Wyla Loomis can’t remember exactly when she and long-time friend and neighbor Vic Garber first met. The two 99-year-olds have known each other for a long time.
“He’s just always been there,” Wyla said with a grin.
Vic’s memory is a bit more resolute.
“We probably met in the Big Horns, in Wyla’s front yard.”
They’d met years ago, Vic explained, when Wyla and her husband Wendell were working on the Gallatin Ranch.
Vic’s family ranched in the mountains with poor roads and he’d asked if he could park his Army jeep with chains on it during the winter months, so he could switch out his car when he went to town.
“They were always very accommodating,” he said. “Very good neighbors.”
And in the Big Horn ranching community they come from, being good neighbors goes a long way.
That nearly five decades later they are once again neighbors at Elmcroft of Sugarland Ridge Assisted Living Facility is a comfort to them both. Now, on the verge of turning a century, they also hold the distinction of having been crowned Homecoming King and Queen at the facility’s Valentine’s Day Social.
They’re not a couple, Vic pointed out, but are good friends. Widowed now, both had been married to their respective spouses for 57 years.
Wyla knew Vic’s wife Phyllis through the Big Horn Women’s Club, where both were members. Back then, there weren’t many social functions to bring the couples together, but rather they were friendly through the Garber’s parking arrangement and helping one another out.
“This went on for a lot of winters, and they were always friendly and very nice,” Vic said.
Being named Homecoming royalty was a surprise for them both, though they admitted it was kinda fun.
“I’m not much of a splurging person,” Wyla said shyly, “so I just sat there and smiled.”
“Being on stage was a new experience,” Vic said, “and I enjoyed it very much.”
Having lived for most of a century in the Big Horn ranching community, both Wyla and Vic have roots that run deep.
The Garber Agri-business, which is currently run by Vic’s three sons, is still a profitable, thriving operation today, Vic proudly stated. His success was in large part due to his unconventional ranching practices governed by instinct and hard work.
“If the government told me to do something, I did just the opposite,” he said. “I also learned that you can’t get rich selling grain or products. You have to feed it to the animals and sell them to make any money.”
And don’t ever put that money into the bank or a savings account, he added.
“Put it in the stock market,” he said. “Get a good broker and let him do the work.”
If he has any advice for young people, that’s what he’d tell him.
He’s proud of the mark the Garber family has had on the community, and admits he’s had a terrific life. When Phyllis was alive, the couple traveled to all 50 states. It’s not even close – he noted: Wyoming is by far the best, though the California coast is very unique and interesting.
“One distinction that nobody I’ve ever met has equaled is that I’ve ridden a saddle horse 10,000 miles high in the Big Horns and also in the ocean along the California coast,” he said.
Those horses don’t mind going in the water, but you have to clean out their ears and wipe off the salt.
Wyla, who is originally from a small farm in Iowa, didn’t do much traveling but she, like Vic, also worked hard on a ranch. Her husband Wendell oversaw operations while she cooked for the hired men and raised their two sons.
“Well, Wendell helped a little,” Wyla said with a smile.
She hadn’t set out to be a professional cook, but when the couple arrived at the ranch, Mr. Gallatin asked Wyla if she’d be willing to feed the hired men.
“Why not?” she’d said.
It ended up, in her words, just falling into shape.
“You’d make it through breakfast, and then you’d start looking around for something to make for lunch,” she laughed.
One of the highlights of her life was being called to cook for the Queen of England when she visited the Wallop’s ranch. They’d made “old-fashioned” fried chicken, and Wyla’s homemade potato salad and an angel food cake, made from farm-fresh eggs.
The Queen enjoyed the meal, according to Wyla, and was so grateful she came back to the kitchen to congratulate them.
It’s a moment that she’ll never forget.
There have been many such moments for both of the near centenarians, who are nonplussed by their advanced age and take it all in stride.
“It’s just another digit,” Wyla said.
As for advice for young people, both concentrate for several minutes before speaking.
“Put your money in the stock market,” Vic said again, “work hard and be an inspiration for others, do well and enjoy the good things and forget the bad.”
Wyla chimed in with her two cents.
“Work hard, go to college and enjoy every moment that you have,” she added.
As for the years to come, they are enjoying every day and the many new discoveries it brings.
“You don’t go dancing every Saturday night,” Wyla said, “but it sure is interesting.”
Having more spare time goes a long way when it comes to storytelling.
Vic has a lot to say on that subject and enjoys sharing his stories, and for anyone who is interested, he has many on record in the Wyoming Room at the Sheridan Public Library.
His favorite tale is about a sheep named Petunia, which author Craig Johnson, according to Vic, borrowed and rewrote.
“His is not nearly as good as the original,” Vic said with a grin. “That one you need to hear for yourself.”
By: Jen C. Kocher