Dick Sadler ran for office because “there were things that needed to be done,” said Mary Sadler, his wife of 67 years.
Those things included advocating for local government control of issues, better funding for public education and the conservation of Wyoming’s wildlife. In Sadler’s more than three decades of fire-branded public service, he established himself as someone who cared deeply about his community, and got things done that proved it.
Sadler died May 10 at Shepherd of the Valley Hospice with Mary by his side. He was 90 years old.
“He was 90 years old and he had done everything he could,” Mary said.
Sadler and his wife were transplants to Wyoming. The pair met in Clinton, Iowa, then a small college town. Mary was a recent high school graduate and Dick was a two-tour veteran of the U.S. Navy, serving from 1946-49. When he returned to Iowa, he met Mary and they were married in 1952 in Victor, Mary’s hometown.
It would be a decade before Sadler’s job as a supervisor with the Chicago Northwestern Railroad would bring the pair to Wyoming. That job would take the couple through cities all over the U.S., but it was Casper they decided to make home.
“We liked it out here almost immediately,” Mary said.
Soon after deciding that Casper would be the last big move, Sadler began getting involved in local politics. Politics, Mary said, was “just about” her husband’s first love.
In 1966, he became the Allendale area precinct committeeman, and he was the Natrona County Democratic Party Chairman in 1968, the same year he first competed for a seat in the Wyoming House of Representatives.
In his first campaign, he advocated for the use of mineral severance taxes to fund public education, local government control and shortening the amount of time a person should have to live in Wyoming before being allowed to vote in state elections.
He lost that race but ran again two years later.
In that race, his campaign promises again included efforts to better fund public education and protections for local control of government but also included lobbying the state to create a four-year college in Casper and provide better quality control of river pollutants.
He won by 178 votes, according to election data published in the Nov. 3, 1970, edition of the Star-Tribune. Sadler was 42 years old when he joined the Wyoming Legislature. He served as a state representative until 1975, when he was elected to the Wyoming State Senate. He served as a state senator until 1983.
In 1983, he retired from the Chicago Northwestern Railroad and was appointed by then-Gov. Edgar Herschler as director of the Wyoming Employment Security Commission.
He retired from that role in 1990 but rejoined the House twice more, first in 1991, serving until 1995, and then for a final term in 2001, retiring in 2002.
Of all the issues Sadler championed through his career, Wyoming’s wildlife was perhaps his largest concern.
In his first year in the House, he served on the Legislature’s game and fish committee. An article in the December 1971 issue of Field and Stream said Sadler “represents the new breed of progressive Western politician (as well as being a vigorous hunter and outdoorsman).” The author, Michael Frome, was writing the piece about the wholesale death of eagles across Wyoming. In it, he describes Sadler as being eager to share information on the ways Wyoming was working to prevent more eagle deaths.
Eagles were just the beginning. Sadler would spend much of his career focusing on issues specific to Wyoming wildlife. He was instrumental in passing a 1973 ban on game farms in the state, ensuring exoctic breeds kept privately would not negatively affect native habitats in Wyoming. He also spent much of his career advocating for the protection of Wyoming’s Game and Fish department budget and it’s authority to set the state’s hunting seasons.
He also worked on the bill to establish Casper’s Edness Kimball Wilkins State Park.
So passionate were Sadler’s efforts to protect Wyoming’s natural attractions, they earned him awards.
In 1981, the Wyoming Wildlife Federation named him Conservation Legislator of the Year. In 1982, the Wyoming Wildlife Society did the same.
Sadler’s state and local politics colleagues have described him as “bright” and “passionate,” “stubborn” and “a force to be reckoned with.”
Longtime state legislator Sen. Charlie Scott remembers Sadler as an effective lawmaker with a good sense of humor.
“We’d worked together on a number of the wildlife issues and on the bill to establish the Kimball Wilkins State Park,” Scott said. “We found we agreed on those sorts of things.”
Sadler is actually the reason Scott, a Republican, decided to run for the state Senate.
“He’d cornered me at a social function,” Scott said. “He told me he wasn’t going to run for reelection. He pitched me I ought to run for the Senate.”
Former Wyoming Gov. Mike Sullivan remembers Sadler fondly as well.
“I was proud to call him a friend, even though he was a bit of a curmudgeon,” Sullivan said with a laugh.
Sadler and Sullivan overlapped in state politics only briefly, with Sadler reentering the House at the beginning of Sullivan’s second term as governor. Sullivan said the two often agreed on issues, considering they were both Democrats.
“Notwithstanding, we were opposed in a number of instances,” he said.
One such disagreement was over the governor’s authority to grant fundraising licenses. Sadler didn’t think the governor should have that much power, Sullivan recalled.
It wasn’t just state politics the pair held differing opinions on. When the Casper City Council approved funds for a new library in 2008, Sadler was an adamant opponent, often calling it too expensive.
“He was willing to talk about issues that may not have been the most popular,” Sullivan said. “But you could have discussions and disagree without losing civility.”
Rob Hendry, chairman of the Natrona County Commission, has similar memories of Sadler.
“He was a bit of a lightning rod,” Hendry said.
If you were on the opposite side of an issue Sadler cared about, Hendry said, you did not have an easy road ahead.
“He fought hard for what he believed in,” he said.
Hendry and Sadler worked together on a number of projects after Sadler left formal politics. For the last decade, Sadler had been leading the charge to clean up his neighborhood, Dempsey Acres, to stop property values from decreasing in the area.
“We did get several of those properties down there cleaned up,” Hendry said.
In recent years, Sadler fought to enforce a law he helped write in the 1970s that requires airports to have free parking.
When the Casper airport put its free lot 1.5 miles from the airport, Sadler was among the first to raise concerns, telling a Star-Tribune reporter at the time, “I passed that law and they hate my guts for it.”
Ultimately, Sadler’s friends and family agree that the legacy he leaves is one of passion and resolve.
He is survived by his wife, Mary; three children, Edward, Richard and Connie; one brother, David; six grandchildren; and 16 great grandchildren.
Staff writer Nick Reynolds contributed to this report.