thumps as a repairman moved some equipment. Penton briefly turned her head toward the back.
“Even our electrician’s a member,” she said with a little smile.
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