“Life is like a game of tennis; the player who serves well seldom loses.” – Author unknown
I am taken aback when I hear people assume or say that Wyoming and its citizens are unremarkable or boring. There is nothing boring about our majestic mountains, wonderful wildlife, roaring rivers and plentiful prairies. Likewise, there are many fascinating individuals who have lived or are living in our great state.
While serving as a missionary in Yuba City, California, in 1978, I scheduled a meeting with a newly baptized member of our church. Three other missionaries accompanied me to this meeting, which took place in the new member’s kitchen. When the meeting ended, we walked through the living room, wherein a television was turned on. I noticed the actress in a television commercial and told my fellow missionaries that the actress sat in front of me in history class when I was a sophomore at Central High School. Everyone except me laughed.
My fellow missionaries thought that I was just trying to be funny. However, I told the truth. Karen Morris (now known as Karen Morris-Gowdy) did indeed sit in front of me in history class. Karen was crowned America’s Junior Miss in 1974 and later portrayed the character Faith Coleridge Desmond on the television show “Ryan’s Hope.”
I believe it was around 1988 when I was speaking at a continuing legal education program in Casper. I noticed that one fellow in the audience looked a lot like James Watt, the former Secretary of Interior in the Reagan administration and a resident of Wyoming. At that time, James Watt was one of the most controversial people in America.
During a break, this fellow approached me and introduced himself. It was, indeed, James Watt. I accepted his invitation to have lunch with him.
Just a few months ago, I shared an elevator ride with Ken Fantetti. Ken played linebacker at the University of Wyoming and thereafter played for the Detroit Lions (from 1979 to 1985).
I have also met and interacted with many interesting, selfless and wonderful Wyomingites who are not as well-known as Karen, James or Ken.
For example, the name of my friend James O. Fowler comes to mind. I first met Jim after my family moved from Green River to Cheyenne in 1967. I have worked with Jim in many church activities over the years and have found him to be a very focused, productive and humble person. Jim grew up in the South and truly presents himself as a classic southern gentleman.
Jim has made many substantial and positive contributions to Cheyenne and Wyoming over the last few decades. He was a school teacher, but is better known for his contributions to Wyoming’s tennis community.
Jim coached Central High School’s tennis team from 1976 to 2000. He taught tennis classes at Laramie County Community College for 46 years (from 1970 to 2016). Jim was also a tennis instructor at the Cheyenne Country Club for three years.
While competing in various individual tennis tournaments, Jim won 16 singles and doubles titles in Wyoming and 18 singles titles in Colorado.
Jim’s overall record as Central’s tennis coach was 369 wins, 59 losses and 13 ties. During his tenure, Jim’s athletes acquired 24 state championships, eight state runner-up titles and 32 conference championships. That is a whole lot of hardware.
In recognition of his success, the Wyoming Coaches Association inducted Jim into its Hall of Fame in 2001 and also twice designated Jim as the “Coach of the Year.” Jim was presented with a National High School Coaching Award by Scholastic Coach Magazine in 1989, was the National Federation Interscholastic Coaches Association Regional 8 Coach of the Year on four separate occasions, and was once designated as the National High School Athletic Coaches Association Regional 7 Coach of the Year.
Jim recently received the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award for Wyoming.
Like so many other Wyomingites, Jim is not an unremarkable or boring person. But he would be the first to tell you that his legacy has little to do with the awards that he has received and everything to do with the athletes he has served.
Whether we are talking about our share of well-known citizens, or those who are as fascinating as they are low-key, Wyoming is filled with remarkable people. I know each of you can identify many if you take time to look around. Please do.