Mike Myers has defined the third millennium in the Central Wyoming College theater department.
He arrived in Riverton on Dec. 31, 1999, and his first day on the job was New Year's Day in 2000.
Since then, Myers has been responsible for 50 major productions at the school, as well as myriad other projects ranging from Halloween haunted houses to student-directed shows.
He taught a full load, too - four or five classes per semester - focused on everything from acting and directing to theater history, voice and diction, auditioning, stage combat, cinema history, and even English as a second language.
With such a full schedule, it's no wonder the 63-year-old decided to retire early when administrators offered him the option in January.
"My job really wore me out," Myers said this month. "I work every night and every weekend and during the summer, (because) we're always doing a production. ... I was just running out of steam."
He wasn't planning to stay in the position as long as he did, anyway. When Myers was hired 17 years ago he was running the performing arts center at a community college in Missouri while working on a doctoral degree through Southern Illinois University.
He wanted to transition to a full-time teaching job, so he applied at CWC, but he figured he would only stay in Fremont County for a couple of years.
"I thought I was going to finish my Ph.D while I was here and then move on someplace else," Myers said. "But my son got in school, my wife got a job, and I got involved with the program."
Myers gave the most productive years of his life to CWC, and to the Fremont County community, offering residents the opportunity to participate in every aspect of theater production as audience members, actors or stage hands.
The theater experience helps people develop skills that can be applied to any area of life, Myers said.
"It teaches them ... how to collaborate with others, how to work as a team (and) meet a deadline," he said. "You learn to be in front of an audience (and) to put the project first over your personal ego."
A vibrant theater program also contributes to the heath of the overall community, he continued.
"A civilized society is one in which everyone has the opportunity to express themselves creatively," Myers said. "There are so many people in the world who are talented in theater who are never going to do it professionally, but they need a place where they can use that talent they have. ... It's an outlet."
For students specifically, he believes being involved in theater can be a catalyst for academic success.
"It's like a lifeline for many people," Myers said. "Theater (is) what keeps them here, it's what keeps them involved, and they do their coursework because they want to keep doing real theater."
Ryan Jevne, one of Myers's first students, said the theater department, and Myers in particular, kept him grounded at CWC.
"He's been a huge influence on my life," Jevne said. "He offered me a scholarship when my life really didn't have any direction, and he believed in me when other people didn't. ... It's going to be completely different without him."
Jevne has participated in at least 15 productions with Myers, including Myers's last play at CWC. As a director, Jevne said, Myers allowed actors the freedom to develop their character while also making sure they didn't take their roles in the wrong direction.
"When something wasn't right, he was there asking what our opinions were and how we felt," Jevne said. "(He'll be remembered for) his dedication to what he loved and the influence he had on everybody else around him to make them feel comfortable and to help them grow as actors."
Amara Fehring, another longtime student who also acted the final play Myers directed, said he taught her that no part in an ensemble is too small, while also helping her grow from a young ingénueto a more developed character actress.
"He's really allowed me to try my hand at many different roles (with) a little more meat to them," Fehring said. "He gave me the opportunity to ... keep stretching my skills (and) just really go for it, and as long as you're growing a character and making decisions and choices you're progressing."
She recalled her first musical with Myers - it was the spring of 2005, and Fehring was 15 years old. The play, "Two by Two," featured an invisible animal called the "gitka" that actors were supposed to chase across the stage.
At one point, she said, Myers felt compelled to demonstrate.
"I remember him chasing after it, showing us what he wanted us to do," she laughed. "He really immerses himself."
Myers often shows actors what he would do in a role, she said, and he sometimes has trouble dropping the character once he's finished.
"It brings me joy," she said. "My massive love of theater started here at CWC with Mike, (so) I'll miss him very much.But he is ready to go off into the world and experience things, so I'm excited for him."
Myers's initial plans for retirement involve a year-long trip to Asia. After that, he's not sure what will happen.
"I know there are people who have 10-year plans for their lives, but I always thought that was kind of ridiculous," Myers said. "When I look back on my life, I had no idea where I was going to end up. I never would've imagined when I was 22 that I was going to end up where I did, doing what I did. (And) it worked out just fine."
Myers was born in Michigan and raised in southern Illinois. He earned a bachelor's degree in theater at Southern Illinois University, a master's degree in theater from Bowling Green State University in Ohio, a master's degree in education from St. Joseph College in Connecticut where he met his wife, and a Ph.D (all but dissertation) in theater from SIU.
His wife, Patrice, is a special education teacher in Riverton. Their 23-year-old son, Sam, graduated from Bates College in Maine and is now a playwriting intern at an off-Broadway theater in New York City.