Sunrise YMCA celebrates 100 years

SUNRISE – For a memorable look at the past, head for Sunrise this Saturday. The nearly deserted town is at the end of a two-lane, paved road leading east out of Hartville, a similar reminder of days gone by, but with a larger population that is celebrating Boot Hill Days this weekend.
The heart of Sunrise, a former iron ore mining town, is now a treasure chest of archaeological significance. Literally. And is a life-sized reminder of the glory days of iron ore mining.
The tiny ghost town, though not quite ghostly since it’s occupied by property owner John Voight, exhibits its recent history through the 20th Century buildings, while hiding its mysterious past under centuries of red soil.
Probably the most treasured surface item is the YMCA building, when dedicated Aug. 18, 1917, was the first in Wyoming.
“I grew up on a ranch at Chugwater and I didn’t know anything about Sunrise,” Voight said, standing in front of the solid reminder of the community’s long gone hey-days.
He added that he didn’t have a real direction for the property when he purchased it in 2011, but the more he learned about its past, the more intrigued
he became.  
“It cost $32,000 to build in 1917,” Voight said. “That was a lot of money then but probably wouldn’t replace the windows now.
“It was built to be very rugged, and is a testimony to Colorado Fuel and Iron, and John D. Rockefeller, who included all the amenities.
“I think it’s worth a celebration of its 100 years,” Voight declared.
And it is going to be a celebration to remember, Voight said. He’s been cleaning and clearing the dirt, weeds, and miscellaneous items that had accumulated since CF&I abandoned the property during bankruptcy proceedings in the early 1980s. The state of Wyoming was forced to take ownership by court decree, and the property was eventually sold to a private party, prior to Voight’s purchase.
During the Sept. 2 celebration, Voight hopes to capture some of the memories of former residents, which he will add to a growing collection he’s started. He is especially interested in taping those memories to preserve their value to future
Several former residents have already shared stories and artifacts, which are included in displays throughout the two-story brick structure. Among the Y’s early legends is Banty Wendell, a Sunrise resident and Olympic boxer and cyclist. Wendell was in charge of youth activities for more than 30 years.
“He was strict and laid down the law,” Voight said. “He gave guidance to the kids and
the adults.”
Voight also emphasizes the value of the YMCA as a cultural center. High school basketball games, “Americanization” classes for the majority of the population who represented several European countries, political rallies and numerous community organizations utilized the building. During its long life, it also housed a barber shop, a  three-lane bowling alley (one remains intact), and a projection room to show movies on a screen located over the stage in the
Bringing the building back to life presents a challenge, but Voight has been working on that.
“The best way to make it active again is to make it pay its own way,” Voight explained. “At first I thought about a resort, or museum, but the archaeology could play a big role, and I’d never thought of that before,” he said. “The infrastructure is a problem, but it deserves to be saved. It has a good set of bones to work with.”
The building’s history has convinced Voight that it should be preserved, as well as celebrated. He hopes to bring it back to life as an event location for weddings, receptions, anniversaries and reunions. He also believes the property could be incorporated into events, such as providing camping spots.
However, it will take time to develop, and Voight believes progress will be achieved through awareness. Consequently, he hosted more than 750 people over the Great American Eclipse
“It’s events such as this that will spread awareness of what we have here,” Voight said from his pickup, sitting on a hillside overlooking the groomed vacant lots, and the beginnings of orchards and a vineyard.
He isn’t just preserving and sharing the town’s recent history. The Powars II archaeological site has surprised researchers with the wealth of unusual and unknown artifacts and materials. Of notable interest is a variety of chert unknown until it was discovered at Sunrise. It has been named John Voight chert in recognition of Voight’s contributions to furthering research that has led to the discovery of 13,000-year-old
Clovis artifacts.
The 100th anniversary of the YMCA will include multiple activities, such as $5 haircuts by a local barber, three local authors, artists, vendors, a free-throw competition in the Y’s gym with a $100 prize, and a treasure hunt, worth $100.
Two activities could prove especially interesting. At 4 p.m. a vault in the basement will be opened, probably for the first time in nearly 40 years. The other is a chance to “stomp grapes,” just like the Italians and Greeks did when making wine.
Capping Saturday’s activities will be a street dance featuring former Sunrise resident Larry Soto, and The Drivin’
“It’s going to be a family event, with community entertainment, and probably the first live music that has been played here in 50 years or more,” Voight said.
“The celebration is our gift to the community,” he said. “There’s no charge, other than if they want a catered supper from the Stockman’s Bar. We hope to learn from former residents, and attract those who want to learn more about our history and the world class
archaeology site.”
Activities begin at 10 a.m. and continue throughout the day, concluding with the street dance at
8 p.m.
For more information, contact Voight at (307) 640-8885, or [email protected]

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