News of Riverton, Lander and Fremont County, Wyoming, from the Ranger's award winning journalists.
Longtime workers note work holiday amid job satisfaction
Sep 2, 2012 - By Emily Etheredge, Staff Writer
Labor Day marks the traditional end of summer with a day off work or a break from school, and these experienced workers have seen a lot of Labor Days in Fremont County.
When he received a challenge from his brother-in-law 34 years ago to locate a place he wanted to live and find a job in that area, Ray Price did just that.
"I had always wanted to move west, so I decided to leave southwestern Michigan and move to Wyoming," Price said. "Once I moved to Lander, I knew this was my home and the place I wanted to spend the rest of my life."
Price is the Fremont County Planner, where he is the director of the planning department and runs the county planning commission. He is also the priest at Trinity Episcopal Church in Lander.
He might be most familiar around the county for playing "Amazing Grace" and other sacred songs at funerals, memorial services and Memorial Day ceremonies.
Price is one of five employees in the planning department and has worked for the county since 1978.
"The best part of my job is the people I meet and work with," Price said. "I enjoy helping people through a bureaucracy."
Price plans to spend his Labor Day holiday hiking at his "power spot" in Lander, and working in his back yard.
"I don't foresee slowing down in any way with my job," Price said. "I am in too deep, and I can't get out."
When she was a little girl, Rachel Liss often spent time playing imaginary school.
"My mother was a teacher, and I always thought it would be fun to grow up and become a teacher," Liss said.
When she was 22, Liss started teaching at Jackson Elementary, and she has been employed for 38 years teaching kindergarten, first and third grade. She is a math facilitator this year.
Liss said that when she first began her teaching career she knew she wanted to stick with it for the rest of her life.
"It has always been something I have really loved," Liss said. "I genuinely enjoy coming to work every day."
In nearly four decades of teaching, Liss has seen children she taught grow up and have children that she also has taught.
"It is a real joy to be able to see the different generations come through my doors and educate them," Liss said. "The children have provided the excitement for me throughout the years."
Liss said it is difficult to name her favorite grade to teach because the enjoyment of teaching a particular grade has changed through different phases of her life.
"When I was a certain age I really enjoyed teaching kindergarten because of the inquisitive nature of the kids," Less said. "First grade was fun, and third graders understood jokes, so it was always enjoyable telling jokes and having the kids understand them."
Fremont County payroll clerk Jenny Green was offered a job working records with Fremont County when she was 17. After taking a business class at Lander Valley High School, Green's first day of work was Sept. 8, 1982.
"At the time you could take a class in high school, and the high school would place you in a job," Green said. "I was hired to work with in the records for Fremont County every afternoon. I then moved upstairs to the booking department."
Green enjoyed her job and decided to stay put. She has been on the job for 30 years.
"I was hired as a part-time employee, and the commissioners at the time were very generous and offered me benefits. In June of 1983 I was offered a full-time job, and I have stayed ever since."
Green said her daily duties include making sure every county employee receives a paycheck as well as taxing reports, payroll reports that go on the payroll, assisting employees with questions regarding forms, or taking care of health insurance.
"I pretty much know all of the county employees and have worked for three different county clerks in a 30-year time span," Green said. It really is a wonderful job."
At 83, the receptionist at the Riverton Senior Citizens Center does not plan on retiring anytime soon.
"I used to take my employment 10 years at a time," Ellie Urbigkit said. "Now I am trying to take it five years at a time."
When her husband died, Urbigkit had five children at home to support. She knew she would have to go out and find a job.
"I grew up in a period of time where people were expected to earn their salt," Urbigkit said. "Working is what makes this country great."
Urbigkit has worked for 46 years and will enter her 22nd year as the receptionist at the senior center this year.
The Wyoming native greets everyone entering the senior center with a smile and carries out each task set before her.
"The people are the reason I work," Urbigkit said. "My job is really not that hard, but it is very rewarding."
When he wasn't going to school, Shoshone and Arapaho Division of Transportation director John Smith, 64, spent his time working.
"I received my first paycheck when I was 14 years old," Smith said. "I was working in farming and ranching at the time and would spend my time working when I wasn't in school."
He has worked with the Division of Transportation since 1993, where he is the director of the division of transportation for both the Shoshone and Arapaho tribes.
Smith originally was the trainer for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, where he became aware of the need and services of the Indian affairs transportation program.
He now oversees various projects with the Division of Transportation, which include the East Boulder Flats housing subdivision. The gravel road there will be turned into asphalt this fall. He also supervises street projects for Shoshone and Arapahoe housing programs with community streets and sidewalks, the 17-Mile Road West project, and a road maintenance project.
"I really enjoy my job," Smith said. "I get the privilege to work with other people as well as train and employ tribal members."
Smith plans to spend his Labor Day holiday visiting friends in North Dakota at the Fort Berthold Reservation.
"My hat is off to all the workers and all the people who work hard to provide for their families and are lucky enough to have a job at this time," he said.
Susan Thompson began working for Central Wyoming College in 1979 at the Lander Research office.
"The job was just going to be for a couple of months," Thompson said. "Thirty-three years later, here I am."
After the two month, part-time stint, CWC offered Thompson a full-time job at the Lander office with the job title of senior secretary. Thompson worked in the Lander office until 1984, then moved to the main campus in Riverton, where she now is the executive administrative assistant for the executive vice president of academic services, Dr. Jason Wood.
Thompson said the job is challenging but focuses on educating students, some something she values and appreciates.
"My job is challenging work, and it is never the same or dull working with the students," Thompson said. "I love working with students and helping them receive their education. I can't say enough about my job. I just love it."
Thompson was able to complete her associates degree in business in 1989 and attempts to take a college class every semester, making her a "lifelong learner."
"Here at the college we have a wonderful opportunity to keep our minds active," Thompson said. "I can be a part of that and I think that is just profound. The CWC family is like a family to me. My job is truly incredible."
Sitting at a table inside Smith's Food and Drug, Mary Longtine-Whitlock showed a newspaper article about the grocery store's debut in the mid-1980s when she heard a familiar greeting.
"Hello, Mary," a customer cheerily announced.
"Well, hello," the store's trademark greeter replied in her unmistakable voice.
The customer glanced at the article and accompanying group photo of the store's employees at the opening.
"Where is the old battle-ax?" Longtine-Whitlock said comically about herself, generating some laughs. "Oh, right there, right there."
After a few seconds of banter, the longtime Smith's employee observed to those around her: "This is what I love about this job. I get to see all of my friends."
At 78, she is the most senior employee at the West Main grocery store. Her employer hired her on Feb. 3, 1986 -- before the location opened.
After owning the Satellite Lounge in downtown Riverton for 20-some years, she sold the liquor license to the grocery chain for its store and wanted a new job.
She also served as a member of the Riverton City Council and once ran for mayor.
Longtine-Whitlock remains a figurehead at the business.
"I think you're as old as you feel, and the young people make me feel young," she said.
"There was a gal that said, 'When are you going to retire?' And I said, 'What do I want to retire for?'" she said. "These are all my wonderful friends."