Memories of learning, growth and connection at Central Wyoming College

Dec 8, 2016 By Betty Starks Case

School has been a caring mentor for the community

Remember when?

The recent 50th anniversary of Central Wyoming College existence was a memory builder for many. For me too, but my recollections may lean in a little different direction.

Last weekend's Ranger commemoration of that event pulled my memory back, way back, with the photo of Lavinia Dobler, one of the early benefactors of the college and a longtime mentor and advisor to local writers.

My first introduction to CWC was on my mate's and my return to Wyoming in January, 1982, when we moved to Pheasant Crest Farm, our loved country home near Midvale.

In Oklahoma, I'd been attending writing classes, surprising myself with a few competitive writing awards and published articles. Now I'd been told I should identify myself as "writer." Further, I felt a need to be connected to people who understood why I must devote valuable time to such a craft.

When I heard that writing classes would be conducted at Central Wyoming College, an 18-mile evening drive to Riverton didn't seem such an alien idea.

There, I joined a lively, hopeful group to be instructed by Lavinia Dobler, a well-known local author with experience in New York publishing. Was this an opportunity or not?

"What do you want or expect to gain from this class?" was Lavinia's first question.

"Group contact, learning and growth," I responded.

"We used to have a group here," she said, "but they disbanded. If you want one, start it."

Getting directly to the point, as Lavinia was known to do, we made friends fast.

Right in the middle of the session, Lavinia exclaimed, "Oh, isn't this exciting?"

Suddenly, all the lights went out. Not just classroom lights but campus-wide.

At that time, no auxiliary lighting system existed. None that we had access to, anyway. No cell phones. No remote lighting for cars as we have today.

(Call this "the dark ages" if you like. I'll laugh with you.)

We waited a while, chatting, with no faces to read or respond to. We decided to go home.

Outside, everything was as dark as inside the building except for the snow that came down in sheets, further obscuring a trail.

After a clinging group-stagger, someone pulled a tiny penlight from a purse or pocket and we located a car to which someone held an ignition key. Wow! Headlights!

At my mother's home in Riverton I found a warm room that night - lit by candles, by the way. Turned out the whole town was dark.

Thus ended my first experience at CWC.

A few years later, husband Ned was hired to film Riverton classes for use at CWC's Lander extension sites. He enjoyed the academic environment, having conducted industry/research programs with colleges across the nation for years in his life's work.

Today, the college brings many activities to our area, both studious and entertaining, from college level learning to competitive riding, from cowboy poetry to elegant dance and music at the Robert A. Peck Arts Center.

We've held annual health fairs at the college gym, Medallion of Honor presentations to citizens who gave of themselves to their community and beyond, and nursing graduations to fill an ever growing need. We've learned from them all.

Today, I still love the warm inviting Dobler room that Lavinia sponsored, its fireplace built with fascinating rocks gathered by Wyoming's own people.

Looking back, I and others recall the mentoring Lavinia generously lent to aspiring writers. Sometimes, her critique might seem abrupt and tough. But her aim was to see us published.

I once commented, somewhat carelessly, "I don't often read a book's introduction."

"But that is an important part of any book!" Lavinia gasped. I listened.

The introduction to "Wyoming - Live," my second book, earned a rare kudo.

"Best thing you ever wrote," she said.

Today, I'm pleased to say my nephew attends engineering classes at the college and my niece serves as counselor to CWC students. Many of us have been ministered to by graduates of the wonderfully busy nursing school.

At 50 years, I see Central Wyoming College as not only a productive career institution, but a living being in this wide western community called Wyoming.

We provide the college a home. Like a caring mentor, she opens gates to growth of body, mind and soul.

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