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John Stopka, the Sheridan County airport manager for the last 19 years, celebrated his 45th year of service to Sheridan County Nov. 1.

As a young 19-year-old, just one year after graduation from Sheridan High School, Stopka applied for a job at the Sheridan County Airport. He was hired Nov. 1, 1976, and thus began a lifetime career.

Stopka’s first job was on the flight line. In those days, there were only three airport employees — the manager and two others — and they did everything that had to be done including the fueling and parking of aircraft and snow removal. The only training program in those days was “on-the-job,” but the “from the ground up” experience provided Stopka with a unique perspective of airport operations.

By 1978 Stopka was the operations supervisor, a position he held under the tutelage of three different airport managers. When long-term manager Norm Feck retired in 2002, Stopka was appointed as airport manager.

As manager, Stopka has successfully steered numerous airport improvement projects worth many millions of dollars through the state and federal process to ensure that the Sheridan County Airport is one of the finest in the region. He has also been instrumental in many efforts to secure and improve air service for the Sheridan community. His efforts have caused him to be a respected leader and authority in Wyoming aviation circles.

But Stopka’s illustrious career at the airport was not his first job with Sheridan County. He still looks back fondly to the time when he was about 10 years old. His mother, Mary Lee Stopka , worked for Sheridan County from the early 1960s to the 1980s. Her first job was as an assistant county clerk, but a few years later she moved to the County Treasurer’s Office where she spent the rest of her career, culminating wither election as Sheridan County treasurer in 1984, an office she held from 1985-1986.

Since his mother worked in the courthouse, Stopka hung out there a lot. To keep him busy he was given the job of unpacking the annual shipment of vehicle license plates (in those days a new plate was issued each year) when they were received annually from Cheyenne. Stopka put the license plates on the shelves in the treasurer’s office and was paid one penny apiece for his efforts. Stopka does not credit the time spent on this important job toward his 45 years of service to Sheridan County.

In reaching the 45-year milestone, Stopka joins the ranks of two other public servants who served the same amount of time. The first was a revered elected official, B. B. “Slim” Hume who was elected in 1928. He served until his death in 1974. Slim’s motto was, “Do something nice for someone each day.” His hallmark as a supervisor was that he insisted on good penmanship because, “about half the work in the office is handwritten. You have to be able to read it.” He also made sure that his staff rotated through all the jobs in the office, so they understood the whole operation.

There was one reported ironic incident involving Hume. The year he took office he planted a mountain ash tree on the courthouse grounds. He died in January 1974. That summer, a windstorm blew down the tree. End of an era.

The other person who reached the 45-year mark was Marguerite Stevie. When graduated from high school in 1936, she went right to work for the treasurer’s office with absolutely no experience. She was later asked why she was hired when she had no experience. She replied, “How are you going to get it unless someone starts you out.” Stevie did every job in the office at one time or another. When she retired in 1981, she was deputy treasurer in charge of bank deposits. The year before, she figured she carried more that $5 million to the banks.

Stevie said when she was hired, she didn’t plan to stay in the office for so long, but thought that if she liked it, she’d stay. She stated, “I really didn’t plan it, but it turned out that I liked the work so much, why change?”

There’s a commonality between Hume and Stevie who served, and Stopka who still serves — dedicated public servants who devote a lifetime to serving the citizens of Sheridan County. Thank you.

Tom Ringley is the author of four local history books, an emeritus member of the Sheridan WYO Rodeo Board and a serving county commissioner.

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