Jane Laye just retired after 25 years as secretary and special assistant to Yellowstone National Park’s four most recent superintendents.
She worked with all of the most recent “supes,” ranging from Bob Barbee to Mike Finley, Suzanne Lewis, who was the park’s first female superintendent, to current leader Dan Wenk.
“It was my job to take care of the superintendents,” Laye said recently during a leisurely conversation over coffee on the outdoor deck of Tumbleweed Bookstore and Café in Gardiner. “The demands are incredible. Everybody wants something from them.”
Laye, 62, started with the National Park Service in 1991. Her first superintendent was Robert “Bob” Barbee, who had garnered a lot of attention as superintendent during the fires of 1988. Barbee died in 2016 at the age of 80.
“He was funny and a nice guy,” she said of Barbee. “He was very dedicated and very much for the resource.”
Mike Finley was the park’s chief from 1994 to 2001, when Internet access was becoming the norm.
“I taught him how to use email,” Jan laughed.
Finley helped stop the New World mine proposed by a Canadian mining company outside of Cooke City, Montana, when it was finally paid in 1996 $65 million to go away.
Laye said Finley was able to accomplish a lot because he was working under Bruce Babbitt’s Interior Department during Bill Clinton’s presidency.
When Finley left, Yellowstone’s next superintendent was also the park’s first woman in the top job—Suzanne Lewis.
Lewis came to park in 2002 and often had to deal with sexism.
“She was six feet tall, and she’d draw herself up to her full height to handle pushback from men.”
Current superintendent Dan Wenk came onboard in 2011.
“Dan is very methodical. He has a vision for the park. It’s all about the betterment of the park.”
In addition to insulating the superintendents, Laye’s workdays included everything from answering telephone calls from a wide range of citizens, from U.S. senators to angry animal lovers upset about shipping Yellowstone’s iconic bison to slaughter, to arranging lodging and itineraries for foreign and domestic dignitaries and working with Secret Service agents advance-planning a trip by a U.S. president.
“I didn’t get to meet most of them,” Laye recalled. “I was always behind the scenes.”
However, she did get to meet former First Lady Laura Bush because Mrs. Bush likes to come to the park with some of her women friends and go hiking, even after her husband was no longer president.
A few years ago she had the pleasure of assisting the last Earl of Dunraven, the seventh, whose ancestor, the fourth, had written a book about the park in the late 1800s called The Great Divide. Dunraven Pass, north of Canyon Village, bears his name.
The seventh earl died in 2011 without a male heir, and the title went extinct.
In recent years, the park has entertained numerous Chinese officials working to establish national parks in China. There is a lot of interest in setting up Chinese national parks and they come to Yellowstone to learn.
One of her favorite tasks, though, was working with the Dream Foundation, a nonprofit that helps terminally ill adults fulfill items on their “bucket list.”
Laye’s last day of work was June 29. She and her husband sold their home in Gardiner and are moving back to the Grand Rapids, Michigan area soon.
She said she’d miss most were the people she’d come to know in Gardiner over the years.
“They’ve been like family,” she said.
And she’ll miss the wildlife and scenic beauty, of course.
Laye is proud of her work with the world’s first national park and working with managers who were dedicated to preserving the park.
“Yellowstone always carries on,” she said.