SHERIDAN — History is a puzzle, and Judy Slack has spent her career putting all the pieces together.
Slack spent her days in a wing of the Sheridan County Fulmer Public Library uncovering some of the great mysteries of Sheridan County’s past. But after five years of patching together the narrative of northeast Wyoming, today will be her last day working in The Wyoming Room.
Slack is retiring from her job as the librarian of The Wyoming Room, but her passion for local history hasn’t faded.
“I’m just kind of taking a rest,” Slack said. “I’ll continue on writing (history) books, but I just won’t be on a day-to-day schedule.”
A native of Big Horn, Slack attended Sheridan College and the University of Wyoming, graduating with a degree in business marketing. From there, she worked as a marketing research analyst for several years, then returned to Wyoming when she married.
Slack then became a stay-at-home-mom, opened a day care, worked for Rehabilitation Enterprises of North Eastern Wyoming and at Sheridan Memorial Hospital.
It’s easy to say Slack’s love affair with local history is a hereditary trait. Her mother was infatuated with the pioneer history of Big Horn and had studied the topic religiously over the years. Once she passed away, Slack grabbed the baton from her mother and actively pursued unwrapping the intricacies of Sheridan County.
“I always say the history bug bit me and never let go,” Slack said. “And that was because of my mom and all of her projects that got me interested in Big Horn history.”
She spent hours in The Wyoming Room doing research that eventually led to a volunteer position at the library in 2008. In 2010, she was hired full-time as The Wyoming Room librarian.
For years, Slack and the staff at The Wyoming Room spent their days clearing the dust off of old photographs and sifting through contributions from local residents. But it was never monotonous work for Slack; in fact, she said, every day she found something new and discovered another piece in the puzzle of area history.
“We think that our current life is so special, but life here in Sheridan County 100 years ago was amazing,” Slack said. “It’s almost like history repeats itself — looking at letters and reading the old newspapers, it’s very similar to what’s going on today.”
Slack spent her tenure in The Wyoming Room connecting pioneer rhetoric with modern technology. She’s led a staff that has been working toward scanning diaries, photographs and other documents from Sheridan’s past and making them available digitally. They have been able to preserve old videos from Sheridan High School and digitize 1950s reel-to-reel interviews from members of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe.
“The thing that I’ve enjoyed the most are the photographs — really any type of photographs in here,” Slack said.
One of her favorite moments at The Wyoming Room, Slack said, was when she came across renowned author Ernest Hemingway’s signature in an early-1920s post office receipt book. Slack co-authored a book about Hemingway’s two-month visit to the Bighorn Mountains in 1929, when he reportedly finished his novel “A Farewell to Arms.”
Really, retirement is just a word for Slack.
While her time working at The Wyoming Room has come to a close, she still plans to make the Sheridan County Fulmer Public Library her second home. As an author of several books already, Slack currently has 15 books that are currently in the process of being written and published.
“I’m jumping out of the frying pan and into the bonfire,” she said laughing. “There are just a lot of other projects that I want to attend to.”
A full-time librarian position will cease to exist once Slack retires, as the county has opted to eliminate the position through attrition. Instead, the room will be operated by three part-time employees.
Slack believes The Wyoming Room has a strong future ahead of it. She asks anyone with old photographs, documents or anything else Sheridan related to consider donating them to The Wyoming Room. Even if a document seems insignificant, you never know what amazing discoveries it could lead to.
“It’s about capturing history and getting it right — that’s how The Wyoming Room works,” Slack said.