Their efforts to help youth didn’t stop when their son Dan was killed in a horse accident in Crandall in 1996. Rather, those efforts increased dramatically when the Ostroms established the Dano Youth Wilderness Camp in his memory in 1997, with more than 450 youth participating in the camps since then.
The Ostroms are among the Wyoming finalists for the 2013 Jefferson Award for Public Service. The award, hosted in Wyoming by television station KCWY Channel 13 of Casper, recognizes people who make a difference in their communities through service and volunteerism.
The award winner will be announced Thursday and will win a trip to Washington, D.C. in June for the national award presentation.
After years of volunteering to help youth, their son Dan was killed on April 29, 1996, when his horse rolled over on him while he was riding in the Crandall area.
But it wasn’t long before they began considering how to turn their loss into something good for others.
“At the funeral service, the priest challenged us to make a positive out of a negative,” Joyce said. “He had no idea where he was gearing us, but it was the spiritual thing right there.”
That set a group of people, led by Eric and Lou Ann Loloff, to thinking about establishing a camp in Dan’s honor.
From the moment they heard about the idea, the Ostoms began working to make the camps happen. They established a board of directors and worked tirelessly to make the dream become a reality.
The first Dano Youth Wilderness Camp started in 1997, and as many as five camps have taken place each summer since then — three for boys, two for girls, from the ages of 13 to 16, all at no cost to the youth or their families.
Camp counselors make use of naturally-occurring teaching moments to focus on physical, emotional, social and spiritual growth, Joyce said.
The trips take place primarily in the Beartooths, with some in the Big Horn Mountains as well, she said.
Although free to youth, the costs to organize, equip and run the eight-day youth camps is significant. To meet that financial need, Joyce spends much of her time throughout each year raising money for the camps. She does that by selling pottery and planning fundraising events such as fun runs, concerts and expos.
Applications are accepted from any Park County youth, with camping spaces filled based on time and date of the post marks on the mailed envelopes.
Those selected must attend a weekend mini-camp experience over a weekend at the Northwest College Field Station. There, they participate in a team-building ropes course, do backpacking and cook meals.
“They see what we’re going to do for eight days,” Joyce said. “Very seldom do we ever turn a youth down, but they can turn us down. There’s kids that say, I’m not going to do this for eight days.”
Jerry said he’s had many former campers come back later to tell him, “That made a big difference in my life.”
One of them is Grant Nickles, 17, of Powell.
“I started in my eighth-grade year,” Grant said last week. “I had always been outdoorsy,” he said, but he still found the backpacking to be “pretty hard work.”
“We would hike about four to eight miles,” he said. “The first year, we would usually only have 35-pound packs.”
Still, he added, “I thought the hardest part was actually getting along with the other kids. (But) it got mostly easier as the week wore on.”
Favorite memories, he said, included swimming in a lake fed by a glacier and a field of snow right beside it.
“We literally lost feeling in our fingers and toes instantly and had to climb out right away,” he said. “It was super cold, but at the same time, it was super fun.”
Climbing up Cloud Peak last year was another favorite memory, he said.
After being in the camp for three years, “I think I know who I am better than before I went,” he said. “I am better at communicating with other team members, and kind of expressing an idea, and probably better at getting along with people. It’s definitely helped me out socially.”
Grant said he found it to be most helpful when counselors stuck to the discussion topics outlined by the Ostroms.
As a counselor in training, he plans to help provide those experiences as well, he said.
His mother, Megan Nickles, also praised the camp.
“It was very much life changing for him,” she said. “It just really drew out his passion for the outdoors and also for leadership and ... personal self-reliance. I know he’s really enjoyed watching the other kids learn and grow in each trip and go through what he went through the first time.”
Megan said she and her husband, Steve, support the camp financially as well.
“I think it’s such a wonderful opportunity and experience for kids,” she said. “There’s just nothing else like it around.
“Every year, (the Ostroms) stop by and have some kind of antlers or different types of Christmas ornaments after their trip so they have something on the tree that reminds them of their trip.”
Ostroms’ public services detailed
Patty Brus of Cody nominated Jerry and Joyce Ostrom of Powell for the Jefferson Public Service Award.
Brus cited the following public services provided by the Ostroms:
• The Dano Youth Wilderness Camp
• Joyce’s 50 years as a 4-H leader in consumer science, mentoring, leadership, record books, presentations and training workshops. She served as the superintendent of county fair 4-H exhibits for 15 years and judged county fair exhibits for 25 years.
• Joyce helped organize and served as an officer of the FFA parent support group.
• Joyce and Jerry guided 4-H and FFA members and activities in Powell and at the Park County and Wyoming state fairs.
•Jerry has served as a 4-H leader in shooting sports, wildlife, natural resources and leather for 40 years.
• Jerry has been a leader and teacher of hunter safety classes for 40 years, certifying more than 600 youth. He was recognized in 2003 as the Wyoming Outstanding Hunter Safety/Education Leader.
• Jerry drives disabled American veterans to medical appointments in Sheridan and Billings. He was the commander of the Heart Mountain Chapter 11 Disabled American Veterans Grop for eight years.
• Jerry received the U.S. Secret Service Certificate of Appreciation for contributions to law enforcement responsibilities in 2008.
• Jerry received a certificate of appreciation from former Vice President Dick Cheney for assisting with the training of troops in mule packing for combat in Afghanistan and Iraq in 2008. The Ostroms provided facilities for “mounted trainings” for federal, state and local agencies for 10 years.
•Jerry served as a volunteer with the U.S. Forest Service, riding horseback through the wilderness in Wyoming and Montana and educating forest users for 20 years.
• While Jerry playing the guitar and singing in two senior citizen bands, Jerry has performed 10 times per month for the past seven years at area nursing homes, hospitals, senior citizen centers and assisted living facilities.
• Jerry coached Little League Baseball, and Joyce was chairwoman of scorekeepers for five years.
• Jerry has been active in playing cards, games and entertaining Big Horn Enterprises clients.
• After raising three sons, the Ostroms helped raise two granddaughters.
• Members of St. Barbara’s Catholic Church for 30 years.