From the pages of
Pinedale Roundup
Volume 104, Number 20 - May 17, 2007
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

John Mackey: A chapter in Pinedale history

by 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 Dec. 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’d first visited the park when he was 12 years old with family friends. A life-long Cornhusker 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 e-mail 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, Calif.

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 recommended 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 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 address 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 U.S. 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.

Life on Maybell Street began in the early “50’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 streetfrom 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.

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