SHERIDAN — Many students work during the summer or part-time jobs during the school year but few can match the experiences of Duane Buchholz.
In 1943, the Buchholz family came to Sheridan where his father worked for Peter Kiewit.
“I did the usual things as a youngster,” Buchholz said. “(I) had a paper route, worked in a couple of gas stations … as I went through high school for the most part I worked construction in the summers and one winter I set pins (by hand in those days) at the local bowling alley.”
He also milked 17 or 18 cows by hand one summer.
“I did not regret seeing the end of that summer,” Buchholz said.
Buchholz finished high school in 1948 with a GED diploma. In February 1949, he entered the U.S. Navy. After training at San Diego, Buchholz served aboard a seaplane tender until the end of his one-year active duty obligation. He returned home to Sheridan and worked in construction until the Korean conflict started. Buchholz re-enlisted and spent the next four years aboard a small destroyer, logging three Korean cruises under his belt.
On leave in Sheridan following his first Korean cruise, Buchholz met his future wife, Agnes.
“She was a blue-eyed blonde in a black nylon dress with a white apron working at the Lotus Café next to the WYO Theatre. I’d never seen anything cuter.”
They married in January 1952 and Buchholz returned to his ship, taking his Navy bride with him.
Buchholz left the Navy in 1954 and returned to construction mostly as a welder in the oil field. It was during this time that he ran into an acquaintance who went to law school after World War II service.
“I had thought about college and becoming an attorney back in school, but sort of forgot about it,” Buchholz said. “But if he could do it, I could do it.”z
In 1956, at age 26, Buchholz entered Sheridan College then located at Sixth and Saberton. He tended bar at the American Legion in Sheridan while attending classes. The Buchholz’s transferred to the University of Wyoming in 1957. He received his law degree from UW in 1963 and was admitted to practice.
He and Agnes had two children when he started college and four when they finished.
“I should have graduated a year earlier, but ran out of money and went to work for the Wyoming Legislative Council and finished a year late,” said Buchholz. “Turned out it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”
While a law student at UW, Buchholz held the graduate assistantship with the Public Administration Service at the University. This led to the Legislative Council and to becoming assistant Senate attorney for the 1963 session of the Legislature. His experience was good groundwork for becoming law clerk to 10th Circuit Court Judge John C. Pickett when the position became open.
“He was always a gentleman,” Buchholz said of Pickett. “Well-read, quiet, a scholar. He didn’t smoke or drink.”
As the graduate assistant at UW, Buchholz prepared the first detailed study of home rule and a proposed constitutional amendment to implement it. It was offered to the 1963 session, but they took no action.
Following his clerkship with Pickett, Buchholz re-entered the Navy in 1965 as a commissioned officer in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps.
Through the years, his Naval JAG career included serving as trial counsel for the 11th Naval District General Courts, teaching at the Newport, R.I., Naval Justice School, JAG for the Naval Air Station, Whidbey Island Washington and counsel at the Naval Training Center at Great Lakes.
Buchholz retired from the Navy in December 1980 and returned to Sheridan. An acquaintance, Harry Schwartz, then city attorney, approached Buchholz about an opportunity in Sheridan.
“A few weeks later, I was assistant city attorney,” Buchholz said.
Two years later, in 1982, Gov. Ed Herschler named Buchholz to be the first county court judge for Sheridan County.
“I was county judge for nine years until a cancer problem arose,” Buchholz said. Following surgery and some recovery, he went back to work part time as a magistrate for the County Court.
Buchholz retired in 2000 at the age of 70. Today, he enjoys reading from his private library containing about 2,000 volumes that include philosophy, religion and government.
He is also caregiver to Agnes to whom he has been married 61 years.
What is one lesson Buchholz learned from his experience as a judge?
“Always verify your witnesses,” Buchholz said.
Buchholz has recorded some of his story through the Fulmer Library’s Wyoming Room Tellus oral history project.
Lois Bell is with the Sheridan Senior Center.