Statue ignites controversy

(Photo from Wyoming Cowboys Facebook page) Construction workers unload the statue of Kenny Sailors before placing it in the newly remodeled Arena Auditorium.

Last Thursday, the statue of Kenny Sailors, UW’s jump-shot hero in 1943, was placed in the Arena-Auditorium. UW Alumni Rudy Gunter was to build the statue, but a series of events would change the outcome of who not only built the statue, but where it was placed.

“The last two years turned into being lied to and stabbed in the back by the University Of Wyoming Board Of Trustees, Governor Matt Mead, Tom Burman and Bruce Pivic,” Terrell Lance, son of Rudy Gunter, said.

The project, led by the Cowboy Joe Club and Bruce Pivic, was announced in 2014 by the Athletics Media and Public Relations. At that time, the statue was to be built by Gunter.

Gunter was previously diagnosed with ALS when he began the project.

“Rudy was diagnosed with ALS and working with his hands could worsen his condition,” Lance said.

During the beginning stages, Lance said, “Kenny met with Rudy [Gunter] and even told him where to place the hands.”

Kenny approved the statue marquet presented by Gunter and the building of the full-scale statue began.

The Gunter family was approached by Pivic and told that the Arena Auditorium project was “over budget and behind schedule” and that Gunter’s statue could be “moved to an alternate location or put into storage where it might not be seen again.”

Pivic informed the Branding Iron that he was advised not to speak on behalf of the statue.

The family was told by Pivic that there was an alternate location on the I-80 exit near Pine Bluffs that had the Governor’s approval.

According to David Bush, the Communications Director with the Office of Governor Mead, the governor does not have sole authority to place statues in the state and would have never made that commitment.

In a recent statement earlier this week from the University of Wyoming Athletics Department, Gunter’s name in the 2014 announcement, “was done in error, as UW did not have a contract with Mr. Gunter” and that “[the decision] required a competitive public bidding process.”

The Public Art Committee headed the bidding process and approved Jay Warren.

Lance said, they didn’t know about the error in the 2014 announcement or the bidding process.

Mary Shaw, a close associate of Gunter’s throughout the project, said, “[Gunter] didn’t know that there were plans to go forward with a Kenny Sailors statue in the A.A. until February of 2016.”

Now that the Warren statue stands in the Arena-Auditorium, Rudy wants his statue in front of Half Acre because “that’s where Kenny actually played ball.” It is unsure if the dirt work near Pine Bluffs has commenced.

Ricki Klages, Chair of the Public Arts Committee said, “Donors cannot be the deciding factor of art pieces on campus.”

In response to the placement of Gunter’s statue outside of Half Acre, Klages said, “That’s not how things work on campus. Any proposal would have to go through a special vetting process so things don’t just pop up on campus.”

As of Tuesday, Gunter has been compensated the owed $58,000 by Pivic.

“This isn’t about the money,” Lance said. “It’s about the disrespect of Kenny Sailors and what he wanted and to a UW alumni who dedicated his life to Wyoming and produced a project that Kenny approved of.”

There is currently no definite plan for Gunter’s statue.

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