Hamlet celebrates eight decades with party

Hannah Gross, NLJ Correspondent

Photo by Walter Sprague/NLJ

Ernie Hamlet, with his wife Rei, celebrated his 80th birthday on May 21 at the Newcastle Country Club. Plenty of family and friends came to enjoy Hamlet’s company, with food and cake. 

Not many can say they have lived through eight decades, but Ernie Hamlet reached that milestone on May 11, still in “spectacular health,” according to his youngest daughter, Polly Liggett. 

To celebrate, Hamlet’s three children threw him a birthday party with his friends and families at the Newcastle County Club. They pulled together family photos and compiled a slide show of his life. 

“That was very touching,” Hamlet said. “I sure enjoyed my birthday party.”

Hamlet was born in Casper to William and Dolly Hamlet in 1942, and when sharing some of his favorite memories, he recalled watching a significant parade as a 3- or 4-year-old boy. 

“I was born during the Second World War, and I grew up and as a toddler … I remember the end of World War II, and they had a huge parade in Casper,” Hamlet said. 

Growing up, Hamlet had no television in the home, so he enjoyed his weekends fishing with his dad and going to Sunday School. He remembers having a radio that only provided one station. For entertainment, he and his friends went to the movie theater, where popcorn and a drink sold for only 25 cents.

Hamlet added that the younger generation should not fret over inflation but learn to keep up with it. He said his family used to buy 10 pounds of hamburger for a dollar, and in 1983, he remembers when gas hit 73 cents a gallon. 

“Everyone thought that was the most outrageous thing there was,” Hamlet said. “Don’t take life so serious. Don’t worry about inflation — it’s been around for a long time.”

Hamlet enjoyed sports throughout high school, including swimming, track and tennis. He graduated from Natrona County High School in 1960, but he didn’t feel ready for college. So, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps that summer instead.

“I thought the Marine Corps would help me mature a little, and it did,” he said. 

Hamlet spent four years in active duty and two years in active reserve, but during his last few months of active duty he married the love of his life, Reina Swanson, on May 23, 1964. He met Reina through a mutual friend, who was his classmate and her roommate. The two kept getting closer until “we fell in love” and eloped to Las Vegas, Hamlet said.

“I think my favorite memory was seeing my dad renew his wedding vows to my mom on their 50th anniversary, in Vegas, in the same little white chapel on the strip that they originally got married in. It was a beautiful moment, both were in tears — we all were,” Liggett said. “The longevity of their life together is just a beautiful, magical thing.”

Liggett said that what she admires most about her dad is his parenting style. She said that whenever she or her siblings, Valerie and Robert Jason, needed to be disciplined, their father sat them down and walked through what they did wrong so they could better learn and grow from their mistakes. 

After discharge from the military, Hamlet decided to attend Casper College, but he had to work three jobs to support his wife and Valerie at the time. He worked as a fry cook, clerk for the YMCA and, temporarily, at Mobile Oil Refinery. 

After a year and a half of pre-law school, he dropped out of college to get a full-time job as a patrol officer for the Casper Police Department to better support his growing family. Liggett said she has always admired her dad’s work ethic. 

The refinery company he worked for had closed, but when it reopened under new ownership as Little America Refinery, he was offered a position there. He worked for Little America until 1975 and interviewed for a job as a shift supervisor for Tesoro Refinery (now Wyoming Refinery Co.) in Newcastle. About six years later, he was promoted to superintendent. 

Additionally, Hamlet took an electronics course in the 1970s to obtain his master license in microcomputer electronics. He also joined the Freemasons in 1964 and has since gone through all the stages of freemasonry, belonging to the organization called Red Cross of Constantine. 

Hamlet took another position with a small refinery company in Nevada for 11 months until he was asked to take a refinery manager position in Newcastle in 1991. He retired early in 2004 due to health issues but came back in 2008 as a certified Occupational Safety and Health Agency safety trainer. He officially retired in 2011. 

“Three years later, at age 69, I decided to retire for good,” Hamlet said. 

Hamlet said he has been enjoying the “three Gs” in retirement: golfing, gardening and grandkids. He has three grandchildren and, as of this year, two great-grandsons. Both Hamlet and his wife enjoy gardening, so they drove to Gillette to complete the 30-hour Master Gardener program. 

“That was a lot of fun. We did that together,” Reina said. 

“We grow a big vegetable garden every year. My wife has a green thumb, (and) she can grow anything,” Hamlet said. “She is a very talented person … and I say she’s the smartest one because she is.”

Reina said that what she admires most about Hamlet is his kindness and generosity. She said when he sees people begging for money while driving through Rapid City, he is always quick to give them some cash.

“He is kind to people who are in need,” Reina said. 

Hamlet said that one of the greatest lessons he has learned in life is the golden rule of treating others with respect the same way he wants to be treated. His advice to the younger generation is to work hard in life. 

“The last thing I’d say to young people is to pursue your interests with passion, and do the best you can at whatever you do and be satisfied. Give it your best effort,” Hamlet said. “If you sit, you’ll rust.”  

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