Good-bye to Clarene Law and Nancy Shelton

By: 
Bill Sniffin

What a pair of great Wyoming gals. 

Two of my favorite people in my two chosen careers left us recently. Clarene Law of Jackson was a giant in the tourism industry and Nancy Shelton of Laramie was a pivotal figure in Wyoming newspapers. 

Lately it seems like I spend more time writing obituary types of stories about people that have influenced my life, but here goes. 

My Wyoming life has basically involved two careers — journalism and tourism. 

Tourism has been the most fun. One of the most influential people in Wyoming hospitality was my old friend, the late Clarene Law. She died at the age of 89 in her beloved Jackson on Sept. 21. Her funeral was Oct. 8 in Jackson.

Coincidentally, one of Clarene’s early careers was as a journalist. And she was darned good at it. But then she turned to tourism. 

She got started with one small motel, which she turned into a cash machine. She was a very, very savvy businesswoman. It was almost comical to read what people from all over had to say about Clarene in tribute. 

“She made us feel at home. She always took a special notice of those of us from _____ (fill in the blank, any town you want).”

It could be Lander, Riverton, Rock Springs, Green River, Worland, Thermopolis, Casper, Afton, Kemmerer, Evanston, and so on. To folks in all these towns, they thought she put out a special shingle just for them. That was the essence of her true hospitality. Clarene made everyone feel special. She really did try to treat everyone like they were being given individualized treatment by her.

She knew how hard it was to get the work done. She had cleaned the rooms, made the coffee, did the laundry, and she also greeted all the guests. Deep down, she understood that if you made a customer feel special, they would come back. And come back they did, over and over. 

Pretty soon, Clarene was making good money but she still messed around with the details. Not sure she ever quite gave up working in all the different departments of the family motels. 

She was a leader in promoting all aspects of Jackson Hole during a time when it needed strong leaders. She, along with Clay James, Manuel Lopez, and others, turned their little valley into a world-class destination. She was honored in her lifetime with a myriad of awards including the Big WYO award and lifetime achievement in business. 

Soon she was involved in financing other hotels (often as a silent partner) and even got into the energy business. 

She served with distinction in the legislature. She pulled off the rare trick of seemingly never making an enemy in that august body. That was her super power.  

For those of us who worked in tourism, she was always there. Our condolences go out to her outstanding family. And it is just impossible to imagine Wyoming’s hospitality business going forward without her.

We lost a great First Amendment fighter recently when Jim Angell died unexpectedly in Cheyenne. He had recently retired from 20 years running the Wyoming Press Association.

Prior to Jim at the helm, a wonderful gal named Nancy Shelton ran the WPA for over 25 years. She was a modest gal who rang a loud bell in trying to get us newspaper folks out of one session and into the next. 

She was a great organizer and did a fine job of keeping all these newspaper folks under control. These were the golden days of newspapering, from 1970 to 2000. We were in our prime and she had a real challenge making sure the different personalities worked together to do wonderful journalism. There was little doubt that the small number of newspapers in Wyoming back in those decades were among the very best in the entire country. 

It was Nancy’s job to ride herd on all these folks and she did a wonderful job. 

Nancy died Oct. 3 at the age of 83, one day before her 84th birthday.  

A celebration of her life was organized Oct. 30 by her daughter, Stacy. Retired publishers Pat Schmidt, Jim Hicks, and Rob Hurless all told stories, along with other folks. 

Nancy was the model of modesty among a herd of giant egos. How she kept us all in check, well, it was the work of a real maestro.

I can see her now, ringing that bell getting some other herd of saints, keeping them in line in a special kind of heaven for patient persons like herself.

 

Bill Sniffin is a retired newspaper publisher who has penned a number of books about Wyoming. Check out additional columns written by Bill at www.billsniffin.com, and find volumes from his coffee table book series, which have sold over 30,000 copies, for sale at the News Letter Journal.

 

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