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At 100, Wyoming's John Wold Is Oldest Former GOP Congressman

At 100, Wyoming's John Wold Is Oldest Former GOP Congressman

 Former Wyoming Rep.John Wold (Leah Millis/Casper Star-Tribune)

Sunday, 28 August 2016 10:32 AM Current | Bio | Archive

On Wednesday, August 31, friends and four generations of family members will gather in Casper, Wyoming for a birthday party over which the entire Cowboy State is buzzing.

U.S. Rep. John Wold — the first geologist to serve in Congress, a former state legislator and state Republican chairman, an entrepreneur and a philanthropist — will turn 100. In so doing, he will become the nation's oldest former Republican congressman. (Ken Hechler, who represented West Virginia from 1958-76, is the oldest former Democratic congressman at 102).

"It will be the anniversary of what I think was a full life," Wold told Newsmax last Tuesday from the offices of Wold Energy Partners, Inc., where he still goes to work five days a week.

"And what a life!" recalled former Sen. Al Simpson, R.-Wyo. "I've known every one of our senators and House Members in my life by their first names. That's what happens when you live in a state with about 588,000 people. When folks talk about John Wold, they just say 'John' — forty-six years after he was last on the ballot! They remember all the good things he did over the years."

Asked if Wold helped him in his first Senate race in 1978, Simpson shot back: "Not only did he help me but, my goodness, he helped my Dad get elected governor!" (Milward Simpson was governor of Wyoming from 1954-58).

Any conversation with John Wold usually begins with talk of the great love of his life: wife Jane, who he met while studying geology at Union College in upstate New York during the late '30's. She died last year at age 92.

"When I drove back from our first date," he recalled, "I was so happy that I forgot to shift from second to third gear!" The two were married and went on to have three children, eight grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.

Serving in the Pacific as a U.S. Navy engineer in World War II, he became a specialist in magnetic mine warfare and, after Japan's surrender, was part of the U.S. occupation forces.

Following his discharge, the young Wold worked for oil companies in different U.S. cities. In 1949, he settled in Wyoming and launched his own oil exploration and production business. Wold strongly believed that "it's good when more businessmen are in politics" and served in his adopted state's part-time legislature.

After Democrats swept all of Wyoming's statewide offices in 1958, Wold became state party chairman and knew what rebuilding the party would take.

"I studied how the unions got people motivated in Wisconsin and pulled off a big win there," he recalled, "They even made a film about it. And the following year, they passed collective bargaining [which was eventually repealed in 2011 under Republican Gov. Scott Walker]. So we had to rebuild our organization, but we also needed an issue."

That came in 1961. Democratic Gov. J.J. Hickey stunned the state by resigning, thus permitting Wyoming's second-highest official and Secretary of State Jack Gage to become governor. Gage thereupon appointed Hickey to a vacancy in the U.S. Senate. Led by Wold, Republicans slammed the Democrats in 1962 for what was clearly a self-serving move. Former Gov. Milward Simpson defeated Hickey in the Senate race and rancher Cliff Hansen ousted Gage for governor.

Two years later, Wold himself lost his own bid for the U.S. Senate as Democratic President Lyndon Johnson was winning in a landslide. Democratic Sen. Gale McGee linked Wold to fellow conservative and GOP nominee Barry Goldwater by branding him "Woldwater" and won with 55 percent of the vote.

Wold did make it to Washington in 1968 by winning a close primary battle with fellow Republican William Henry Harrison, who was Wyoming's at-large congressman. He didn't recall any differences on issues with Harrison, "but I thought he was too old [72 at the time] and not as effective as he once was."

Arriving in Washington with incoming President Richard Nixon, Wold was part of a class of House GOP freshmen that included onetime baseball great "Vinegar Bend" Mizell (N.C.), Larry Hogan of Maryland ("I liked that guy!" Wold said of the father of Maryland's current governor), and Lowell Weicker of Connecticut ("He always seemed enamored with himself" was his recollection of the future liberal senator and governor of the Nutmeg State).

Wold brought the concerns of Wyoming property owners about federal regulations to President Nixon at a private breakfast at the White House. He also jetted to Vietnam to get a first-hand view of the war — at his own expense because "I didn't want to be accused of taking a junket at the taxpayers' expense." From his talks with soldiers as well as top commanders, Wold concluded that "we could have won that war if the generals were allowed to call the shots without interference from Washington."

As one who was used to getting things done promptly in the private sector, Wold quickly grew frustrated with the slow pace in the House. He left after one term and made a second Senate race, but again lost to Democratic incumbent McGee.

Wold never ran for office again. But his advice and blessing is considered a near requirement for Republican office-seekers in Wyoming. One who sought him out was Liz Cheney, who won a crowded primary for the at-large House seat once held by Wold. (Liz and her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, will be at Wold's birthday party).

The former congressman has never changed his view that the House "is a frustrating structure and something difficult to get your hands around." As a longtime advocate of businessmen in politics, Wold told us, "I thought Donald Trump was very capable and I was very enthusiastic about his candidacy — at first. But he doesn't seem to be able to handle things as well as he should. It's a great disappointment."

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On Wednesday, August 31, friends and four generations of family members will gather in Casper, Wyoming for a birthday party over which the entire Cowboy State is buzzing. U.S. Rep. John Wold - the first geologist to serve in Congress, a former state legislator and state...
gizzi, john wold, gop representative, wyoming, turns 100
Sunday, 28 August 2016 10:32 AM
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