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Wyoming storyteller spins tales of the state

SHARE Wyoming storyteller spins tales of the state

John "Ace" Bonar likes sharing Wyoming stories with Wyoming people, especially with children.

He's not opposed to wearing a mountain man costume or cowboy attire if it helps the effort.An outgoing man with plentiful white hair, bushy white eyebrows and twinkling blue eyes, Bonar has also been known to dress as a Scotsman, matching the demeanor of his puppet, Scotty.

"I go around to schools, and I have for the last 30 years, talking about Wyoming history," said Bonar, 80, Glenrock, who also writes about Wyoming.

He gives up to 30 such talks a year.

His specialty, in both writing and speaking, involves little-known, unusual aspects of the state's early days.

"Everybody should know history because it's the basis for how we're living today, but I don't like it dull. I have an ability to make it live and that's what I like to do, to tell a story . . . so that it's fun," he said.

Adults, too, hear the Wyoming stories he writes. He visits clubs and organizations, often as part of the Retired Senior Volunteer Program offered through the Casper Senior Center.

Some of the stories he tells are part of a self-published book that came out during the state's centennial celebration, called "Pride, Power and Progress: Wyoming's First 100 Years."

Unless people have heard the tales from him, either by talk or book, Bonar said, people aren't likely to know that "the strongest man in the world" once lived in Glenrock, that "little people" were part of the Indian lore of Wyoming, that the town of Glenrock was named for a rock in the glen where settlers carved their names.

"Students get such a bang out of the stories," he said.

Bonar, whose moniker "Ace" is strictly a pen name, also has appeared on Wyoming radio and television numerous times, has published a total of three books of Wyoming stories, and most recently began making arrangements to film some of his presentations for posterity.

"I enjoy that maybe I'm doing some good," he said. "I feel that I am and the kids make you feel younger, and their enthusiasm and stuff keeps you going. People have talents and I think they should use those talents."

Writing and making public appearances are his talents, he said.

Bonar proudly claims to know more about Glenrock than some of the natives. Describing himself as a "newcomer," he took an interest in what Wyoming people had to say about Wyoming. He arrived 50 years ago.

"I like people," he said. "I like to talk to people and I like to listen to people. I just sort of lay back and listen. That's where you learn things. Unusual stories just seem to fall into place because I'm curious.

"I start asking questions and then I put the answers down and make a story out of them. People tell you things, but so many people don't write it down, even relatives. People see things all the time and don't ask about them. I like to find out and share what I know."

He and his wife, Hazel, visited her aunt in Glenrock on their honey-moon.

A World War II U.S. infantry veteran, Bonar grew up in California, but said, "We liked the slower pace than what we were used to in California, so we moved our sewing machine and our refrigerator and got a start out here in Glenrock. That's all we had to start with."

He never regretted the move.

"I love it out here. I love Wyoming," he said.

He took work at the Conoco refinery in Glenrock until it shut down in the mid-50s, then drove back and forth to Casper for 27 years to work at the Texaco refinery, until it shut down in 1982.

As a youngster, history was his hobby. He wrote articles about recent history while still in high school. He still reads extensively about history, particularly history of Wyoming and the West.

Wyoming's first poet laureate, the late Peggy Simson Curry, encouraged his Wyoming writings. He took a creative writing class she instructed for 12 years.

"It was like a club more than a class and I would go there and then I would go to work afterwards. And then I got interested in Wyoming history. I had to write something and so I found out this wonderful field that was wide open," he said.

He also has written about Nazi Germany during the '30s and '40s and his experiences in the infantry in Europe during World War II.

"A long time ago, somebody told me I should write a book and so I kept dreaming about it and dreaming about it and so finally I did write a little book about Wyoming and it has some of my best stories."

The Indian legend about the "little people" or "dwarf demons" of Wyoming 10,000 years ago is definitely his best story, he believes.

In fact, he gave the idea to the television show "Unsolved Mysteries," which used the legend on the TV series.

Bonar says he likes to get up in front of people and talk. He likes to tell jokes that make people laugh, but only good, clean jokes.

He likes to dance, two-step and waltz, although he says he can't keep up with the young people.

He goes to exercise classes and walks two miles a day.

"I just enjoy every day," he said. "Every day is a holiday. I'm lucky to be alive and I try to keep healthy."