A man with a long record of service to his country and his community has been selected as the parade marshal for the Byron Day Parade this Saturday.
Joe Mooney, a 40-year resident of Byron, is a veteran of the Marine Corps, a retired contractor and small businessman, former town councilman, youth leader and religious leader who has served both the Gideons organization and a community church in Burlington.
“It was a heck of a surprise to me. They’re scraping the bottom of the barrel,” Mooney joked about his selection as parade marshal.
Mooney is a city boy who made his way to small-town, rural Wyoming in the 1970s. He grew up on the southwest side of Chicago – White Sox territory – but was a closet Cubs fan, he said, because his mother grew up on the north side of the city, Cubs land.
He enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1967 and served three years of active duty and three years in the reserves, serving six months at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, with the 2nd battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, a security detachment, and the 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion out of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
He came home to the 1970s protests that marked the Vietnam War.
“It was a terrible time in Chicago,” he said. “We (servicemen) became the enemy of everyone, called baby killers and momma rapists. I had to put everything in my foot locker – until 9/11. You put your head down, go to work and try to make a living.”
One positive thing that did happen to Mooney was meeting his wife and love of his life, Pam, his second marriage, and they made a decision together: “We wanted to go where there were more cows than people.”
So in 1975 the couple made a slow, 15-day drive from Chicago to Wyoming, getting to know plenty of fishing holes along the way, and arrived in Thermopolis.
“I really liked it there,” he said. “That was our adventure, our honeymoon, which has lasted 44 years.”
Mooney went to work for the boys school in Worland, then an insulation company. Then he and Pam drove through Lovell one day during the winter and were surprised at the lack of snow. He went to work as a brick mason for Jay Wardell and moved to Lovell, helping
to build Big Horn IGA in 1977, now the Red Apple.
He worked as a mason for some 15 years until the economic crash in the late ‘80s. With local work drying up, he had a decision to make: follow the work or become a full-time dad, with “Little Joe” now at home.
“I decided to be a full-time dad,” he said. The family added Kimmy in 1991.
“I had a small glass business and did remodeling, roofing and concrete work,” he said. “I was fixing things and building things. My earlier commercial work taught me to do things right. In that line of work you’re inspected all the time. You had to do things right. You couldn’t cut any corners.”
In the meantime, he and Pam had moved to Byron and raised their family in the small, quiet community – except on Friday nights. The family home is next to the longtime Byron and Rocky Mountain High School football field, though he joked that he could see only half of the field from his backyard because the stands are in the way of the other half.
Mooney was elected to the town council and served two terms, noting that it was that council under mayor Brook Abraham that got the famous Byron fireworks started, moving the display to Byron Day after a Y2K display just after midnight on Jan. 1, 2000.
When the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, patriotism welled up in Mooney once again, and at the age of 51 he attempted to re-enlist in the Marines at the Marine Reserve Center in Billings.
“They just looked at me,” he said, “but I became good friends with the first sergeant there.”
That friendship led to Mooney’s leadership in the Young Marines youth organization. Cody had the Yellowstone Young Marines, and then the Buffalo Bill Young Marines group was formed, with many members from Powell. He soon became involved in the organization.
“Fred Zier spoke to the Young Marines one year, gave them a pep talk and a devotional,” he said. “Then he scheduled me the next year and two months later I was the commanding officer.”
That led to his longtime work with the Marine Corps Reserves Toys for Tots program, which for years has provided Christmas toys to hundreds of children in the Big Horn Basin.
“I am glad that’s still going,” he said. “I had no idea of the monster I was creating. I learned that people love to give. That’s the greatest blessing I had.
“One time I met a 16-year-old girl while on a toy run in Greybull who was surprised there were so many needy kids in the area,” he said. “I said, ‘You have no idea.’ It was her birthday the day before, and she went home and gave us the $60 she had received at her birthday party the day before. That was such a blessing.
“Another time someone gave us a hundred-dollar bill, telling us, ‘You helped me in a time of need.’ Those are the kind of cool things you learn – life lessons.”
Mooney is proud to say that several of the Young Marines he worked with have gone on to serve in the Army, Navy, Marines or Army National Guard, and others into police work.
Around the same time, Mooney became involved with the Gideons International, helping to provide Bibles for local motels and raise money for efforts to spread the Gospel around the world. He also pastored the Burlington Community Church for six years.
Pam works part-time at Aldrich Lumber in Powell. Son Joseph, wife Samantha and two kids live next door in Byron, and Kim and family are moving to the other side of Joe and Pam’s home, adding one son and soon another child to the family mix.
Mooney remains a member of the U.S. Marine Corps League in Billings and American Legion Post 26 in Powell. But mostly, he plays grandpa to his three grandchildren.
“I’m Grandpa Daycare,” he said with a laugh.
By David Peck