Milward Simpson: 5th Gen. Wyomingite, Politician, Conservationist, and Drummer

" I was a theater director. I did a lot of music, and theater direction. I did sound design, and audio engineering for theater productions. A lot of orchestrating and arranging. I played keyboard, and drums in various bands. I did a lot of music education, group lessons, private lessons, things like that. Even, I was an actor in some hosted murder mysteries and, had a lot of fun. But, yeah, before I got into administration, government, and these other endeavors, I was a poor, struggling, but very happy artist." - Milward Simpson

Milward Simpson joins us to catalogue his musical and theatre career, work with state parks and cultural resources, and being apart of the creative economic motion called The Vitality Index. Simpson is a fifth generation Wyomingite with a strong political family with close ties to the land. He was the state director of the Nature Conservancy as well as spending 13 years with the Wyoming's Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources. Thank you for joining us, Milward!

Milward Simpson (00:00):

Well, I think what the most exciting thing that has developed over the last maybe 15, 20 years is this whole notion of a creative economy. You know, the idea that people who work in creative endeavors or who use their creativity to earn a living uh, are an identifiable kind of uh, economic class in their own right. And they can be responsible for uh, a lot of the, the vibrancy and vitality of our communities.

Emy diGrappa (00:29):

Hello, my name is Emy diGrappa. Each week we bring you stories asking our guests the question why? We learn about passion, purpose and the human experience. Brought to you by Wyoming Humanities with the generous support of the Wyoming Community Foundation, this is, What's Your Why.

Today we're talking to Milward Simpson. Milward is fifth generation Wyoming from an old political family, with strong ties to the land. He was the state director of a nature conservancy, as well as spending 13 years with the Wyoming's Department of State Parks & Culture Resources. Welcome Milward.

Milward Simpson (01:23):

Why thank you Emy, great to be with you.

Emy diGrappa (01:26):

Well, thanks for being here and, and I realized well, I didn't realize until I was reading in your biography, that your family is fifth generation Wyoming. So where were you born?

Milward Simpson (01:40):

Well, I was born in Wyoming and uh, kind of moved around the state. Uh, I never lived in one place uh growing up, more than three years. And we were kind of following my dad's career um, through uh, college administration. So um, spent some years in Jackson when he was writing his dissertation. Uh, spent uh, three years in Casper uh, moved to Sheridan with the high school, in Sheridan and uh, then attended the University of Wyoming. So I've kind of lived all over the state and have really benefited from that experience.

Emy diGrappa (02:17):

That's really wonderful that you, that you know Wyoming so well. But I also love the fact that you are a namesake of your great-grandfather, is that right?

Milward Simpson (02:29):

Uh, my grandfather Milward yeah. Um, a source of uh, endless pride for me to have been named after such a great man. And I'm so grateful that uh, I was able to get to know him during my life so yeah re, really proud of that fact. Although it causes some uh, little bit of frustration when say um, ordering food and someone takes my name to call it out and uh, they kind of botch the name sometimes. And you kind of have to help people with it.

                 So I'm in the practice of explaining that it's um, uh basically it's a, a name with a very simple etymology. It's an old world title. It's an old English title that simply means, ward of the mill. In my whole life, I've only met another Milward uh, that was a, a rock journalist named John Milward. So it's more common as a last name than a first name, I've discovered.

Emy diGrappa (03:24):

Well, your family is so iconic in Wyoming and your grandfather was governor of Wyoming.

Milward Simpson (03:31):

He was. So he served in the legislature and, there was governor and was also US senator.

Emy diGrappa (03:37):

So you do have you know, a path of politics that runs through your veins, I think?

Milward Simpson (03:45):

Yeah, I think it's fair to say.

Emy diGrappa (03:46):

Yeah, I think so. And especially uh, all the positions that you served in Wyoming but as I was reading as well, that you have a great love for arts and humanities. And tell me about your art journey and what you do in the arts and music?

Milward Simpson (04:03):

Well, I guess I uh, I was raised in kind of one of those stereotypical arts families. Um, my mom was always putting on community feeder productions and uh, it was just kind of infused our household. She was always planning uh, the next show. And I always got to find ways to be involved. I'd either work as like a, the person running the lights or I'd help them run lines or often I'd have a chance to actually be in her productions. And so we were always, the house was always filled with song and theater and just made for a really fun kind of rich experience, growing up.

                 A lot of people don't know that my dad Pete, was uh, quite a folk singer. He started uh, singing with the folk group that he established during his navy years and uh, did a lot of performing actually. And uh, has a wonderful voice, you know? With the whole family as uh, sung in choirs throughout our lives. And uh, mom and dad were always uh doing uh, artistic endeavors together. Dad was on stage, he did a lot of commercial production work. He had his own uh, radio show for a time, actually it was before I was born but when he lived up in Montana.

                 And uh, you know Emy, speaking of my granddad, Milward and uh, my grandmother uh, Lorna you know, growing up and spending time with them in the Cody area or, or at uh, their ranch down the Southfork, the air was just always full of song. It seemed like they knew every song that was ever written from the 20s and 30s. And just um, had an endless stream of old songs that they would sing while they were cooking or, or uh, moving around the house. And so I just felt like I was always surrounded by music.

                 My sister became uh, a folk artist in her own right. And um, and then, you know, theatrical productions were ubiquitous so, that's kind of how I got involved.

Emy diGrappa (06:10):

So but you followed your own path in music and, and, and what was that path?

Milward Simpson (06:15):

Well I, I um, uh learned how to play piano. They had me taking piano lessons early on. So I was a classically trained pianist. And um, then I was in Casper, Wyoming going to Dean Morgan Junior High in the mid 70s and became aware of this uh, amazing, spectacular uh, outfit called the Casper Troopers Strum and Bugle Corps. And uh, the first time I saw the uh, snare drummer standing in line playing their snare drums, wearing those iconic uniforms, I just had to do that. So I uh, picked up the drums at that point and became a drummer. And the Troopers kind of became a little bit of a family tradition. Uh, my wife Amy marched, different years than I did but she marched as a horn player. Um, my brother marched as a snare drummer and uh, then my son Alex uh spent a few years with the Troopers uh, playing in their uh, front ensemble as a timpanist. And that kind of evolved into playing the drum set.

                 And so you know, I spent um, the early part of my career as a practicing artist and I did several things mostly in the Colorado, up and down the Front Range uh area. I was a uh, theater director. I did a lot of music theater direction. I did um, sound design and audio engineering for theater productions. Uh, I did a lot of orchestrating and arranging. I played uh, keyboards and drums in, in various bands. I did a lot of music education. Group lessons, private lessons uh, things like that. Even uh, uh, was an actor in some posted murder mysteries and uh, had a lot of fun.

                 But um, yeah before I got into administration and government and these other endeavors uh, I was a, a poor, struggling but very happy, artist.

Emy diGrappa (08:11):

I love that, poor, struggling. And I, I love that you played the drums, because my son took up the drums and I thought I was going to lose my mind. I thought, "No, of all things you could do."

Milward Simpson (08:26):

Well, watch out for drummers you know. Yeah, well watch out because they can, they can cause a lot of damage if you're not careful. I remember you know, if you have a pair of sticks and you've got a lot of nervous energy and you like to drum um, you'll end up with a lot of pockmarked furniture and, and fence posts and etcetera. So make sure you get him a good drum pad, so he's got a place to focus.

Emy diGrappa (08:50):

Well, he's in college now but I remember when, when he started playing drums um, he was in high school and I, and I thought, "I need a garage. I need a place to put this kid." Because you know, drums are loud and it's not, you know, something you can just go play quietly in a corner.

Milward Simpson (09:09):

Well, we had a, we had a little room above our garage in our house in Sheridan and um, you've got it exactly right. Mom and dad kind of stuck me up there. They put my drums up there and at least it was uh, a couple of steps removed and uh, we were able to control the noise somewhat. But uh yeah, they are a very loud instrument and a very heavy instrument. When you're a drummer you've got a lot of gear you have to pack around. It takes up a lot of space and takes a lot of time to set up and tear down but we drummers are kind of a little tribe. We're kind of like a cult. Ah, it's a, it's lot of fun.

Emy diGrappa (09:46):

Well, your journey in music and kind of like moving into administration in music and the arts and humanities, how do you see Wyoming moving forward in the future, in our cultural economy?

Milward Simpson (10:04):

Well, I think what the most exciting thing that has developed over the last maybe 15, 20 years is uh, this whole notion of a creative economy. You know, the idea that um, people who work in creative endeavors, or who use their creativity to earn a living uh, are an identifiable kind of uh, economic class in their own right. And they can be responsible for a lot of the, the vibrancy and vitality of our communities. And uh, that's exciting to me obviously, because of my experience in the arts and because of this sense that I always have that you know, this is one of the things that really makes our communities viable uh, vital.

                 Um, it's a, it's an aspect of life that provides a lot of value and meeting that uh, other kind of endeavors don't provide. And that we've ha, have tools now to be able to really kind of identify and uh, and talk about the creative economy and, and make a case that it's worthy of our investment in this state, is really exciting to me.

                 Um, when I was with the uh, the Department of State Parks & Cultural Resources, there was a new uh, economic index tool that had been pioneered, that kind of grew out of this creative economy movement, it's called the creative vitality index. And the first time we kind of ran the numbers for Wyoming, I believe it was about 10 years ago um, we were very pleased, I wasn't particularly surprised but we were very pleased to see that Wyoming had an extremely high uh, cultural vitality index. And I think that points to uh, a lot of opportunity now that we're, we're talking more and more and trying to do more and more work to diversify the economy. Um, this is something that decision makers and policy makers uh, really should uh, would benefit from understanding and from investing in.

                 Um we uh, we have a lot of creative people in this state. I think Wyoming is the place that really kind of nurtures creativity and um, it's definitely something we can capitalize on as we're looking to build our state.

Emy diGrappa (12:13):

What's your vision of some of the things that we can change to lift up the creative process and creativity in schools, creativity in our economy? What are the things that we can do different for the future?

Milward Simpson (12:30):

Well I, I think we have to understand from a public policy standpoint that uh, these are essential aspects of Wyoming. Um, these aren't just uh, a kind of feel good add-on, nice to have kinds of things, you know? Uh, I would say my entire career with state government um, I was always uh, trying to proselytize the value of the arts and humanities and culture. And uh, then find ways to kind of make that case. And what I think it means in terms of actual things that we need to, either continue to do or do more of, we need to make sure that arts education is available throughout our state. That needs to be available in our public schools. Uh, we need to make sure that when we're building new schools, that we're actually accounting for the need to have things like um, auditoria, theaters, practice rooms um, facilities equivalent to all of the things that you absolutely have to have, if you're going to have a viable arts education um, opportunity for students.

                 Um, so we need to continue to invest in those things and make them a priority. I was very pleased um uh, one of the legislative accomplishments that I was involved in with a lot of partners and organizations was um, incorporating the fine and performing arts into the Hathaway Curriculum. And um, there's just so much brain based research um and data that has come to bear that really does prove how um uh, much of a benefit it is to, to the educational process and to students' ability to learn. Um, to have opportunities to learn how to play an instrument and to be involved with things like drama and to uh, learn something about the visual arts and be able to express yourself that way.

                 Uh, more and more our economy um, is one that really requires creativity you know. The more automation that we have uh, in our economy, the more uh, we place a value in a real currency on, on um, the ability of our workforce to think creatively. So anything that nurtures that, builds those muscles um uh, becomes really important. So this isn't just uh, a nice to have kind of aspect of our lives.

                 To me, this is absolutely crucial uh, and it's uh, it's part of ensuring that we have uh healthy uh, healthy people in this state and healthy communities. So those are some of the things I think, we can continue to focus on. Um, I think public funding you know, proving that we understand that there's a public value to the arts and to culture, is important.

                 And uh, in my experience, that took the form of making sure we had adequate um, state funding for things, entities like the Wyoming Arts Council. Like the Cultural Trust, like uh state funding for um, the organization that uh, you and I both are involved with, Wyoming Humanities. Uh, make sure that we have a strong state museum, state archives that's well funded, um, and the state of Store Preservation Office. And that we have the means to support our local museums um, our local dance companies uh, our galleries around the state are uh, are uh, um community concert theories, all of those things are just incredibly important. And particularly I think, in the small world state like ours.

Emy diGrappa (16:09):

Well, I think it is true, it's important in our small you know, world state, like you said but doesn't it seem like it's not just a Wyoming issue? I think it's a national issue that every state is really working to hang on to their, their arts and culture. And make it, and, and the humanities make it important in the universities and you know, for people to understand that the, the arts and humanities are equally as important as the sciences.

Milward Simpson (16:48):

Well, I couldn't agree with, more with uh, with that statement, Emy and to me, I mean, you know, this, these are very, very difficult, very complex, very challenging times and there are so many forces that are driving us apart. Well, the humanities uh, in helping answer the question of who we are um, help create, help bring us together where there're so many forces kind of pushing us apart. The more that we can kind of uh, have a collective understanding of our past, the more we're going to understand who we are. And what we have in common and what unites us and um, and what makes us you know, special and unique.

                 And uh, what makes us such a vibrant, diverse place um, it's really important now that we have um, um, that we invest in those things which help us find common ground and help unite as well. In my experience those things include um our, our history, our culture. Our um, our arts are ways of expressing ourselves. Um you know, things that celebrate our love of the outdoors.

                 Um, these are the things in Wyoming and around the country that can help kind of bridge all of these forces that are dividing us. So to me um, you know, everything's at stake here uh, in terms of uh, of a healthy, viable um, national uh, unified um, um populous going forward. So these are not kind of uh, minor things to me. I think they're just at the center of uh, the conversations that are happening now in terms of our destiny as a, as a people and where we're headed.

Emy diGrappa (18:33):

So before um, I close, I want to ask you if there are some websites or resources that people can go online and, and look at what other people are doing in, in their work supporting art and culture? Do you know if there's anything that, that you can point to?

Milward Simpson (18:54):

Well, I, sure if we're, if we're talking about, I, I guess for those um, folks listening to this podcast, if you're um you know, wherever it is that you're listening from in Wyoming, if you haven't yet, I certainly would encourage you to go out of your way to find out um, what the cultural resources are in your area. Not just in your town but your region. Find out who those folks are. Find out um, who's doing arts and cultural work? Who are the know, the small known profit arts organizations? Um, do you have a a, a um, local chapter of the State Historical Society there? Uh, do you spend any time in your local library? Um, do you have some historic buildings uh, that you're celebrating there? Um, what are the opportunities that are around you to really understand uh you know, the culture of your area, and its history?

                 Um, you can certainly you know, in terms of uh, the great services that my former state agency provides, you can go onto the website for the Department of State Parks & Cultural Resources and just surfing through there uh, will provide you a lot of different avenues and a lot of places to go. Um but that, those are some of the things that I'd suggest.

Emy diGrappa (20:15):

Okay, that sounds good. Well, thank you for your time, Milward, it's been a great pleasure talking to you.

Milward Simpson (20:21):

That was, I love to talk about this stuff. I appreciate the questions and I just enjoyed it a lot, Emy. And you're doing a great job with these podcasts. I think they provide a great cultural service and they're all right. So thank you.

Emy diGrappa (20:33):

Thank you.

                 Thank you for joining us for this episode of, What's Your Why, brought to you by Wyoming Humanities with support from Wyoming Community Foundation and generous supporters like you. To learn more go to thinkwhy.org, subscribe and never miss a show.