Pursuing Employment In Wyoming

I moved here for a job… There are so many reasons people move in and out of Wyoming. In this podcast we explore the Boom and Bust in the coal industry as well as hear stories of “why” people have moved to Wyoming and stayed.  Wyoming has been mining coal for quite some time. “This isn't a new industry. It's been what's been happening ever since the turn of the century, and even before then. 1880s is when some of the first records have been identified, but that's only those that have been identified. There are no doubt Native Peoples have used coal for some purposes as well.”  Lukas Fralick, our resident historian for Wyoming Humanities, shares history and his personal experience in the Boom & Bust cycle in Campbell County.

In 1973 the United States was seeing a lot of environmentalist movements; coal powered power plants were being built everywhere. The air was being terribly polluted. President Richard Nixon supported Congress' efforts to create the Environmental Protection Agency and signed, and totally approved, the Clean Air Acts and all their various amendments in the early '70s that basically regulated the high sulfur coal that the Eastern states produced making them less profitable. They still made money. This didn't kill the industry, but it did hurt it. But it allowed for Wyoming coal, which was low sulfur, to suddenly become a highly profitable endeavor.

Learn more on Wyohistory.org

The stories you hear on this podcast are all centered on the theme “I moved here for a job, and I stayed because… Lisa Scroggins from Casper, Dan Lee from Sheridan and Cathy Ringler from Clark talk about their journey to Wyoming and finding community.

Remember to email me at emy@thinkwy.org to bring your voice, perspective, and stories. We want to share them everywhere. Wyoming Humanities is committed to stories!

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Emy diGrappa (00:01):

Welcome to Winds of Change. I am your host, Emy diGrappa.

Emy diGrappa (00:05):

Winds of Change is centered on the people, places, history, and stories of Wyoming. We talk about identity, community, land, and the winds of change and what it means to thrive in our state. How does someone identify with wide-open spaces and big personalities in small towns? Listen to folks from across our state share their connection to Wyoming and home. Brought to you by Wyoming Humanities.

Emy diGrappa (00:34):

Hi, Lucas. Hi, Chloe.

Chloe Flagg (00:49):

Hi Emy.

Lucas Fralick (00:50):

Hey. Hello. How's it going today?

Emy diGrappa (00:52):

Good. Good. The sun is shining. That's always a good thing.

Lucas Fralick (00:55):

It's a plus the Say's phoebes are migrating through, so I've been listening to their sweet, sweet voices.

Emy diGrappa (01:02):

That's a bird, Lucas?

Lucas Fralick (01:03):

Yes.

Emy diGrappa (01:04):

Yes? Okay.

Lucas Fralick (01:05):

Flycatchers, they're pretty cool. Worth the Google.

Emy diGrappa (01:08):

Well you have to spell it so we can actually Google it.

Chloe Flagg (01:12):

S-A-Y apostrophe S, P-H-E-O-B-E. But you're not required. I'm not going to double check in another couple hours. Like, "Hey, what are you doing?" It's fine.

Emy diGrappa (01:27):

You're not going to stalk us about it. Good.

Emy diGrappa (01:30):

Welcome to this episode that we are recording today for our audience. We are titling this episode: I moved here for a job. And that's our thing, I was asking myself because out of the three of us, I am the only one who moved here for a job. Right?

Chloe Flagg (01:47):

That is true.

Lucas Fralick (01:49):

Yeah. Because I was born here so I had no choice.

Emy diGrappa (01:53):

Right. I was thinking about the reasons that people move to Teton County because it's considered a very transient community. And there's a lot of people who come for a variety of jobs, especially during the summer, they come to take on fishing guide jobs; or during the winter, they come to work at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, but those are very transient and they don't usually stay as residents. Sometimes they do, sometimes they get the bug and they stay. There is a saying that if you come for a summer in Jackson Hole, you'll never leave because the summers are so incredibly beautiful.

Emy diGrappa (02:29):

But I was thinking about how jobs have changed in Jackson, in Teton County. And one of the things that I was looking at is that our Latino population is 33% now. We have quite a big Latino population. It's interesting because they take all the service industry jobs and that has made them a stronger community because they take jobs that other people won't take on. Now a lot of their kids are graduating from high school here and going to college. This Latino population is actually becoming stronger and stronger and really a part of the Jackson character and community, which I think is great.

Chloe Flagg (03:14):

I love that. Yes. I love that. We don't have a lot of that diversity in Wyoming. In the communities where we do have that, especially that high level of ethnic and cultural diversity, it's really nice to know that they are creating a community.

Emy diGrappa (03:34):

They definitely are. That has been wonderful. I think what's new in the mix are information services and businesses conducted over the internet and as it's become more popular to work remotely, other professionals can move here and live here and afford to live here. Whereas if you work in the service industry, you have a hard time affording housing and a lot of people live in the bedroom communities, it's what they're called, Victor, Idaho, or Driggs or Alpine. But these new professionals that are coming have really changed the landscape. Jackson is experiencing a sharp growth in those types of businesses.

Emy diGrappa (04:19):

Why does that matter? Well, it matters because it makes it hard for the people who are working in the service industries to stay and work here. It creates this housing bubble where people who come and can work professional jobs in a remote place, they can afford higher housing prices. So it is creating a divide between the haves and the have nots. And that's how our middle class in Teton County is disappearing.

Emy diGrappa (04:48):

When I think about why I came here for a job, I did come for the quality of life, I really did. I moved from New Mexico and that was 20 years ago, but at the time, in New Mexico, education was like 49 in the nation. Just moving here for my son, because my girls were graduating from high school, so it was really about raising Jesse in a different place where he would really enjoy the outdoors, the landscape and the quality of life of Wyoming. That was my, not just the job, but actually what were the benefits?

Emy diGrappa (05:26):

Going from there, let's talk about other places in Wyoming. Why do people move here and what have been the cycles of people moving in and out of Wyoming and how does that affect our state?

Emy diGrappa (05:39):

I'm going to just say that Lucas, he's our resident historian for Wyoming humanities, and this is not his debut, just saying, but he has an M.A. in history from the University of Wyoming and he specializes in 20th century American policy, which I think is super cool. I think on this podcast, not only when we have guest historians, but he's always going to be adding that really great history conversation to our podcast. Thanks Lucas.

Lucas Fralick (06:12):

Yes. Thank you for that warm welcome. Debut, indeed, perhaps not. It's very exciting. It feels so adult being able to be a historian on a podcast, it was never one of my dreams, but I'm glad I'm a part of it. Thank you.

Lucas Fralick (06:28):

In terms of people moving through Wyoming to work, I really want to narrow down on one or two major examples. We could probably find examples of this dating back to territory days, but I really want to go to a fairly modern period that many of us listening will probably remember. The 1970s coal boom is really what I want talk about. It's what brought my parents to Gillette, Wyoming. It's what brought many people that I know here. Few have stayed, many have left since, but those that did, stayed for the same reason, they could keep working in that industry. Even as things ebb and flow in the boom-and-bust cycle, there's always a few that stay, but that's not really the story here today. And I should mention, I have nothing against Sweetwater County. There are a great place, but my expertise there is pretty thin. Hopefully someone can chime in if we know anything about that, but otherwise I know there are plenty of great people who know quite a bit about Rock Springs and that surrounding area too, because their coal mining history slightly similar but different.

Lucas Fralick (07:35):

I wanted to go, first some context, right? History is filled always with context. Wyoming has been mining coal for quite some time. We're not going to go into all the details there either frankly, just for the sake of time. But this isn't a new thing, this isn't a new industry. It's been what's been happening ever since the turn of the century and even before then. 1880s, it's when some of the more first records have been identified, but that's only those that have been identified, there are no doubt native peoples have used coal for some purposes, as well. So this isn't a new thing.

Lucas Fralick (08:09):

During World War II, Wyoming ramped up coal production quite a bit, the demands of locomotives and even the few ships, but not many, most ships by then were using oil and petroleum. But there were still a few that weren't using diesel, but mainly for locomotives and power production, you needed coal. So Wyoming really ramped up in during World War II.

Lucas Fralick (08:32):

And after World War II, it was the same thing, things were good until, imagined this, 1954, a bunch of railroad executives announced that we will no longer be using coal to power most of our local automotive engines, we're going to be switching to diesel. Well, that just completely crippled the industry. Wyoming went from about 9,000 statewide miners to below 500, within two or three years, it was a total collapse. Talk about a burst bubble.

Lucas Fralick (09:01):

It was a devastating circumstance and although the coal industry still existed, obviously it was just there, one of the mini stools of Wyoming's economic powerhouse until a very interesting thing happened. Wyoming has coal that's low on Btus, it's British thermal units for those of the uninitiated, that's how much power these things produce when you burn coal, how much heat is produced and how much heat is correlates to how much power you can get out of them. East Coast coal, it was in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, et cetera. Those mines produced very high Btu coal. So even in that dry period between '54 and 1973, Wyoming coal, wasn't really in high demand because it didn't produce that much and you needed a lot of it to get as much as one ton could go for in the east. So it was unprofitable also, which is only sticking a broom in someone's wheels when they're riding a bike. It was just one thing after another.

Lucas Fralick (10:10):

Well, in 1973, we, the United States was seeing a lot of environmentalist movements, coal power plants were being built everywhere, but the high sulfur content and the water, everything, the air was being terribly polluted. Of all presidents, Richard Nixon supported Congress's efforts to create the Environmental Protection Agency and signed in totally approved the Clean Air Acts and all their various Amendments in the early seventies that basically regulated high sulfur coal that the eastern states produced, making them less profitable. They still made money, obviously. This didn't kill the industry, but it did hurt it, but it allowed for Wyoming coal, which with low sulfur, to suddenly become a highly profitable endeavor. We were no longer regulated in the same way as the East Coast was, so factories in states would suddenly start buying coal from Wyoming because it was far cheaper and allowed Wyoming to balloon in our coal mines.

Lucas Fralick (11:17):

And this is where our story begins or at least my story begins. My folks moved to Gillette, Wyoming for that exact purpose to work the mines. In such a short period from 1969, Wyoming was only mining 4.6 million tons. By 1974, we had jumped to 20 million tons a year. It was an incredible jump. Open pit mining, we had 9 of the 10 largest in the world, all in Wyoming. It's an extremely impressive thing. Wyoming's assessed value, or Campbell County specifically, coal was within billions of assessed value. And that number has only increased by the early to mid 2010s.

Lucas Fralick (12:06):

But since the mid 80s, we've started to see a decrease in the value of this coal, for whatever reason, free market value, regulations, you name it, things have started to impact it. Since now, the mid 80s, coal has become less and less profitable, and yet we have still managed to maintain a very high assessed value for our coal mining. Some people have come and gone during those bust values, but largely the Clean Air Acts of the early 70s is what created Wyoming as we know it today. Even older people have a hard time remembering what it was like before the coal boom.

Lucas Fralick (12:49):

It benefits Campbell County a lot, Sweetwater County no doubt benefited as well, but the whole state has benefited from this industry. And one of the things I want to point out before I end my monologue, because I'm sure I'm starting to sound a bit like the peanuts guy, "Want, want", right? Those classic cartoons. But I want to point out that our people in Wyoming grasped the opportunity that the Clean Air Act gave them, went full tilt, which I think should have happened quite pleased it did. I mean, without it, I would not be here today, I won't hide that fact. But I think it is one of those things that when new industries, new opportunities arise, Wyoming has an excellent pattern of grasping onto new opportunities and tackling them head on even if there's a little bit of this involved. And I think this is a perfect example.

Lucas Fralick (13:37):

If you really want to know more about this, I really recommend vinylhistory.org. You can get really in detail, not just on this, but on many other energy industrial booms and busts. This is just a small taste of what this rich history has to offer.

Lucas Fralick (13:52):

End monologue.

Emy diGrappa (13:54):

Thanks, Lucas. Do you think that the boom-and-bust cycle is healthy? It seems unhealthy and it's going to always happen in the extraction industry, right?

Lucas Fralick (14:06):

Oh, absolutely. And historically we see this pattern. If the boom and bust naturally occur on a short-term basis: short bus, long booms, which I think occurred most definitely from '85 up until the early 2000s when the bust started lasting longer and longer and the booms aren't nearly as profitable, and I think that's where we're living through now. The busts are not fun anyway, and they're lasting longer. And the booms just aren't nearly as helpful as they used to be. As a lot of minds and companies go bankrupt, they fire a lot of people. That's just what happens, and then people leave and some just don't come back even when the mines currently are rehiring, you're not seeing nearly as much rehiring as was done last time and it's just continuing. I don't think so. I think a boom and bust is long-term very unhealthy for a community. It's hard to be sustainable that way.

Emy diGrappa (15:05):

When the bust happens and you have all these people laid off and they're out of jobs and they have bills to pay and they have kids to take care of and how does the community handle that? How do they come around and support these people?

Lucas Fralick (15:18):

That's a good question. I know from my personal experience in Gillette, we really rally behind our own here. You see a lot of bumper stickers, say, "Coal strong, strong coal", all that is fine. A lot of people support our workers here because they understand as we all do that, it is the life blood of our economy. Population-wise, most people who live in Gillette even still today, still do so simply because of the coal mines. And of course all energy industries there's definitely some natural gas going on as well, which is another reason for coal's slow decline. But we see in these extraction industries the community rally around their own, and that comes in the forms of charitable goods, fun drives, food drives these sort of things to help people along during the bust because they hope is that the boom will happen again and no jobs will come back and that has happened. But again, I fear that these busts are happening longer and longer. I mean, looking historically, you just keep going.

Emy diGrappa (16:21):

Is there any other in your experience in Gillette, in Campbell County, broader, is there anything that steps in even temporarily or momentarily to help fill that gap in those times of bust? Do you see a flourishing, creative economy or anything like that? Or are people just like you said, holding strong and waiting?

Lucas Fralick (16:47):

No, not really. And again, there might be others that are far better at this than I am, and this is a very localized thing. But most of the time when one energy industry falls under, a lot of workers just transition over if they do choose to stay to petroleum or to natural gas or to some other extractive industry. When they're waiting for the really high-paying stuff, they just work in another high-paying area sometimes farther away, but it's still the case.

Lucas Fralick (17:16):

I don't see and haven't seen a lot of slack picked up by the creative industries, that's just not what's happening. Could it happen? Absolutely. Like I said before, I think Wyoming has amazing capacity to take risks if we want to and to really dive in. And we're already seeing locally experiments with carbon capture and other ways to continue to make coal profitable without it being so negatively impacted by methane or other cheaper sources of fuel and by government regulations. But other than energy industry, I'm not seeing much of that. Doesn't mean it's not happening, just means I haven't seen it.

Emy diGrappa (17:56):

That makes a lot of sense to me. I see. And I have a lot of family that is in oil, right? Different energy industry with its own boom-and-bust cycles, right? But that's not something I ever really heard about, in oil, people going to coal or natural gas, but it makes sense energy is energy.

Lucas Fralick (18:19):

It does happen. You need trucks and mechanics for all these fields, right? If a mechanic goes from one place, you just go to another. I'm sure there are specialists who are just out of luck, but in some of these areas, but that's my experience seeing things happen.

Emy diGrappa (18:36):

Man, nice, fascinating, Lucas. I had no idea. Of course, I've been in Wyoming my whole life, right? Boom and bust is something that's that you hear about it all the time, right? You're a toddler and you know about boom-and-bust cycles in Wyoming. But I had no idea how much that federal regulation, the EPA and the Clean Air Act impacted Wyoming coal production. No one had been able to articulate that quite so clearly for me.

Lucas Fralick (19:08):

It's where you get the phrase, I don't know if you've heard it elsewhere, but growing up in Gillette, we hear the phrase, "Clean coal" all the time and that's where it comes from. It's really just our coal is cleaner. It's not clean. It's just cleaner than what everyone else is using.

Emy diGrappa (19:24):

I see.

Lucas Fralick (19:25):

That little sulfur content, that's where you get the phrase "clean coal" from.

Emy diGrappa (19:29):

When people come for jobs, when it is in boom cycles, do they come from other countries?

Lucas Fralick (19:35):

Sometimes.

Emy diGrappa (19:35):

Do they come-

Lucas Fralick (19:37):

When people move here doing some of the major busts of my youth, thinking back to a simpler time, there are a few people from out of country, but most travel domestically. We're seeing people from all over the country, California, West Coast, right now, we're seeing quite a few. But we get, Colorado, South Dakota, a lot from South Dakota, a lot of my family who came through here to work, came from South Dakota. About the time our industry was booming, South Dakota didn't have much. We're leaving for these extremely high-paying jobs without any degrees, just moving in. We get a lot of domestic travel in states that don't have an extraction industry, like South Dakota. I mean they have extraction industries, but not nearly to the level that North Dakota and Montana, Wyoming have, right? But we get a lot people from that end of the country, Iowa, Illinois, those places.

Emy diGrappa (20:37):

I was just thinking that it seems to me that there should be an alternative in Gillette, there should be a diversification for your economy. So that you're growing up people that are going into other fields instead of working for the coal mines because that is always just up and down all the time. What are you guys doing about that?

Lucas Fralick (21:02):

Well, we do have natural gas, methane wells. Growing up, you see them all over. There was even one on my parents' property when I was a kid, right? I mean, these things exist and a lot of people just worked in those industries. But if we're talking about outside of an extraction-based economy, people doing that, there isn't much happening. I hate to say it and it pains me to say it, but I think part of it is we've grown so used to this as a key building block of our economy, that we have a hard time seeing past it. What is the phrase? I can be using this wrong, but seeing-the-forest-because-of-the-trees type thing. I think we're having a hard time stepping back and looking at the bigger picture, frankly. I mean, there is talk about industrial parks and I think there are definitely figures in our community making attempts to make this happen, which is great.

Lucas Fralick (21:49):

But largely there's a lot of... What's the term? Denial, that I see. And I can't blame them. Like I said before, my whole life is pretty much... I mean, my parents made their money on this in this industry. I couldn't have gotten to college if it wasn't for them, right? It's a big deal and I don't blame them for having a hard time seeing that bigger picture, but there has to be another solution somewhere. And I'm really not that person. I'm not sure what that could be. I mean, Gillette, Wyoming started out as a cattle-sheep town. That 70s boom turned this town into a practical metropolis in northeastern Wyoming. And I think that's just a hard transition and I'm sorry that's a terrible answer.

Emy diGrappa (22:37):

It's not, though, Lucas. I mean, I think we see this play out year after year is that it's almost... I mean, what was the phrase you used? The diversification of the economy, that's almost a dirty phrase in Wyoming, right? Because we are so tied to the energy extraction industries for good reason, right? They made Wyoming what we are, so it's not surprising to me that denial, reluctance, whatever word you want to use, because it's served us so well, it's hard to imagine anything else. But on the other hand, right? We have an incredibly strong and thriving arts and cultural economy, as well. Aside from New York City, we have some of most arts per capita in the entire nation is happening in Wyoming, which is really phenomenal when you think about it. But it's not a booming industry. You know what I mean? Yet, I guess. Maybe it could be.

Lucas Fralick (23:46):

Yeah. That's a good point. And I think to that point, historically, I think Wyoming is, I think, this whole podcast is trying to demonstrate, is that Wyoming is capable of adapting to these changes. And if the arts industry is what's next, we need to let it happen. Because that way, we could still enjoy living here and make a living here. In both ways I think that's totally possible. I know Wyoming's embrace change all the time if it benefits them. And I think we saw it in the 70s and I think we can see it in the arts industry, too.

Emy diGrappa (24:23):

I think we're going to hear some really interesting stories in the stories that are going to follow and this conversation. But I was thinking as you both were talking, that our tagline for this podcast should be changes in our DNA. Who said that last time?

Chloe Flagg (24:39):

I think it was Lucas.

Lucas Fralick (24:45):

Well, I don't know if I said that. Was it Sam [Lightner 00:24:48] who said that?

Emy diGrappa (24:48):

I don't know, but anyway-

Lucas Fralick (24:50):

I mean, I get it, we're both nerd history people, but I'm sure someone said it and it is a good phrase.

Emy diGrappa (24:58):

I think it's a good tagline for our podcast. I'll have to think about that. Anyway, everyone who's out there keep listing and listen to the stories about why people moved here. They moved for a job and their stories are interesting. Thanks for joining us.

Lisa Scroggins (25:18):

I moved to Wyoming because of my job. I moved here in April of 2016. I landed my dream job, which is as a library director. But from day one, when I came here for my interview, I fell in love with Casper and vicariously then, of course, with all of Wyoming.

Lisa Scroggins (25:38):

My very first trip to Wyoming was for my job interview. And I remember that day so vividly, it's just a picture that stuck in my mind. It was February and, as is often true here in Casper, the skies were this amazing, brilliant dark blue. The sun was shining. Surprisingly, there was no wind and there was snow everywhere. And I moved here from south Texas. It just amazed me that I stood on the sidewalk across from the Natrona County courthouse. And I was on the phone with my husband to tell him what a cool place this was. And my mind was pretty blown because it was about 32 degrees and I said there was snow everywhere, which is a Wyoming thing in February. But I had taken off my gloves and my scarf and my coat because with that beautiful sun and no wind, I didn't need those extra layers. And I remember telling my husband, "This is such a cool place."

Lisa Scroggins (26:36):

We came from my job, but we stayed because it's an amazing community. So I define my community as a place with a great vibe and amazing people. Casper, I don't remember which website, I think it was Travelocity, a couple of years ago, they identified Casper as the most [giving us 00:26:55] community in the United States. And I think that amazed me, but what amazed me was, what they don't know is when you measure giving in Casper, you're really measuring people's hearts. And giving comes in many forms, people certainly open their wallet to help the nonprofits, but we have a lot of nonprofits where people give of their time to help each other. This is such an amazing caring community.

Lisa Scroggins (27:23):

Everybody has their challenges, every state, every community has their challenges. I said, I moved here from Texas; Texas, like Wyoming is largely an extraction state. That is certainly a challenge for Wyoming's future, from petroleum products to coal, the extraction industry is certainly facing its challenges as some of that is just being totally reshaped, right? And that's problematic. And of course, being a state with so many public lands is both a great benefit, I love these wide-open spaces, but that also presents challenges for the future of Wyoming. Then certainly not a new challenge. It's a challenge that's been discussed for decades. So we have a very diverse population. Some people who may have never worn a pair of boots.

Lisa Scroggins (28:12):

I love that elected officials in Wyoming are reachable that I can engage with state senators, state representatives, they are my neighbors, my coworkers, friends, run into them at Walmart. And not only are they reachable, I can truly engage in meaningful conversations with them. And that gave me a whole new sense of wanting to be involved because I knew that not only did my vote count, but my opinions truly matter, and I can share those in a way that then can be taken to part of a bigger conversation. That means that all of us, our involvement, our opinions, it really can shape, you talked about what challenges Wyoming has ahead and how we address those, is becoming involved. I am the most least political savvy person you would want to know. I am not a political junkie at all and my mind was absolutely blown when I moved here that I could be involved and I've learned so much, I now find myself dancing on the edges of politics if you will because since I do matter, since my opinions matter, my involvement matters, then I am more involved.

Lisa Scroggins (29:22):

I think that's incredible. I think that multiple generations Wyomingites that may be something that they've maybe taken for granted or assume that's the way it is in other places, and it's just not. In other places that's just not the reality. And it truly does put the power where it belongs it's with the people.

Lisa Scroggins (29:40):

So you get to be involved in a multiple different ways to be able to impact your community and your state and help [inaudible 00:29:48] address those issues that face us in the future. And that is just such an incredible thing. It's very humbling to be able to call myself a Wyomingite, because to me, when I was a Texan, and it meant I lived in Texas, as a Wyomingite, it means I am empowered to shape the future, to make a difference and be part of change when it's needed and part of retaining the culture where that's needed and that is incredible.

Dan Lee (30:23):

I was not born here, I was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. And then up until I moved to Wyoming, I lived in the Philadelphia area so Pennsylvania kid through and through.

Dan Lee (30:36):

Moved to Wyoming for work, and that's a funny story, I'm going to see if I can condense that. I would call myself a lifelong artist, I think it has to start there. I've been drawing since I could hold something to draw with and I had something to draw on. And then going through high school, going to college, those years it was around the big recession time. There was a lot of conversation with the people in my life about, "What do I do with my life? What does a career mean? What does that look like?" And I had a lot of people encouraging me to take the conventional path, especially because I'd shown I had an aptitude for the harder sciences. I was a big fan of chemistry in school.

Dan Lee (31:26):

Nevermind the fact that I was drawing all the time on whatever I could, wherever I could. I was like, "If I'm going to go to college, maybe it would make sense for me to get a technical education." I picked chemical engineering for college, was thinking I need to do the right thing. I didn't love it. I'll be honest. Shocker, right? I didn't love it, but I stuck with it because I thought I needed to just stay the course and get that done. And then as soon as I was done with that, I went to my parents right after graduation, I said, "This is not going to happen. This is not the career that I can pursue or that I want to pursue. If you'll let me, I would love to come home and pull the gap-year thing. But use that time very intentionally to try to break into the graphic design industry."

Dan Lee (32:13):

Through college even as I'm pursuing this chemical engineering major, I was still drawing and I was starting to get into graphic design, doing jobs right and left for the organizations on campus I was a part of and everything. And it was just always in my DNA. I could do this, I guess I could try. After college, it was like, let's see if I can take that chance, get my foot in the door.

Dan Lee (32:36):

But I managed to get into graphic design. I worked at the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia, had a fantastic boss who was willing to take a chance on this kid with no art school background, but could demonstrate I had the capacity and the taste and very much the desire for it.

Dan Lee (32:53):

So got into that. And then along the way, freelance clients from around the country and around the world, one of which was a small company called Flood Marketing from Sheridan, Wyoming, reached out because they loved the style of work that I was doing. We just hit it off really quick and started doing a bunch of... Those were some of the most fun projects I had.

Dan Lee (33:16):

And they tried to hire me. And I remember distinctly, I don't know how rude it was at the time, but I remember laughing on the phone. Like, "Guys, I don't even know where Wyoming is on a map", but I appreciate that you guys love what I do and I love working with you. Let's keep up this connection for a bit." Made friends with those guys. Eventually one of them invited me to a wedding out in Sheridan in 2016 when I was working in the Chamber and I thought, "Let's go for it. Let's check it out."

Dan Lee (33:46):

Scheduled a 48-hour trip to Wyoming. In that time, these guys just showed me the Big Horns and Red Grades and everything about Sheridan. And I remember leaving that weekend thinking, "You know what? I could live there someday. I could do that." Fast forward a few years after that, I got a call from Josh Law, who's the founder of Flood Marketing, which is now called only Jo. And they're looking for creative director and right at that point I was looking for a pivot in my career as well, the next step. And everything just aligned and next thing I knew, my best friend from home is driving me across the country in his minivan to start a new chapter in my life in Sheridan, Wyoming. That's what got me here and what I found from Sheridan was it was really easy to recharge, just run up to the mountains or go to a coffee shop and not necessarily have to interact with large groups, people. Everything about the solitude without loneliness was very much something that Sheridan presented to me right away.

Dan Lee (34:58):

I was also just able to make friends and connections very, very quickly. I remember some people from back home texting or calling, being like, "Are you okay? Are you lonely out there?" And I'm texting back, "Sorry, I can't chat right now going to this thing or that thing", being dragged in all these directions immediately, but in a really cool and encouraging way. And then over time, as I've gotten to know more of the people of the state through various opportunities, it's just been the possibilities here and the genuine connections with genuine people that I've found. It's just unlike anything I'd experienced before.

Cathy Ringler (35:44):

I grew up all over the country, my dad was a consultant. As he would fix each place, we would move. I had a lot of exposure to different people in different places growing up.

Cathy Ringler (35:58):

When I was a sophomore in college, I was just determined that I was going to take a year off and find myself. But my dad talked me out of it. He said, "Why don't you work on a dude ranch for this summer? Do something totally different in unexpected." I was at school at Michigan State, so I did.

Cathy Ringler (36:16):

I first applied to Alaska and they accepted me, but I didn't have enough money to go to a fishing ranch. So I ended up taking the next place that asked me, which was a dude ranch in the north fork of Cody, Wyoming. And there I was a bartender, although I didn't know how to make any drinks I had to ask the people how to make them. I was a cabin person, a waitress, but I met my future husband, who was the wrangler.

Cathy Ringler (36:45):

After that summer, I went back and graduated, but we kept in touch. In a few years we both moved back out to Wyoming. After that, we lived in Wyoming, I taught in Cody for seven years. And then I got a wonderful job at Clark Elementary School in the community of Clark, it's a tiny little community. When we moved here, there was less than 200 homes. It's at the foot of the Beartooth Mountains, and when my daughter started to kindergarten, I got that job. So what a blessing.

Cathy Ringler (37:18):

I taught K through 2 and special needs. And let me tell you a little bit about the school. When I first arrived, the school was a red brick building and it was on a Sagebrush flat, for the playground equipment, there was a swing, a teeter-totter, a slide, and huge boulders that the kids climbed on. There's no grass, no trees, just the desert. When I was there, there was a population of between, I would say 15 and 30 kids, two teachers, a pair and a half, a cook and a custodian, a bus driver. You have to be an adventuresome person to teach in Clark. It was 30 miles from town and we weren't connected then to anything. We had a principal, a nurse, a counselor, but they were all 30 miles away. So you had to jump in and do what needed to be done.

Cathy Ringler (38:16):

There's a story about Bill Dansby, he taught in 1976, and I think this sums it up. There was a bad storm and the wind in Clark had pushed the snow into these big icy drifts and the bus driver was able to get the kids on the northern end of the community, but he wanted the whole community of learners there. They couldn't get through to the western end. So, Bill jumped on a snow machine and he went and he gathered up all the kids and he had him there for that day. To me, that envelopes, the kind of person who taught in Clark and most of the learners, too.

Cathy Ringler (38:55):

The parents were mostly, at that point, farmers, ranchers, ranch hands, but we also had a group of people who would move in because land was cheap and they try to make a living, but they'd find out that they couldn't. So they would move away and their kids would be here for a little while as a part of our community. And you had to teach all the skills. You were also responsible for testing, retesting, remediating, keeping at it until the kids really understood. Plus, enriched those learners who needed to be enriched. It was a big challenge, but if fostered the sense of independence throughout our community, the kids knew that if they didn't understand something, when they went to do their work, their first responsibility was to try to figure it out and [inaudible 00:39:47] they couldn't figure it out. Second, they asked a friend and then third, they would come and ask you for help. This interdependence, this sense of responsibility was a huge thing at Clark.

Cathy Ringler (40:00):

Another great thing about my time at Clark was that the kids definitely helped one another. The older kids, they were buddies with the younger kids. They would listen to them read, or play a math game, or [recite-word 00:40:14] game, practice. But what the older kids received was so wonderful because they learned to be empathetic, they learned to teach, they learned to be accountable and you would see it all the time, even outside, an older kid would zip up their own jacket and then turn to a younger one and zip it up. They'd get down on in the snow and they tie shoes or help with boots. This empathy and interdependence was a huge part of our school and it really made an impact on me as a teacher. Such a close knit community and so much empathy.

Cathy Ringler (40:54):

You be out at recess duty and you blow your whistle over the kids to come in. And what kid in the whole wide world wouldn't want to go down the slide one more time or cross the monkey bars? And they knew, though, that within 10 seconds, I was going to start a story and I wasn't going to repeat it. They would run over so that they wouldn't miss any of the good parts. That happened a lot, too, when they were unpacking backpacks in the morning, they knew that within a few minutes, that story would start and if they wanted to hear it, they better be there.

Cathy Ringler (41:24):

Kids, are born problem-solvers. They love to deduct things. If you have a good piece of fiction or non-fiction that you can talk about the conflicts and the resolutions and really delve into what the characters are doing, then they take that story and they make connections. They make connections to the school and their parents and the whole world outside. Where will we be without story? And my kids would always say, "Tell me a story." Even when they got to be older middle school, "Tell me a story." High school.

Cathy Ringler (41:59):

And the story that later turned into a book, Maya's Dream began as that story that I told them as we rode our horses home in the evening, my book is about a girl, a Native American girl named Maya, who I actually had a chance to teach for a short while in Clark. And when she goes to middle school, she is bullied. And she has a good friend named Jake, who is a popular kid, because he is very good at athletics. And Maya has got to try different techniques out in order to save another new girl from being bullied and then also maintain her status. Maya just wants everything to disappear, but she finds out she can't. She finds out that she's got to try some things up and stand up.

Cathy Ringler (42:46):

That's what the book is about. And I've had so many parents get ahold of me and say, "Thank you for writing this book. It gave me an opportunity to talk to my kids about what's happening in schools now and to reflect on what they can do." Because there's three groups of kids that are affected by bullying: there's the bullies themselves, there's the kids that are getting bullied, and then there's the kids that, like my daughters, who saw it happen, but weren't sure what to do, what would be the most effective. It was written with all three of them in mind. That's basically my story in Wyoming.

Emy diGrappa (43:25):

Thank you for listening. I'm executive producer, Emy diGrappa Winds of Change is brought to you by Wyoming Humanities, our cohost, and all the people who generously share their stories and their time. For more information, go to thinkwy.org. Subscribe and never miss a show.