Fred Yates in the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle newsroom. (Corryne Drake)

I remember exactly what I was doing when I met Fred Yates, who would later become one of Wyoming’s most accomplished news photographers.

It was the summer of 1983, and Fred’s first day on the job at the Wyoming Eagle in Cheyenne. I had just walked into a pitch-black newsroom during a power outage, and the news editor introduced us. We awkwardly extended our hands in the dark and exchanged greetings.

I didn’t realize at the time that I had just met not only a man I would spend the next decade working with as one of his editors, but also my best friend.

We shared many interests, including rock ‘n’ roll music, films, politics and sports of all kinds. But our bond was primarily formed because we were both news junkies and workaholics.

Neil Young and his wife, Pegi, made quite a fashion splash when they hopped off their Lear jet at the Cheyenne Airport on Nov. 12, 1986. The singer and his band performed a benefit concert for survivors of the devastating Cheyenne flood in August 1985, and he returned for a luncheon held in his honor. At right is Jerry Baldwin, a staff member of Gov. Ed Herschler, who helped organize both events. (Fred Yates/Wyoming Tribune-Eagle)

Fred passed away on May 14 due to chronic medical conditions in Fort Collins, Colorado, at the age of 63. He left behind a great body of work from his time as the chief photographer at the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. 

Fred brought many memorable images to the paper’s readers, and I don’t need a photo album to vividly recall some of his best shots from the ‘80s and ‘90s. 

Former Sen. Al Simpson and Gov. Mike Sullivan were Fred’s favorite political subjects. He and I traveled to several of Michael Dukakis’ Rocky Mountain campaign stops during his failed 1988 presidential bid.

The Laramie native was a fixture at University of Wyoming football and basketball games, roaming the sidelines and often looking beyond what was happening on the field or court. Yes, he captured athletes in action, but he’d also bring back photos of fans’ reactions, from delight to dejection, depending on what was happening to their beloved Pokes.

Cheyenne Frontier Days was also a great time of the year for Fred. He’d don his cowboy hat and boots and spend night and day at the rodeo and concert arena. One of my favorite images of Fred at work was taken by fellow photographer Mark Junge, who depicted him kneeling in the mud with two cameras at the ready and a bag slung over his shoulder.

Photographer Fred Yates, knee-deep in the Frontier Days Arena mud, always managed to keep his camera gear dry. (Mark Junge)

Fred brought both professionalism and enthusiasm to his assignments. Yes, he would grumble about some of the places we sent him, but more often than not he would come back with a story about what made that particular photo shoot special.

Once, he and a reporter covered a senior citizens’ dance. Not the most exciting subject, right? But Fred came back talking about this couple he met who were high school sweethearts that ended up going their separate ways and marrying different partners. They’d reconnected after their respective spouses passed away and the love they shared was immortalized in a Fred Yates photo. His shot of them kissing went on to win the Wyoming Press Association’s “Photo of the Year.”

Nobody had ever won two WPA top honors back-to-back, but Fred topped himself in 1988 when he covered the historic Yellowstone National Park fire, and I had the privilege of seeing him do it. Late one night we learned that the Old Faithful Lodge was dangerously close to being burned to the ground. Firefighters were trying to keep the blaze at bay, and we weren’t going to miss the effort.

We hopped into Fred’s car when we ended our shift around midnight and high-tailed it to Yellowstone. Our business manager told us not to go, but what did he know about news?

We arrived just in time for a press briefing and were handed our mandatory fire helmets and yellow safety jackets from the National Park Service. The lodge had been spared and we were assigned to a work crew, which we followed as they cleared paths to protect some of the nearby structures.

At the end of their shift, these guys were clearly beat. I interviewed one and Fred, who had been snapping pictures all day, grabbed his gear to go.

In this award-winning photo, titled “High School Sweethearts,” a reunited couple kiss at a seniors’ dance. (Fred Yates/Wyoming Tribune Eagle/Wyoming State Archives)

I explained that the crew had asked if he would take their photo as they posed by their truck. Fred wasn’t happy.

“That’s just a snapshot,” he said. But he took it, and we didn’t think anything else about it when we traveled back to Cheyenne a few days later. Fred had plenty of action shots, which we both assumed would be how he would illustrate our stories.

But an amazing thing happened when Fred developed his film: the image that stood out was that trio of firefighters, covered in soot and grime but smiling at the end of a brutally tough day. It might have been just a snapshot in the hands of anyone else, but Fred’s photo conveyed something universal: the indomitable human spirit.

Thousands of photos were taken of the fires as they raged throughout the park that summer, including many by fine Wyoming journalists. But when the WPA named its Photo of the Year, Fred’s captivating image is the one that took home the award.

Over the years, our paths diverged. We both left the newspaper; I moved to Casper and Fred headed east, first to Louisville, Kentucky, where he worked as a research analyst, and then to Boston.

Journalism jobs were scarce, and so was public relations work, though Fred had experience in the latter at Laramie County Community College. We stayed in contact through regular phone calls that Fred initiated. He wasn’t going to let our friendship die just because we lived thousands of miles apart.

This photograph of a firefighting crew taken for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle during the historic Yellowstone fire of 1988 won the Wyoming Press Association photograph of the year award.( Fred Yates)

A few years ago, Fred moved to Fort Collins, where he worked as a postman. He often bemoaned the fact that he was no longer in the news business, and to me it was one of the great tragedies of the new normal for our industry. With so many newspapers going under and talented journalists losing their jobs, professionals like Fred had to pursue other careers.

As I look back, I see a craftsman who brought a special gift to his work: the sheer joy of meeting other people and sharing what they did with the public. He left many of his subjects feeling that they had just made a good friend, and it was genuine.

Cheyenne musician Ed Fowler, one of the photographer’s favorite subjects, during a light moment while rehearsing. (Fred Yates)

Fred loved his friendships with people he admired, including brothers Al and Pete Simpson; former Wyoming Supreme Court Justice Robert Rose; former state legislator and pastor Rodger McDaniel; and his mentor and University of Wyoming journalism professor, Robert Warner.

If I sent Fred to shoot anything related to trains, he’d come back to the newsroom grinning ear-to-ear and tell me what he learned from an engineer, maintenance man or railroad fan. One of his favorite days of the year was when he got to ride “The Treagle,” a special train that would carry the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s top advertisers from Cheyenne to Laramie to watch a UW football game.

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It was an all-male event, which is one of the reasons it no longer exists; doing that today would be unbelievably sexist. But Fred was a bit of a rebel, and he mischievously helped sneak one of our female reporters onto the train for one trip. A few newspaper executives were livid, but all of the passengers loved it!

I will miss him terribly the rest of my life. But when I think of Fred I will always remember what became his trademark greeting whenever he’d return after an enjoyable assignment and make a beeline to my desk: “Drake, you’re never going to believe this …”

What I can’t believe is that he’s gone. I may have met him in the dark, but for me, and thousands of readers and subjects whose lives he touched, his photos will remain a beacon of light. Fred’s images define not only a unique Wyoming era, but the gifted man who took them.

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and...

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  1. Thank you, Kerry. I think this is the memorial service Fred would’ve wanted. I’ll miss his optimism, his random calls, his musical advice. and probably even his Walter Brennan impressions. It was truly an honor and a privilege working with Fred, with you, Linda, Beth, Don, Kirk and the extended AP and UPI news family.

  2. Thanks Kerry for your story on Fred. Always a fixture at many UW events especially sporting activities. Enjoyed seeing all the comments and especially the picture at Frontier Days and my old friend Ed Fowler.

  3. What a great tribute to a terrific newsman and a good person. The Yellowstone story really shows what a serious, dedicated journalist Fred was. His humanity and desire to get to know new people and learn new things made him a standout journalist. And made him a great person to know.

  4. Thanks, Kerry, fir a beautiful story about a wonderful guy and great friend. Remembering Fred and Denny always trying to see who could get the best train photo!

  5. Such a great tribute, Kerry, thank you. Fed and I worked together when I was a photographer for LCCC and then when I was a photo stringer for the Eagle. We sat together on the floor of the Dome of Doom shooting some of UW’s best basketball players….we worked together the day Gov Sullivan was sworn in….and spent a lot of time in the dark room, exchanging techniques on development. He was a very hard worker and an excellent photographer. I will miss him dearly.

  6. Thank you Kerry for this story. I’m so sorry to learn of Fred’s passing. I remember many enjoyable times visiting with Fred when he came in to the Photo Service at the University and at football and basketball games. He passed away at much too young an age.

  7. Kerry: Beautiful tribute that brings Fred back to life. You are the best.

    Yeah, he used to say the same thing to me after calling me up or seeing me at various venues where he took photographs: “Hey, Mark, you’re never gonna believe this but do you remember …?” (such-and-such a person or event). He always could manufacture a laugh from me, especially when he was laughing so hard I couldn’t help but be dragged into his universe.. We used to get each other so worked up over certain newspaper employees–those who were tight-fisted, two-faced or particularly unreasonable people and run them over the coals until they were fried. But he had a heart the size of Wyoming. Fred was a mensch and I’ll miss him.

  8. What a moving tribute to a phenomenal photographer. In the 1980s each day I looked at the Eagle front page photo carefully because Fred could capture the Cheyenne spirit or the essence of an event with one photo.. Often he would stop by my house with my reporter daughter Beth for a quick dinner before they returned to the Eagle to prepare the next day’s edition. It was “breaking” news for us! RIP Fred.

  9. I had the pleasure of working with Fred “Yippee-Ki-Yay” Yates twice — at the Tribune-Eagle and at LCCC. Always had a kind word and a smile for everyone. I don’t know if the community will ever realize the tremendous photographic talent the WTE employed, then or more recently; Fred exemplified how to be a great photog but also a human being who happens to take pictures for the newspaper.

  10. Nice tributes in this column and these comments to two fine journalists – Fred Yates, gone too soon, and Kerry Drake.

  11. Kerry thanks for a wonderful article. Fred was a “gem” in every human way and you painted a marvelous word picture of him. The memories flood back of his ever happy presence.
    God bless
    Mike and Jane Sullivan

  12. Phil Nobel said it just right. Another wonderful story by one of my favorite journalists.

  13. Wow, Kerry. What a beautiful tribute to an unforgettable journalist and friend.

    Fred was my first friend in Cheyenne. He taught me so much about the profession — how to establish a rapport with people and capture what they’re all about. Some of my best interviews were successful because Fred was there with me and asked the most intriguing questions.

    He did more than just take pictures of people and write stories about them. He captured people’s souls and brought them to life on the page through what you called “the human touch.” What a gift he gave Wyoming Eagle readers! How fortunate you and I were to work with him and get to see people through his eyes.

    Fred inspired me to take up photography, and I think of him every time I shoot. My goal is always to capture a shot worthy of comparison to one of Fred’s photos. I have yet to meet it.

    Fred was a dear friend to me, and he introduced me to the man who would become my husband and kind of nudged me and Jim to get together. We owe 31 years of happy marriage largely to our friend.

    I was utterly heartbroken to hear of his passing. The world desperately needs more people like Fred, but we were blessed to have him light up our corner of it for a time. I imagine him in heaven, making friends with everyone he meets.

    Thank you for the column, Kerry. It did Fred justice.

  14. Heartfelt tribute by a fine columnist and faithful friend.
    Bob Warner must be beaming, tickled at how you captured Fred in an excellent “word-photo” so full of warmth and characterizations!

  15. Oh Kerry. This is beautiful. Fred was the best. A “good egg” I keep thinking since I heard of his passing (though I never called him that before). I remember Neil Young the year before the photo you posted, arriving at the stage of his benefit concert on a stagecoach – it was my first writing assignment at the Eagle, as it turned out (I’d gone along as Fred’s camera carrier – that was my press pass, his camera bag! And I came back with words to add to a pre-written article by someone else). Such incredible photos, that night. And always. “The indomitable human spirit” – it’s what he captured, isn’t it? I was lucky to call him my friend.

  16. Thanks Kerry. Great article. Fred was a great photographer. Remembering him through your article was great. I think he took some good ones of me during my time in the legislature. Thanks for remembering him. Pete Illoway

  17. Kerry – you tracked down some of the best! They made me cry all over again. I used to come back from college every summer to whatever job was open at the Eagle/Tribune (someone had always just quit or been fired). I came back one summer and there was Fred. My life as a journalist and a human has never been the same. Fred and I would have so much fun working on a story together. One of my favorites was a one-on-one interview with Gerry Spence. We’d go to grab dinner at that crazy pizza place on the corner of Warren and 18th and he’d want to get anchovies on his half of the pizza! Thank you!

  18. I am sorry to hear of Fred’s passing. I also met him early on in his Cheyenne career. He once took a photo of me sitting on the front porch I was building on my house. Fred was always taking pictures so I thought nothing much of it. When it ran on the front page of the Eagle the next day I received a call from the Cheyenne building department inquiring about my permit. I was to find the permit for the addition did not extend to replacing the porch.

    I have not seen Fred in many years but I guarantee that if I had run into him he would have greeted me as if we were the best of friends. I will remember his smile and I will remember him as a friend.

  19. Kerry: Brilliant tribute to a very special talent, and as you note, an even more special friend. We will miss him. Thank you.

  20. Wow. What a heartbreaking, great story from one of the finest journalists I’ve ever met. I can only hope someone will write a remembrance of me half as good as this. Wyoming’s people are very lucky to have had Kerry Drake and Fred Yates working in journalism all those years.
    -Phil Noble, Green Valley, Arizona