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2021 Jefferson Award Profile: Wilber Yankey

Wilber Yankey lights up the room when he walks in, and he uses that ability to connect with others as a senior companion. Yankey is one of this year’s Jefferson Award Finalists.
Published: Apr. 26, 2021 at 7:54 PM CDT
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CASPER, Wyo. (Wyoming News Now) - Most people that know Wilber Yankey describe him as a “character.” It’s hard not to feed off of his energy when you’re around him, especially when he’s playing cards with one of his senior companion clients.

When the cards seem to be going his way, he tends to remind his opponent, “It’s just a game.” It’s a gentle reminder that he does want to beat you.

Yankey is a senior companion, and he plays cards with most of his clients. It’s one of the ways that he keeps them company to help them remain independent.

“If we keep them in the house, in their own home, they live longer,” said Yankey. “They enjoy life, and that’s basically what I like to do.”

Yankey has eight clients that he sees once or twice, and aside from playing cards, he usually helps out with any things that need to be done around the house.

“After so long, you know, they talk to the television, talk to the cat or the dog, and nobody answers back, so basically, I’m just a human voice that they can talk to,” said Yankey.

Wilber Yankey is a finalist for this year’s Jefferson Award, and Vernita Lackey, who coordinates the senior companion program, nominated Yankey for the award.

“Wilber is amazing. I mean he really doesn’t think he’s doing anything special,” said Lackey when talking about how Yankey stands out. “He just thinks he’s doing what he’s supposed to be doing. He’s supposed to be helping other seniors.”

Another way Yankey stands out to Lackey is his insistence on going over and above for his clients. “If they’re his client, they’re not just his clients. They’re his family,” said Lackey.

Yankey also went over and above for his clients during the COVID-19 pandemic to stay connected with them. Senior companions weren’t allowed to visit for most of the pandemic, but Yankey still wanted to help, said Lackey.

“He continued to call them every week, ‘Do you need anything? Can I go to the grocery store for you?’ that sort of thing,” said Lackey.

Nancy Nemitz, who is one of Yankey’s clients and frequent card-playing foes, said, “Wilber Yankey doesn’t try to be a wonderful man. He just is.”

If you missed the stories of our first two Jefferson Award finalists, check them out here and here. Tune into Casper’s 5 PM newscast on May 3 to meet our final Jefferson Award finalist.

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