(PHOTOS) Bridge dedicated to teacher Casper, patriot on Veterans Day

Mary Sanchez speaks with Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon after a bridge to the Oregon Trail State Veterans Cemetery was dedicated to Mary’s late husband, Leo Sanchez, Friday, November 11 in Evansville. Leo was a longtime former Navy and college teacher who was involved in fundraising and honoring veterans for much of his life. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City News)

CASPER, Wyo — For years, Casper’s teacher, Leo Sanchez, called an unnamed bridge connecting the Oregon Trail State Veterans’ Cemetery to Evansville “Freedom Bridge.”

After today, this bridge officially has a name: the Leo R. Sanchez Freedom Bridge.

Family members, dignitaries and friends of Leo Sanchez take photos and cheer as a bridge is dedicated to him on Veterans Day in Evansville. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City News)

Casper-born Leo Sanchez taught students at Dean Morgan Junior High School for 37 years before retiring in 2001. During that time, the U.S. Navy and Korean War veteran made it his mission to involve his students in dozens of community projects, including fundraising to help fund a kidney dialysis machine, a city bus accessible to people with disabilities and the center for the elderly. He and his students also installed statues and memorials for veterans throughout the city and lined the road with trees leading to the veterans’ cemetery.

Mary Sanchez kisses her granddaughter Emily Eidsness before the inauguration of the bridge for Leo Sanchez. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City News)

Leo, who died after a fall at home in 2013, had been married to his wife Mary for 49 years. She, along with their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, gathered on the deck for Veterans Day on a cold Friday morning for the naming ceremony.

Her eldest son, Rick, was moved to tears upon seeing the plaque for the first time.

“It was the way dad raised us,” he said. “Every time I hear ‘Taps’, every time I hear the national anthem, it touches me because of who he was and how he raised us.”

Maria said Leo would be honored but also humbled by the dedication.

“He was like, ‘I appreciate that, but let’s honor someone who deserves it more than me,'” she said. “He would always do that for anything that points to him. He liked to stay in the shadows.

Excel Academy students laugh together as they wait for the bridge to open on Friday. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City News)
(Dan Cepeda, Oil City News)
Mary Sanchez is hugged by Sen. John Barrasso during a deck signing for Leo Sanchez on Friday. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City News)
Governor Mark Gordon, Mary Sanchez and her sons unveil the plaque naming the bridge after Leo Sanchez during a dedication on Friday. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City News)
Richard Sanchez, eldest son of Leo and Mary Sanchez, cries after the dedication on Friday morning. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City News)
(Dan Cepeda, Oil City News)
(Dan Cepeda, Oil City News)

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