DAYTON — Long story short, he’s 79 years old, and while he still feels healthy, he feels like it’s time to step down — or out, since he’s never been one to put himself above others, even if the name plate on his immaculately clean desk inside Dayton Town Hall does read, “Mayor.”
Mayor Bob Wood has announced he will not run for re-election this November, and while the declaration is simple, no story comprised of over 25 years in public service is ever short, or simple. It takes a lot of work to run a town.
Wood served 10 years as a town councilman from 1975-1985 at the request of past beloved Mayor Art Badgett, who himself served for 20 years at the helm. Wood then returned to California to ride out the downed economy.
But that quaint town below the Bighorn Mountains — those mountains that blush white in winter, radiate green in spring and call area residents into their blue waters and brown earth all summer long — kept calling to him, tugging at him, luring him home.
“I’ve just had a passion for Dayton ever since I got here,” Wood said.
In a way, it was passion that lead Wood to Wyoming in the first place.
In 1954, Wood was living in Iowa. He was 19, and he was in love. He married a gal named Vicki, and the happy couple came to Dayton on their honeymoon. Vicki Wood had family in the area; Bob had never even been to Wyoming.
“I went fishing in the Bighorns,” Wood said. “And I said, ‘Someday, this will be my home.’ I just loved it.”
But first, the Korean War. Wood joined the military from 1954-1956 at the end of the conflict in Korea. He wanted to go overseas but remained stateside in the Headquarters Company.
After his military term ended, Bob and Vicki Wood moved to California. They attended night business classes at Golden West Junior College in Westminster, Calif., and both graduated.
In 1968, Wood bought one acre on the edge of Dayton. That acre has long since been annexed and now lies almost at the center of town.
In 1975, Wood and his wife finally moved to the town he’d wanted to call home for about 20 years. They built a house and some apartment complexes on their acre of land and settled in.
Wood started Bob’s Pest Control, which remains in business serving Sheridan, Johnson and Campbell counties and now belongs to his son-in-law. Wood, who was a printer by trade, also worked at The Sheridan Press under editor Milton Chilcott. He helped the paper transition from letter press to offset printing and color ink, which only ran on Wednesdays at that time.
In 1985, Wood returned to California but was only able to stay away from his home for a little over a decade. He and Vicki returned in 1998 — this time for good.
That same year, Badgett asked Wood to run for mayor. Wood put it off until the last minute but was elected and stepped into office in 1999. He brought with him his sense of practicality, his big picture perspective, his quiet, yet persistent, leadership style and, like many a good leader, the support of his wife.
“She’s supported me and encouraged me to go forward with whatever needs to be done,” Wood said.
From his honeymoon to his 60th wedding anniversary — which the Woods will celebrate at Dayton Days this summer — Dayton has been Wood’s passion and his pride.
Councilman Norm Anderson has served on council for 14 years, all of which have been spent working alongside Wood. He said he most appreciates Wood’s boots-on-the-ground approach to management.
“He’s easy to work with, and he’s gotten a lot accomplished. It’s going to be some big shoes to fill,” Anderson said. “A lot of people rule with an iron fist, but he listens to everyone’s concerns. If we need to call him about an issue, he’s always available.”
Anderson said Wood runs the town like he would his own business, conscientious of funding and conscientious of the employees and leaders who make the town tick.
“I trust them, and they do the same with me,” Wood said about his six employees. “I don’t micro manage, and they know that, but I do make sure they get the job done.”
“The job” under Wood’s management has included a host of practical undertakings.
When Wood first moved to Dayton, there was not one paved street. While he was on Council, the town formed a special improvement district to raise funds to pave the town. Now all the town’s streets, except a couple short sections on East Sixth and East Second avenues whose residents elected not to participate in the special improvement district, are paved with curb and gutter.
In an effort to preserve the town’s paved streets, Wood has kept a detailed maintenance schedule — neatly written on a small yellow legal pad — for the streets. He’s even written the schedule past the end of his term in hopes that the next mayor will carry on his practical care.
Wood was able to increase the $1.9 million reserve fund created by Badgett to $2.4 million today. It is impractical not to have a piggy bank for a rainy day, or decade.
In 1980, a woman fell and broke her leg in the middle of winter at Lone Tree Ranch. After that incident, it became apparent that Dayton needed a rescue unit in addition to its fire department. The sale of a donated motor home enabled the town to buy a new 4-wheel drive truck, fit it with a shell and turn it into a first responder unit. Wood and his wife both served on the fire and rescue department.
“I feel like we saved some lives,” Wood said.
And, in a demonstration of practical upkeep, the town still has that 1980 Chevy pickup. It is now used as a mosquito truck and snowplow.
Public Works Director Johann Nield, who has himself worked for the town for 34 years, said he will most miss Wood’s big picture perspective.
“Mayor Wood’s greatest strength is being able to see and prioritize the needs of Dayton far into the future, and implementing projects to maintain what the town has invested in. What I call the Big Picture View,” Nield said in an email to the Press. “Policies that were for all, not just a few, was the movement under Bob Wood’s mayorship.”
For Nield, this perspective has resulted in pursuing crazy ideas turned practical.
“Bob always listens to my ideas no matter how wild they are,” Nield said. “We would talk about each one and bring them into perspective. I liked that, because our conversation became reality when it came to the future of Dayton.”
Projects that should carry the town well into its future that are mentioned by all who have worked with Wood include a state-of-the-art raw water system that serves every resident in town, updates to the water plant and lagoon, park and street improvements, the creation of a community center and the in-progress natural gas line that should bring cheaper heating costs to the valley.
“What separates Mayor Wood from other mayors, one thing I always think of, is that he is a visionary,” Town Clerk Linda Lofgren, who has served the town for 20 years, said. “Big projects are never overwhelming to him. I’m looking at it thinking, ‘How are we ever going to pay for it?’ And he just sees the possibilities of projects and isn’t daunted. You have to have that. You have to be fearless to go after these things.”
In fact, Wood’s big picture perspective hasn’t remained only in Dayton. He is well-known across the state and was instrumental in persuading the Legislature to increase mayoral terms from two to four years — for the practical reason that it’s hard to get anything worthwhile done in two years — and mayoral pay from $400 a month to $20,000 or more for men and women who are working full-time to keep Wyoming’s towns running.
His sense of perspective trickles to his own family, too. He and his wife have been raising their great-granddaughter, Ridley, since she was 2 years old because, well, she needed it to reach her own big picture future. Ridley is 9 now.
“We have guardianship, but now at our age, maybe she can help us,” Wood said with a proud, Grandpa smile. “She reads all the time; she’s so smart. She’s teaching Papa to spell. I read all the time, but I’m a terrible speller.”
Terrible spelling aside, Wood has provided a perspective that has rarely included his own interests in his 25 years of leadership in Dayton. And it is hoped whoever steps into his boots-on-the-ground work as the next mayor will do the same.
As Town Treasurer Vicki Cotton said: “I’d like to see somebody who is very proud of Dayton and wants to keep it in the financial and beautiful shape that it’s in, someone who’s not doing it to further their self or their career, but doing it for the good of the town.”
Wood will remain in Dayton — continuing family dinners with all his children who still live in the area — and seeking the betterment of the town that became his passion on his honeymoon nearly 60 years ago.