- Associated Press - Thursday, September 24, 2015

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - It had been more than 60 years since Lois Epp stepped into the small, one-story home in Cheyenne’s South Side Historic District.

The pictures on the wall and the layout of the home, which sits next to the Union Pacific railroad, had changed over the decades.

But as Epp stepped inside on a recent evening, it was like she once again was back in her childhood home.

“I’m just speechless. I just can’t believe it,” she said as she entered the living room that was formerly her old bedroom. “The happiest years of my life were spent here.”

Epp’s visit to her old home was a surprise orchestrated by her family, who wanted to check off one of the “bucket-list” wishes for the 85-year-old who now lives in California.

Epp’s granddaughter, Sheridan resident Lisa Gill, began planning the trip months ago.

She told her grandmother that she was flying her in to Denver and then driving her up to Sheridan for a visit. But she secretly was planning the detour through Cheyenne so Epp could see her old home and the area where she lived until 1952.

Even though it took much work and scheming, Gill said it was the least she could do for her grandmother, who she calls her “hero.”

Epp’s husband was killed in Germany during World War II, leaving her to raise three young kids on her own. Staying with her children during the day, Epp would work night shifts in order to provide for them.

And once her kids grew up and had their own kids, Epp would make time to watch her grandchildren whenever it was needed.

“I was abused as a little girl, and when I was 13, she took me in,” Gill said. “And instead of having me sleep on the couch, she gave up her bed and took the couch herself.

“Throughout the years, grandma always made sure everyone came before her.”

So with detective-like determination, Gill set out to plan the trip.

She contacted the Cheyenne Genealogical and Historical Society to track down the old address and eventually was able to get a phone number for the current owners.

She then called the current occupant, 89-year-old Stella Valdez, and told her about her plans.

Valdez said she was initially hesitant since she was planning to have family over at that time.

But as she learned more, including the fact that they were actually neighbors in the 1940s and that Valdez’s father was the one who purchased the home from Epp’s family, she agreed to invite them in.

“It’s very unexpected,” she said. “But she was only going to be in Cheyenne for a couple days, so it was the least we could do.”

The plan worked out, and Valdez’s family and Epp’s family ended up sitting down over apple pie and banana bread to look at old pictures and reminisce about everything from the blizzard of 1949 to which local movie theater had the lowest prices.

Epp said being in the house brought back plenty of old memories of babysitting neighbors when she was a young teenager.

“I babysat the neighbors next door, I babysat the policeman’s son around the corner, and I just loved to babysit,” she said. “That’s how I made money, and, boy, you could make 25 cents an hour back then.

“I was only 15, but hey, that was big money back then.”

But Epp said the thing she remembers the most about her old home is hearing the whistle of the trains. Even when she hears a train around her current home in Salinas, California, the noise always would conjure up thoughts about her father, who worked for the railroad.

“The whistle never bothered me back then,” she said. “When I lived here, it would be my lullaby going to bed and my wake-up call in the morning. I just felt so wonderful here.”

After spending another day taking in the sights around Cheyenne, Epp and the rest of her family who joined her for the trip will travel to Sheridan.

But Epp said it’s a surprise she won’t ever forget.

“I almost fainted when I found out what they were doing,” she said. “It really was just so great.”

___

Information from: Wyoming Tribune Eagle, https://www.wyomingnews.com

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