Giving Thanks: Prominent Wyomingites Express Gratitude on Thanksgiving

As a child growing up, I had a love-hate relationship with Thanksgiving. I loved helping my mother decorate our house for Christmas, but I hated the traditional meal of turkey, green beans, sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce.

For years, I pushed my food around my plate and choked down a few bites before announcing I was “too full” (from the Oreos I’d secretly gobbled earlier) and retreating to our family room to read a Nancy Drew book.

When I was 10, my father, who also hated turkey but ate it to humor my mother, had had enough. 

“Next year, it’s beef tenderloin,” he said.

And that how it’s been for nearly 50 years.

I’m grateful my husband, who happens to be a turkey-loving fabulous cook, has happily indulged my entrée preference on Thanksgiving throughout our 31-year marriage. I’m also grateful Aaron is willing to indulge our son’s food preference today. Eric ordered up a decidedly non-traditional Thanksgiving feast: mustard-crusted lamb chops, mashed potatoes, honey-glazed carrots and a butterscotch cake with caramel ice cream.

Most of all, I’m grateful the three of us will be together this year—unlike in 2022, when Eric was studying in Copenhagen. Because Thanksgiving is more about who is sitting around the table than what’s on the menu.

We asked prominent Wyomingites from across the state to share what they’re grateful for as they celebrate Thanksgiving with family and friends this year.  

From all of us at the Wyoming Truth, here’s to a happy Thanksgiving!

Cynthia Hanson, Editor

Rachel Clifton, executive director of the Wyoming Arts Council: “I am thankful for my wonderful colleagues at the Wyoming Arts Council. They always keep our mission and constituents at the forefront of the work we do. They contribute great ideas, do their work with enthusiasm and are an inspiring group of people to work with.”

Matt Johnson, Torrington Chief of Police: “In a world that feels increasingly disconnected, I am truly thankful to be part of an amazing community. As human beings, we are built to thrive and succeed when we engage in real, meaningful, face-to-face relationships. It brings out the best in ourselves and builds up those around us. I am blessed with the opportunity to start each day with the sure knowledge that every task and stop along the way will be punctuated with people I know and care about—and who know and care about me. If I could make one wish that would heal our nation, it would be that everyone would have this same opportunity to experience community.”     

Aura Sunada Newlin, executive director of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation: “The Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation is growing, as leaders and learners from around the country seek out our hallowed grounds to find a sense of belonging and to experience our power of place. Not a day goes by when we don’t get chills from an inspiring story or tear up from a heartfelt gesture of thanks. Our team of board and staff are savvy and creative. We are geeky in the best kind of way. We are kind. And we care. I am thankful for our ability to speak truth about a great wrong, in commitment to a better future.”

State Sen. Dan Laursen (R-Powell): “I’m thankful for our good health and what God gives us — all the blessings. … Keeping in touch with friends and family [is] the most important thing. … [I’m] definitely thankful for being able to represent my constituents … just thankful that they gave me the opportunity. … [I’m also] thankful for the people that are protecting us — the military and our police, and EMTs and all those that work so hard.”

Kim Pexton, Mayor of Douglas: “On Thanksgiving I’m thankful for a quiet family get together. We all help with the meal. Good conversation, football and time to laugh and enjoy.” 

Col. Toby Alkire, Wyoming Army National Guard Chief of Staff: “This Thanksgiving, I am thankful to live in a state with such strong support for the military; from the governor to the counties and cities, we are unbelievably supported. Without community support, we would not be able to do our jobs. I am also thankful to serve with such amazing soldiers and airmen who are willing to drop everything to support our great state and nation when called upon. Finally, I am thankful to have such a supportive and skilled set of staff and directors. Their efforts and dedication are nothing short of remarkable and consistently make my job much easier [and] an absolute privilege.”

Tricia Simonson, Gillette Councilwoman and author of “The Road Back to You”: “Since losing our 15-year-old son to suicide eight years ago, my grateful is different these days. I am grateful my heart doesn’t hurt like it used to, and I am grateful for more good days than bad. I am grateful for the days I do not cry, for the nights I sleep and for the days I laugh. I know this is not your typical ‘What am I grateful for’ list, but when grief allows you to start living again, it is definitely something to be grateful for.”

Tim Lang, warden of the Wyoming Women’s Center: “I am thankful for my wife, Shannon. Throughout the years, she has sacrificed to make my career possible. She visits me from Pennsylvania when she can. She is there tending to our farm and taking care of our elderly parents. She is one of a kind. I am a truly lucky man.”

Elizabeth Minton, associate professor of marketing and expert in healthy food consumption at the University of Wyoming: “I am particularly grateful for family, especially now having a living daughter in our house after recently losing our son at three weeks old. While our family is not physically together, we are still a whole family, being parents of two children. The Thanksgiving meal represents a time to be together as a family and treasure the times with those in person and relish the memories of those only in our hearts.”

Wayne Stewart, director of marketing and communications at Visit Casper: “I’m thankful for my job, representing business owners across Casper, whether they own a restaurant, shop or ski lodge. It’s my responsibility to communicate what makes each business unique, and why a visitor should spend their time and money experiencing what all of our local businesses have to offer. New businesses have opened, which means new community members have made Casper their home. Casper’s future is bright, and it’s all because of the community leaders, business owners and passionate residents that see its potential. For those people, we are extremely thankful.”

Brig. Gen. Michelle Mulberry, Wyoming Air National Guard Chief of Staff: “This year, I am most thankful for the dedication I get to witness every day from each and every airman of the Wyoming Air National Guard whether around the globe or here in our great state of Wyoming. I’m truly honored to serve and see your tireless efforts supporting training, deployments or in support of disaster relief operations. Your efforts do not go unnoticed. Your commitment to duty, honor and service is truly commendable. You are the backbone of our defense and the guardians of our freedoms. Please know, we are immensely thankful for the sacrifices you make to be the Sword and Shield of our great nation and state.”

Todd Martin, warden of Wyoming Honor Conservation Camp: “I am thankful for the staff who deal with inmates on a daily basis. They do a job that most don’t want to do, in an environment that most have no clue [about] the reality of, so the citizens of our state continue to be safe on a daily basis. They work 24/7 with little recognition and too little money. They are overworked and underappreciated, and we are damn lucky to have each and every one of them. They routinely miss holidays, school events and much more with their children and loved ones because of work. They are unsung heroes who perform a service that most want no part of, and for that, I am thankful.”

State Rep. Sarah Penn (R-Lander): “I’m so grateful for my family and that we get to enjoy our God-given liberty in such a beautiful country. We celebrate faith, freedom, friends, family, peace and plenty to the fullest extent. What a blessing.”

Robin Sessions Cooley, director of Wyoming Department of Workforce Services: “My gratitude knows no bounds for my incredible family—your unwavering support, boundless encouragement, endless patience and remarkable resilience fill each day with pride and joy. As your wife, mom, aunt, sister and daughter, I want you to know that you all inspire me in ways words can’t capture. I’m also immensely thankful for the adventures my job has provided, including the recent unforgettable journey to Taiwan—a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience that broadened my horizons and left an indelible mark on my heart.”

Darcy Lipp-Acord, president of the Wyoming Library Association: “I’m grateful for my grandkids, because kids help me keep the rest of life in perspective; they remind me what’s important.”

Lisa Scroggins, Executive Director of the Natrona County Library: “Years ago, I was a classroom teacher and through a reduction in force ended up losing my job. How can you be thankful for losing your job? Well, that put me on a trajectory into the library profession. Really, I’m thankful for challenges in my life that have shaped who I have become. That might be a shift in career or caring for my medically fragile mother who lived with us for 11 and a half years. As hard as those things were, when you’re in the throes of a life challenge, you can still find blessings and something to be thankful for.”

Curtis Moffat, warden of the Wyoming Honor Farm: “I am thankful for my two sons, Bodie and Barrett. I enjoy spending time with them in so many activities above and beyond being their father. They are both progressing from being teenagers and turning into young men before my eyes. I am truly grateful for their love and support.”

Lindsey Schilling, senior administrator for Wyoming Department of Family Services: “This year, I’m thankful for the opportunity to raise my kids in Wyoming and show them the Wyoming way of life: success and independence achieved through hard work and steadfast commitment. We wake early in the morning to feed livestock in the snow, the wind, the rain and on the best days, the warm sunshine. Seven days a week, 365 days per year, no excuses. We all work together to clean and care for them, even on days when we’d rather not. The chickens give us eggs for breakfast, the goats teach them patience as they prepare for shows, the horses teach them peace and humility, and the rabbits, well, they’re just cuddly and fun to love…. Welcome to life in Wyoming. I’m thankful to be here.”

Terry Weickum, Mayor of Rawlins: “I am thankful to live in the United States—and Wyoming in particular. My wife and I came [to Rawlins] for work in 1978, and the bonus has been all the wonderful friends we’ve made. I’m retired now, and I’m not wealthy, but I have had a wonderful life in Carbon County. In this county, you can drive any direction and find something really cool to do. We have mountains, lakes … There is snowmobiling and ice fishing in the winter, and it is the best place on earth to live in the summertime.”

Helen Wilson, executive director of the Wind River Visitors Council: “When we [colleagues] elevate each other, we create a welcoming place for tourists, which results in economic growth. We’re thankful for the friendships and ideas that come from such partnerships, and look forward to a wonderful 2024.”

Carrie Haderlie, CJ Baker, Jennifer Kocher and Shen Wu Tan contributed to this report.

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