Life Lessons from Dad: Prominent Wyomingites Share Pearls of Wisdom From their Fathers

The summer I was 6, I learned a life lesson that has stayed with me for over 50 years: the power of setting realistic goals.

I desperately wanted to win a trophy at our swim club’s annual children’s meet. First and second place trophies were out of question in the girls’ 6 & Under freestyle event—a mere width of the pool. Two of my friends had mastered proper breathing, but I still lifted my head and doggy paddled every time I needed air. It slowed me down. There was no way I could beat them.

“You can take third place,” my father predicted.

“How?” I asked.

“Do a no-breather,” he said, urging me not to stop and breathe in the middle of the race. “You’ll beat Susie. She doggy paddles, too.”

Hours later, my father posted a sign to beat Susie on my bedroom mirror. In the weeks before the meet, I went to the pool every day and held my breath while thrashing across 15 meters of water. I had to build my endurance so I could clinch the third place trophy.

Which I did. And the instant I hit the wall, I burst into tears, overcome with joy at winning on my terms.

The trophy is now buried in a box of childhood keepsakes, but my late father’s lesson endures. In the end, it wasn’t about beating my friend, Susie. It was about setting attainable goals, being strategic and striving to overcome a weakness. It was about planning my work and working my plan. But most of all, it was about always doing my very best—and being content with the outcome, even if it was third place.

Decades later, as a Swim Mom, I imparted the same lesson to my son, who is now captain of his college swim team. My dad would be so proud.

In honor of Father’s Day, we asked prominent Wyomingites from across the state to share the best life lessons their fathers passed down to them.

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

Cynthia Hanson, Editor

State Rep. David Northrup (R-Powell) on his father, Laness Northrup: “When I was about 12 years old, we were working on our family farm in Powell. We grew sugar beets, barley and corn, and raised cattle. He said to me: ‘Be careful about which hill you’ll die upon. Or, pick your battles.’ That lesson has been useful throughout my life, whether working with others on the farm or at the Capitol.”

Laness Northrup taught his son, Rep. David Northrup, to pick his battles. (Courtesy photo from Rep. David Northrup)
Pictured above are Letara LeBeau and her father, Howard Arnel. (Courtesy photo from Letara LeBeau)  

Letara LeBeaubusiness owner, member of Wyoming’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous People Task Force and one of USA Today’s “2023 Women of the Year,” on her father, Howard Arnel: “Because of my father, I’ve learned who I am and where I want to be in life. He taught me what hard work is all about. Not only to work hard, but to play hard as well. He was a great hunter, fisherman, and most of all, an amazing father. He loved the great outdoors. Every time he hit the mountains or rivers, he was in his element. Because of his journey and stories, I have learned how to pass on my strengths and wisdom to others. A good leader makes more good leaders.”

Gillette Mayor Shay Lundvall on his father, Dennis Lundvall: “‘Find Jesus and ask Him into your life and develop a personal relationship with Him. This relationship is a lifelong journey. Our lives are but a vapor. No matter what you do, there will always be someone who doesn’t like you for something, and the sooner you realize that, the better off you will be. More importantly, pick your friends and spouse wisely and always look at where you will land before you cross or jump. The outcome will either enhance or divert you from your goals and dreams.’ All of this has impacted my life, by instilling a sense of balance between work and leisure time and prioritizing the most important relationship I will ever have is with Christ.”

Gillette Mayor Shay Lundvall poses with his father, Dennis, and mother, Mary. (Courtesy photo from Shay Lundvall)  
Lyle Henry Buchmann (left) died when his son, BJ, was just 13. (Courtesy photo from BJ Buchmann)

BJ Buchmann, headmaster at Cheyenne Classical Academy, on his father, Lyle Henry Buchmann: “My dad died when I was 13. It was a tough time for my mom and the rest of our family, but other men in the community and relatives stepped in to guide and support me. I needed the guidance, but I often didn’t welcome it from these strong father-like figures. Because of that, I learned to work, be persistent and finish the task—regardless of your background, position or location.”

Matt Daly, award-winning Wyoming poet, on his stepfather,Dan Mortensen: “After graduating high school, when I’d come home to visit and then after I had moved back for good, I’d sometimes help my stepdad shovel snow from roofs at a couple of small ranch properties he used to caretake. We would snowshoe or ski in, work hard, eat lunch and snowshoe or ski out. We’d catch up, and at least once, often accidentally, we’d slide off a roof. From this, and from the way my stepdad still lives his life, I’ve learned that not separating life from work can be a pretty satisfying way to live. My work is pretty different from his, but the way we blend living and working still feels pretty similar.”

Matt Daly is a poet whose stepfather, Dan Mortensen, taught him not to separate “life from work.” (Courtesy photo from Matt Daly)
Pictured above are Rep. Sandy Newsome’s parents, Bob and Joan Montgomery. (Courtesy photo from Sandy Newsome) 

Rep. Sandy Newsome (R-Cody) on her father, Bob Montgomery: “This is difficult for me, as my dad passed away in January. He was a kind and gentle man who taught me so much. He and my mom were married for 70 years when she passed away in 2021. He taught me and my siblings how a man treats the woman he loves. I credit the longevity of my marriage to the great example that I witnessed in my parents’ marriage. He also taught me the value of hard work. Growing up, I had sheep while in 4-H. We worked together fixing fences, caring for the sheep and getting them ready to show at the fair.  These were very happy days for me. The most important thing he taught me was to always act with integrity.”

Conrrado Saldivar, president of the Wyoming Library Association, on his father, Jesus Saldivar: “My dad, Jesus Saldivar, moved to the United States from Mexico over 40 years ago. I think the best life lesson I learned from him is that there is no single ‘American Dream.’ Each of us can determine what that means, and sometimes, that means that the dream changes every single day.”

Conrrado Saldivar (left) is pictured with his father, Jesus, at a Denver Broncos game in 2017. (Courtesy photo from Conrrado Saldivar)
Jesse Thomas Driskill taught Sen. Ogden Driskill to think outside the box. (Courtesy photo from Sen. Ogden Driskill)

State Sen. Ogden Driskill on his father, Jesse Thomas Driskill: “The best life lesson I learned from my father is: ‘Don’t be afraid to think outside the box.’ My father was an innovator that always seemed to be ahead of the curve. As far as I know, he brought the first round baler into Wyoming. He pioneered bringing new bloodlines of exotic cattle into Wyoming. And he put one of the first center pivots into northeast Wyoming.”

Mark Jones, national director of hunter outreach for Gun Owners of America, on his father, Gary Jones: “I learned many lessons from my dad growing up. He taught me a creed that has guided my choices and way of living for all my life. His example was modeled in the way he lived his life and shared with me as we hunted, fished, worked, spent time with family and lived daily life. He taught me personal responsibility, hard work and integrity. The creed was, ‘Treat people with honesty and integrity. Don’t ever take anything you don’t earn. If you want things in life, you work for them.’ I’ll never forget how my Dad shaped my life and helped make it possible for me to succeed and be a productive adult.”

Mark Jones (right) is pictured with his father, Gary, on a pheasant hunt last fall. (Courtesy photo from Mark Jones)
Jackson Mayor Hailey Morton Levinson poses with her father, Casey Morton. (Courtesy photo from Hailey Morton Levinson)

Jackson Mayor Hailey Morton Levinson on her father, Casey Morton: “Leading by example, my father has always shown me to follow my dreams and heart. If you work hard, are honest and kind, and follow your passions, you can build a beautiful and fulfilling life. That’s what he’s done, and by doing so, has shown me it’s possible.” 

Bill McIlvain, retired educator, legislator and lobbyist on his father, Tommie McIlvain: “My father grew up during the Great Depression. He didn’t get much schooling. He was illiterate. But everybody was his friend. The most important thing I learned from him came when I was about 8 years old. We lived in King’s Mill, Texas, which is to the east of Amarillo. He worked in the oil fields in Pampa, Texas. We hunted rabbits. I learned gun safety, which was good, but the main thing I learned was to respect life. ‘You don’t just go out and kill things,’ my father said. We hunted rabbits for food. When I got a little older, there was a bounty on coyotes, because they were overrunning the town. We earned a bounty of $1 per pair of coyote ears.”

Pictured above are Bill McIlvain’s father, Tommie (left), and mother, Gertie Faye McIlvain. (Photo courtesy from Bill McIlvain)

David Dudley, Jennifer Kocher, Melissa Thomasma and Shen Wu Tan contributed to this story. 

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