With his daughter, Jeanne, daughter-in-law Marianne, and son Mark at his side, Vernon A. Mrak passed away peacefully following a valiant struggle with cancer.
Vern was born in Glencoe, Ohio on Aug. 5, 1921 to Mary (Macek) and Urban Mrak. Vern’s “Wyoming life” began humbly at the age of 8 when his parents (recent Austrian immigrants) moved to Rock Springs so that Urban could work in the coal mines.
Growing up in these times was very difficult, and as Vern entered his high school years he supplemented the family income by trapping coyotes, badgers and an occasional bobcat. He became proficient at trapping to the point of earning the high school nickname of “Trapper.” It was during this time spent in the wilds of the Wyoming outdoors that Vern developed his lifelong love of Wyoming and the natural beauty it provided. He spent summers of his high school years cowboying on ranches near Pinedale and Brown’s Park, Colo. Vern graduated from Rock Springs high school in 1939.
Vern’s first job after graduation was working for the Highway Department for that summer. That fall he worked as a Gandy Dancer, replacing ties on the railroad. By the following summer he had a job with a surveying crew at Black Canyon National Monument in Colorado. In 1941, Vern worked for the FAA surveying changes to the Rock Springs airport. These jobs set him thinking about becoming a civil engineer so that fall he enrolled in the University of Wyoming.
After completing his first year in college, and the United States’ entry into World War II, Vern enlisted in the Aviation Cadet program. He was subsequently called to service early in 1942. Vern’s goal was to become a pilot. With his usual determination and a little good fortune, he progressed through flight school and was assigned to fly B-24 Liberator bombers in the South Pacific. Vern’s combat action was primarily flying bombing missions from island air bases to the shores of Borneo and coastal China. As the war ended Vern was stationed in Boca Raton, Fla. While stationed in Florida, Vern met his future wife, Marian Adams, a young woman vacationing from Springfield, Ill. They were married Dec. 14, 1946. The new family was then sent to Mississippi. Vern remained in the Air Force at Mississippi until his discharge in October of 1948.
Vern and Marian returned to Laramie where Vern resumed his college education. By the time he returned to school, Vern realized that there was a glut of aspiring civil engineers, so it was then that he changed his major to geology. He received his degree in geology in 1950. While in Laramie working on a further degree, their son Mark (1951) and daughter Jeanne (1952) were born. In an effort to earn a little more money for his growing family, Vern signed up for the Air Force active reserve and was promptly called into service for the Korean War. He was, however, stationed to duty at F.E. Warren A.F.B. in Cheyenne, completing his service there until war’s end.
Deciding that getting a job was more important than furthering his education, Vern chose to pursue his interest in uranium geology. Vern’s ever-present determination and passion for hard work allowed him to achieve success in the mining industry. The success he attained in mining opened the door to follow his dream of ranching in Wyoming. Vern sold his mining interests to Kerr-McGee in the early ‘60s and shortly thereafter purchased the Vible ranch in Boulder, adding to his land holding in Farson and at South Pass and moved his family to Sublette County in 1965.
Vern enjoyed every aspect of his ranching operation. He delighted in taking friends and family on cattle drives, hunting trips, fishing trips and especially picnics along Silver Creek.
Due in part to Marian’s failing health, Vern sold his ranch properties in 1986 and moved to Pinedale that same year. Vern devoted his time caring for his wife until her death in November of 1990. It was during this time that good friends Harold and Beulah Faler invited Vern to come and work for them at their store. Vern enjoyed visiting with the customers and assisting them finding what they needed while doing their shopping. He worked at Faler’s hardware for 18 years until his retirement in 2004 at the age of 83.
Vern always maintained an active role in the community whether it meant serving on the local school board, serving as a member and officer of the Green River Valley Cattleman’s Association, as well as, similar positions in the Wyoming Stockgrower’s Association. Vern was also an early member of the Wyoming Mining Association.
Vernon A. Mrak packed a great deal of life into his 88 years on this earth. His legacy of hard work, determination, honesty, patriotism and loyal friendship serves as inspiration to those of us who knew and loved him.
Vern is preceded in death by his parents Urban and Mary; his brother Urban Jr.; and his dear wife of 45 years, Marian.
Vern is survived by sister Irene Shiflar of Green River; son Mark (Marianne) Mrak of Pinedale and their two sons Adam Mrak of Rock Springs and Eli Mrak of Victor, Idaho; daughter Jeanne (Paul) Hickey of Cheyenne and their children Mary (Michael) Kenney of Chicago and Patrick (Molly) Hickey of Denver.
A celebration of Vern’s life will be held at the Pinedale Library following the services. In lieu of flowers donations can be made in Vern’s name to: The University of Wyoming Geological Museum in care of the UW Foundation in Laramie.For the complete article see the 06-04-2010 issue.
Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 06-04-2010 paper.