By Clair McFarland
Via Wyoming News Exchange
RIVERTON — While many of us could write a mountain of thank you cards at the end of our lives, most of us do not have the wholesome anticipation of death that would move us to do so.
But Tom Woodyard of Riverton, who died of natural causes in October of 2016, did have that wholesome anticipation, as well as a mountain of gratitude.
He made that clear through his will, which reads “I, Thomas H. Woodyard, a.k.a. Thomas Henry Woodyard, a single man, never having been married, having no children, and having no living parent, of the City of Riverton, County of Fremont, State of Wyoming, being of sound mind and memory but becoming more frail in physical health and mindful of the uncertainties of life, hereby make, publish and declare this to be my last Will and Testament.”
The document which follows is an 18-page, handwritten will, which – to the astonishment and relief of the co-executors of Woodyard’s estate – was easily verified by the Fremont County District Court to be a valid will, despite being “free of lawyers’ fingerprints.”
More remarkably, however, is that this document is what co-executor Craig Cooper calls “a totally charitable will.” The entirety of Woodyard’s estate, after covering his burial and any medical costs that might precede his death, was to go to charities.
And it all did.
The will was completed in 2011 and tucked into a safety deposit box at a bank in town. After he died in 2016, Woodyard’s niece, Judy Reiners, would find a document in his home instructing her to contact Cooper and seek out the will.
Cooper remembers that week. It took the help of a locksmith specialist from Casper to open the boxes, but “sure enough, in one of the safety deposit boxes, was the will,” Cooper said.
What Cooper and Reiners would find in the will were instructions for distributing an estate worth more than $2 million – to 83 different entities.
Woodyard’s niece, and his friend, both especially cherished by him, would spend the next 21 months completing the list of instructions as co-executors of his will.
“Thank goodness for the specificity of the will,” said Cooper, who found that there was no room for any dispute of the bequests and that the document was “extremely well thought out.”
Many local organizations who had given a home to Woodyard’s passions – his faith, horseback riding, camping, teaching, history, reading, genealogy, agriculture, and, most notably, the care of others – found themselves as beneficiaries of his bountiful estate.
The local library. Boy Scouts, troop 44. Help for Health Hospice, the Methodist Church, the Fremont County Genealogical Society, the Wind River Flywheelers, the Senior Center Meals on Wheels, the Christian Food Storehouse, the American Legion Post.
All these and many more received generous provision toward their workings and goals.
Woodyard created various scholarship programs and provided research funds for a vast but specific list of diseases and ailments.
“He also bequeathed well over $1 million to churches, historic sites, libraries, colleges, hospices, cemeteries, home health organizations, and an arboretum in his (original) home county in Illinois,” Cooper said.
Besides arranging his will to show gratitude and encouragement to these entities, Woodyard also arranged donations toward memorials for friends who had departed before him, including fellow Riverton schoolteachers Lillian Kinne and Warren Kellogg.
“What a wonderful legacy,” Christian Food Storehouse operator Cinde Pfisterer said.
Pfisterer received Woodyard’s bequest to the Christian Food Storehouse just before Thanksgiving of 2017, when the storehouse was working to honor its tradition of delivering 150 free Thanksgiving dinners to families in the community.
Because of Woodyard’s gift, Pfisterer said that she “was able to add more food,” and that she will be able to apply the gift toward Thanksgiving dinners “not just this year, but for years to come.”
“Thank you, to a man who had a heart for people,” she said.
Tom Woodyard was raised in Charleston, Illinois, but moved to Riverton soon after serving in the Army and becoming a school teacher.
He taught at the old Jefferson Elementary School from 1958 to 1961 and at Jackson Elementary from 1962 until his retirement.
The Woodyard estate, which was a product of family inheritance, careful living, and thorough planning, has been distributed fully to every entity that held personal or moral significance to Tom Woodyard and – as of July 10 – has been closed out by the court.