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UW president says school considers Sailors statue matter concluded, but wife of sculptor isn't finished

University of Wyoming President Laurie Nichols said she considers the school’s involvement with the artist who was first commissioned to create a Kenny Sailors statue concluded, but the artist’s wife says the family is far from finished.

“I do know that the artist in Wyoming has been paid,” Nichols said in an interview at the Star-Tribune last week, “and we tried to make it as right as we possibly can, given that it’s a difficult situation, a bit awkward at this point in time.”

Sandee Gunter’s husband, Rudy, was announced as the sculptor of the Sailors statue in January 2014. The university eventually settled on another artist, after Rudy Gunter had started working on his piece. The family is now trying to find a place for his completed work.

Sandee Gunter said she hadn’t heard from anyone at the university in the weeks since the Star-Tribune published an article detailing the saga.

“Did I expect any more from them? No,” she said. “They’ve proven the caliber of people they are.”

In January 2014, the university’s athletic department announced that Gunter, a Green River-based artist and former basketball coach, had been selected to make the statue of Sailors, a former UW basketball star who is credited with inventing the jump shot. Gunter was introduced at halftime of a Wyoming men’s basketball game as the artist.

But the athletic department erred in its announcement, officials have said. The university has a policy — in place following another art-related scandal — that requires sculptures and other work must be approved through an art committee. Gunter — who was unaware that such a process even existed, his family said — did not go through it prior to being announced.

That much is agreed upon. What happened over the proceeding years remains strongly contested. Tom Burman, the athletic director, has said that he told the Gunters that there had to be a competitive bidding process, and later, that Rudy Gunter’s statue would not be used. In September 2015, the university selected an Oregon-based artist to create the work.

The Gunters, meanwhile, maintain that they knew nothing about the bidding process. Nor did they know that another artist had been selected, they say. Gunter, who has Lou Gehrig’s disease and has largely lost the use of his hands since he began working on the Sailors piece, finished his statue, likely his final work.

Last month, the Oregon artist’s statue was unveiled in the Arena-Auditorium. Gunter’s statue, meanwhile, is in storage at a foundry in Lander.

In an interview at the Star-Tribune last week, Nichols said her understanding is that Gunter was not kept in the dark about what was happening.

“It was my understanding that communication was pretty clear, that they had gone with a different artist, and if that didn’t happen, that’s really unfortunate,” she said.

Gunter was paid a total of $100,000 from Bruce Pivic, a Rock Springs-based UW donor who had recommended Gunter in the first place. The Gunter family estimates that he made less than $10,000 for two years worth of work.

Through private donations, the university paid the Oregon artist $250,000 for his statue.

Sandee Gunter, who was in Salt Lake City with Rudy for medical treatment, said the family is still exploring legal options.

“We’re going over all kinds of things with them,” she said of the family’s talks with lawyers. She added that any decisions will likely be made after the holidays. “It’ll be pursued. Right now, it’s just getting the ducks in a row. The timeline’s in place, you know. But my big thing, and I think Bruce Pivic’s, is to get it to where Rudy can see it unveiled before he dies.”

She added that much of the drama that’s unfolded could have been avoided had anyone at the university called and apologized to the family. She said she expected to hear from someone after the Star-Tribune published an article about the statue saga and was “disheartened” that no one reached out.

The family has heard from Rudy Gunter’s former players and students, she said, and from people out of state.

Nichols said the university has changed its policy about pieces of art on campus. Previously, the final approval would go through the president, with consultation from the president of the board of trustees. Now, she said, any work has to be approved by both the trustees and the president.

“I think, you know, you learn through mistakes, but as (the trustees) saw this happen, they strengthened their policy in terms of what they expect to approve,” Nichols said, “and public art is one of the things they put in now.”

Two semi trucks jackknife in icy conditions near Casper; snow snarls travel across Wyoming

An icy winter storm made travel difficult across Wyoming on Monday, closing roads and causing crashes.

Portions of Interstate 25 were closed Monday morning to high profile vehicles between Casper and Buffalo. The Wyoming Department of Transportation advises no unnecessary travel for sections of I-25 from Glendo almost to Kaycee.

Two semi trucks jackknifed along southbound Interstate 25 near Hat Six Road in Casper, blocking the highway for a few hours.

Wyoming Highway Patrol Captain Shawn Dickerson was helping a driver stuck on the side of the road about 8:20 a.m. and watched the crashes occur. A truck was attempting to pull the car out of where it had gotten stuck when a semi truck attempted to slow down as it passed. The driver of the semi lost control, however, and the semi jackknifed and struck the truck, Dickerson said.

Nobody was injured in that crash, Dickerson said, but moments later more vehicles collided while attempting to stop on the blocked interstate. A vehicle failed to stop in time and clipped an SUV before rear ending a trailer being pulled by a pickup. Three people from that crash were transported to the hospital for complaints of pain, Dickerson said.

The crash was cleared about 11 a.m., according to a Wyoming Department of Transportation tweet.

“I would encourage drivers to slow down,” Dickerson said Monday morning. “This was entirely preventable if they had reduced their speed and been a little more careful.”

Interstate 80 from Rawlins to Laramie closed at 4 a.m. Monday because of winter conditions. The highway did not reopen for several hours.

Portions of some highways including U.S. 30 and 287 near Laramie and Wyoming Highway 789 also closed along with Highway 59 from Douglas to the Campbell County line. Stretches of other southeastern, central and northern Wyoming highways carried black ice advisories or other travel warnings.

After Wyoming experienced a mild fall, the winter storm brought colder temperatures and high winds to the region. Wind gusts were recorded up to 67 mph north of Kaycee and 54 mph south of Casper, according to the National Weather Service.

Breezy conditions were expected to linger, with wind chills down to 10 degrees below zero.

Gusts were expected to reach up to 60 mph east of the Laramie Range. Slightly warmer temperatures and drier conditions were expected to return to the state by midweek.

Josh Galemore, Star-Tribune 

Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen walks the sidelines during the Cowboys' game against Fresno State on Nov. 18 at War Memorial Stadium in Laramie.

$1 million from sale of Petroleum Club to be donated to Casper College Foundation

The now-shuttered Casper Petroleum Club plans to donate $1 million to the Casper College Foundation later this week, a former board member said Monday.

The money is the proceeds from the February sale of the club, said Gail Zimmerman, a local businessman and philanthropist who was on the club’s board in its final years.

“So the bylaws of the Petroleum Club that started in 1945 said that if they ever closed their doors, that all the assets went to the Casper College Foundation,” Zimmerman told the Star-Tribune on Monday.

The donation comes with no restrictions on its use, he said.

The sum represents the “major part” of the proceeds from the sale, Zimmerman said.

The club, once a popular spot among the city’s industry elite, closed in early October 2016 after a decline in business and membership fees. The building was purchased by the Gruner brothers, who plan to open a microbrewery in the space.

There’s some amount of money left over from the sale being kept temporarily to pay off any remaining bills owed by the club. The remaining amount will be delivered to the foundation in March.

Zimmerman said the plan is to deliver a check to foundation and college officials at 4 p.m. Thursday at the American National Bank.

Paulann Doane, the executive director of the foundation, said that while she was sad to see the petroleum club close, the group was “delighted” by the donation and would put it to good use.

She said the foundation didn’t have a specific project in mind and that the organization’s board would likely discuss it at its next meeting in January.