2019: A year in review


January

THS drama students score
second place at state

TORRINGTON – For the second straight year, Torrington High School earned 3A runners-up honors at the State Drama competition in Rock Springs.

“We had a great year at State Drama – we had a second great year in a row,” Director Chris Quillen said at a recent banquet honoring the students. “Leading up to state is always a lot of work and can be stressful, but the kids put forth their best, and it shows in the recognition they received.”

Out of 21 possible events, the THS crew entered 16 categories – each judged on a rubric.

“All of our entries received either superior or excellent ratings,” Quillen said, explaining “superior” is awarded an All-State designation, while “excellent” receives Honorable Mention.

Council considers
water, sewer rates

LINGLE – The Lingle Town  Council discussed the pros and cons of raising the town’s water and sewer rates at a regular meeting Wednesday evening, with plans to consider the matter further on Jan. 23.

Lingle’s water and sewer rates have not increased since 2009.

Revenue from the water and sewer rates goes into the Enterprise Fund, which currently has $64,000 for water and $35,000 for sanitation. The fund is set aside to pay for emergencies, including water or sewer main breaks, lawsuits, and also may be used to leverage grant funds.

“As a whole, the system’s in good shape,” Maintenance Supervisor Larry Haeffelin said, but stated another leg of sewer needs lined, which will cost approximately $800,000.

Goshen County School Board

Eight-period days ahead
for high-school students

GOSHEN COUNTY – Beginning next fall, area high schools will move from 90-minute block scheduling to eight-period school days, averaging around 40 minutes per class.

High-school principals Chase Christensen (Torrington), Cory Gilchriest (Lingle-Fort Laramie), and Randy Epler (Southeast) informed the Board of Trustees of the change at a regular meeting in January.

A committee has met for at least two years researching and debating the proposal, Director of Curriculum Donna Fields said at the meeting.

Epler said the issue was also discussed with teachers and students. Staff supported the eight-period days to increase frequency of contact with students, as well as the rate at which they can teach subject matter by seeing students more often, allowing them to delve deeper into content.

Students initially feared an eight-period day would result in more homework every day, Epler said. However, “teachers believe (this schedule change) will result in the potential reduction of homework.”

Block scheduling will continue on Fridays due to an already-shortened school day. Should the district make the move to a four-day school week, eight-period school days will be almost mandatory, Mike Lashley said of the four-day school week. 

Western Sugar announces
another mass layoff

TORRINGTON – As you make the trip down Highway 26 bound for Scottsbluff, Neb., if you look past the natural beauty of the Scottsbluff National Monument and the quaint charm of the villages along the way, just off the road, something different stands out from the plains – ruin. 

To be specific, the ruins of Western Sugar Cooperative processing facilities. 

“On Wednesday, three of us from the City of Torrington went to attend a meeting in Scottsbluff and on the way, we passed the Morrill factory,” Torrington Mayor Randy Adams said. “We passed the Mitchell factory. We know there’s an old factory in Gering. They’re just ruins.”

And Torrington could be next.

Western Sugar Cooperative announced in January it would eliminate another 101 positions at its Torrington facility by the end of March. These permanent layoffs are in addition to 92 workers who will be laid off by the end of this month. 

In a letter addressed to Torrington Mayor Randy Adams, Torrington Workforce Center Manager Gilbert Servantez and the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services, Western Sugar attributed the layoffs to its evolving business needs. 

February

Board votes ‘no’ on
four-day school week

GOSHEN COUNTY – The district will not move to a four-day week for the 2019-20 school year. The motion failed 7-to-2 Tuesday evening at the regular Goshen County School District No. 1 Board of Trustees’ meeting.

Trustees Zach Miller and Kerry Bullington voted in favor of the change. All other trustees voted against.

Each board member made a statement explaining his or her vote. As part of his reasoning, Carlos Saucedo said: “Change this drastic should be made based on compelling data evidence showing convincing gains and academic performance and developmental capabilities. It seems, at best, this change would keep us at status quo, and the benefits do not outweigh the consequences.”

Jeff McClun said his biggest concerns included a drop in student achievement with fewer days in school; parents needing to find daycare or staying home from work to provide care; a longer school day and later practices; difficulty or impossibility of juniors or seniors to take college courses; loss of hours and wages for bus drivers and cooks; and possibilities of an increase in illegal and reckless behavior with an extra day off, among others. He encouraged the calendar committee to blend the approved five-day calendar and the proposed four-day calendar to create a hybrid schedule and move collegial meeting days to Friday. McClun added he was disappointed the committee did not offer a better solution.

Christine Miller stated while she, personally, would love the four-day school week as it would fit her family’s lifestyle, research is inconclusive regarding student achievement – which she called her main motivator. Miller added considering the four-day for attendance centers separately is something that may change her mind.

“I do struggle with the stated reason for the change,” she said. “I can’t necessarily support the logic to change the entire school calendar … for collegial work … I’m not sure we’ve exhausted all other tactics to solve the issues there.”

Teaching inspires L-FL
Elementary’s Gibson
to write novels

LINGLE – “Frozen in fear and blinded by the light of oncoming headlights she braced herself for the crash that was unstoppable.” – The first line of the prologue in Lingle-Fort Laramie third-grade teacher Rachel Gibson’s first novel, “Highland Peace.”

Much like her lead character, Alyssa, in the selection above, fear kept Gibson frozen for nearly a decade until one of her students inspired her to publish the book.

“In high school, I was told that I was a creative writer, but never really thought about doing anything with it, nor did I really enjoy it,” Gibson explained. “The first book, ‘Highland Peace,’ started out as a college English project. I completed enough of it to get a grade and then put it on a shelf in my closet – that was 11 years ago.

“About nine years ago, I decided to pull it back off the shelf and start writing again. I shared the first few chapters with my sister, who encouraged me to keep going and get it finished. Overall, it took me seven years to complete it because I would write during the summer, Christmas break, etc. Plus, I went through periods of writer’s block.

March

All about art

Fort Laramie brainstorm session, show, to promote art of all kinds

GOSHEN COUNTY – This month, artists and art lovers of all media, levels and ages are invited to gather at the Fort Laramie Community Center for an all-day networking and brainstorming session, followed by an evening creative showcase.

Event coordinator Jennifer Lanier said the purpose of the artistic gathering is “to increase the viability of the area through art.

“Art has always been a big part of Goshen County, and the Fort Laramie area in particular,” she said. “A lot of the artists have mentioned they would like to develop something in the area to get their work out, be more expressive, and highlight the area for themselves and for tourists.”

After several conversations with members of the local art community, Lanier found significant interest in more opportunities to showcase, sell and buy art.

Crafty Crew

Rural women gather,
create at Fort Laramie Community Center

FORT LARAMIE – Women from the far-reaching corners of western Goshen County, including rural Lingle and Pine Ridge, step out of their oft-isolated lifestyles twice a month to gather, socialize and create at the Fort Laramie Community Center.

The Crafty Crew, as they call themselves, began meeting in October 2018. On the second and fourth Wednesday of each month, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., about 10 to 12 local crafters, quilters, beaders, knitters, crocheters, and more, participate in an assigned potluck nestled in the library at the refurbished Fort Laramie-Lingle Middle School.

“We just needed a place to meet and do whatever crafts we wanted to work on and socialize,” Linda Gosselin, who helped establish the group, explained. “It just gives us a chance to sit and visit and do some things we enjoy doing. We always do show-and-tell – if you get something done – it’s just like kindergarten. We like to see everybody else’s work.

“And it helps us know what’s going on in the community,” Gosselin continued. “With some of us living way out – it’s a good way to touch base and know what’s going on.”

Taste of the Army

L-FL students experience new Army qualifying tests

LINGLE – Lingle-Fort Laramie High School students got a taste of what it will be like to qualify to serve in the United States  Army National Guard.

Starting in October of 2020, the Guard is implementing a new fitness test, said SSG Kari Brafford, a Master Fitness Trainer for the state of Wyoming.

SFC Kerry Wyatt, a local recruiter, was also on hand to help with the demonstrations.

“Before, we did a two-mile run, sit-ups and push-ups to measure our physical strength and endurance,” Brafford said. “The Army is now implementing the ACFT which is the Army Combat Fitness Test. It’s going from three events to now six events.”

On Monday morning, the high school PE students at L-FL got a sample of what the new requirements will look like, becoming the first school in the state to see a demonstration of the new tests.

April

Doggers of the
Quarter named

LINGLE – Braving the elements, working with a tenacious attitude, and representing Lingle-Ft. Laramie High school, junior Jenna Kaufman and freshman Kyland Fuller were voted as Doggers of the Quarter for the third quarter of the 2018-2019 school year. These two athletes, academics and positive role models at L-FL are outstanding representations of what this award represents – they embody and model the concepts of grit. 

Junior Jenna Kaufman is the daughter of Jasen and Misty Kaufman, and is active in extracurricular activities. Jenna is a member of the golf, cross-country, FBLA, indoor-track, and outdoor track teams, as well as managing wrestling. She strongly encompasses the belief that one should be involved in their school, have a positive attitude, be kind to others, and work hard in everything one does. Jenna is described as having a positive outlook, willingness to help others, and the tasks presented before her are always accomplished.

She enjoys learning, is respectful to others, and has a drive that is unstoppable. These are just a few of the reasons she was chosen by the faculty of L-FL to represent the school and was awarded Dogger of the Quarter.

Jenna was surprised, believing she was in trouble when called to the office, but feels honored to represent the Doggers. 

Harpstreith to step
down from GCEDC

TORRINGTON – After four years at the helm of the Goshen County Economic Development Corporation and a long list of triumphs, Chief Executive Officer Ashley Harpstreith stepped down from her post on July 1. 

Harpstreith and her family will be moving to Cheyenne for family reasons, and while she doesn’t know what the next step in her career will be, her goal is to find a place where she can make an impact like she has in Goshen County. 

“My biggest goal for my next job is to be as passionate as I am about this one,” she said. “Community development, business development, fundraising, grant writing, association work, state-level work – those are the realms I’m looking in. I hope it is somewhat tied into the economic development field.”

The GCEDC – and the next CEO – will have the benefit of having Harpstreith until the end of the summer. 

“I’m probably going to help out the organization on a couple of projects and finish out the summer,” she said. “We’ve got a lot of irons in the fire. I don’t really have big plans to look for a job in Cheyenne until the fall.”

Harpstreith said there is a long list of projects she has worked on with GCEDC that she is proud to have been a part of. Chief amongst those was working to renew the quarter-cent sales tax and setting up a strong foundation in the GCEDC office.

Fresh Foods open for
business in Torrington

TORRINGTON – After decades serving the Torrington area, Dave and Sharon Kelly of Kelly’s Super grocery have retired, and a Nebraska grocer is stepping in to make sure the store still offers the same service and small-town feel that Goshen County residents have come to know. 

Kerri Dishman, co-owner of Fresh Foods with her husband, Ben, said Torrington seemed like a good fit for their store’s philosophy. The Torrington store will be Dishman’s third location, along with stores in Gering, Neb. and Brush, Colo. 

“We’re always looking for opportunities,” Dishman said. “We had heard that the Kellys were ready to retire and our warehouse had gotten a hold of us. It fit in our idea of location, and we really enjoy the small town community. Torrington has that to offer, too.”

While some aspects of the Torrington store will mirror the Fresh Foods in Gering, Dishman said it is important to Fresh Foods that it maintains the characteristics that made Kelly’s Super a part of the community for generations. 

“It will definitely have a lot of similarities to Gering, but we also want Torrington to be its own unique store, too, so we can meets the needs of eastern Wyoming,’ she said. “There will be similarities, but there will also be a few differences.”

Council moves forward on urban chicken ordinance

TORRINGTON – After a 4-1 vote by the Torrington City Council last week, Torrington residents are one step closer to having chickens within city limits. 

The council approved an ordinance to allow urban chickens on its first reading last Tuesday. The ordinance has to pass two more votes, but if it were to go into effect it would allow people to have up to four chickens within city limits, provided there are no roosters and their neighbors approve. 

The ordinance was brought to the council by Councilman Matt Mattis, who said he has been approached by several people who want to raise laying hens in town. 

“This is something I brought up at our last work session, mainly because since I’ve taken office this is one of the main concerns I’ve heard from people,” he said. “I’ve had a dozen or more people come to me. I know it’s kind of an interesting topic to bring up, but people want chickens for egg consumption and they’re kind of a new hobby. They’re like dogs for some people, and they can be shown at the fair.”

City Building Official Dennis Estes said the city’s biggest concerns with having urban chickens is there would be no roosters and the birds are contained. 

“This is my first shot at a chicken ordinance,” he said. “The biggest thing is that there would be no roosters allowed. Four hens is all you could have currently. They would have to be kept in a cage and they can’t run free in a yard.”

Kramer tapped to
lead GCSD No. 1

GOSHEN COUNTY – There was consensus last week at the end of a visit by the new Goshen County School District superintendent and his family.

“We were all in agreement,” said Ryan Kramer via telephone from Hawarden in northwest Iowa on Monday. “We could definitely see ourselves in Goshen County. The kids visited the schools, felt such a part of the community already.”

Kramer and his family – his wife, Stacy, and his children Jake, 14, Anneka, 12, and Drew, 10 – trekked from northwest Iowa to eastern Wyoming last week so the family could get the lay of the land and make sure the region would be a good fit. He said Monday they already felt like Goshen County was home.

GCSD No. 1 Board of Trustees chair Katherine Patrick announced via email last week the board had decided and had offered the job to one of the three finalists. She confirmed, also via email on Monday, that Kramer had accepted the position. 

Kramer was selected from a field of three finalists, which included Platte County School District No. 1 Superintendent Dennis Fischer of Wheatland and Dr. Jan Delay, superintendent of the RE-1 Valley School District in Sterling, Colo.

In another email Monday afternoon, Patrick said it was his willingness to look at different approaches to meeting the needs of the district that distinguished him above the other candidates.

“Mr. Kramer’s approach to relationship-building and establishing trust between all members of our educational community is very attractive to us,” she said. “Recent research has emphasized the importance of those attributes in boosting student achievement and educator efficacy.”

May

Urban chicken ordinance
ruffles feathers

TORRINGTON – During the Torrington City Council’s regular meeting on May 7, the city’s governors considered amending city ordinance to allow Torrington resident to own up to four laying hens within city limits. 

The discussion over the urban chicken proposal gave birth to lots of clucking before there was a vote  during the May 7 meeting.

The proposal was eventually tabled, but that came after passing on its second reading 3-2, with Council members Ted Kinney, Matt Mattis and Deanna Hill voting in favor of the ordinance. Mayor Randy Adams and Councilman Bill Law voted in the negative. 

Before opening the topic for public discussion, Adams told the assembly he had heard from people on both sides of the issue. 

“I’ve had several phone calls and several letters,” Adams said. “I got one call from a guy purporting to be Col. Sanders. He never took either side, just wanted to entertain the mayor, I think.”

Galen Alexander spoke against the chicken ordinance, and said he can see allowing chickens within city limits opening “a can of worms.”

“I am definitely against having chickens in city limits,” he said. “You said there would be no code officer reporting on them, and it would be up to me every time chicken gets out, or a cat eats a chicken.

“I can see how this opens a whole new can of worms; if you want chickens, goats, hogs, live in the country. I moved into Torrington for all good things city has, not for chickens.”

Bonnie Petsch told the council she has no desire to smell chickens within city limits. 

“As a former farm girl who had to gather eggs, I know what coops smell like and how mean chickens get,” she said. “I think it will lower the value of our property, and I think it will cause bad feelings between neighbors. We’re trying to get people not to put grass clippings in alley dumpsters - imagine the smell if waste goes in dumpsters.”

Marilyn Reid, the founder and president of the Wyoming Poultry Association, told those assembled that many of their concerns could be cleared up with education. 

“I think there’s a little lack of education going on as far as the citizens here in town,” she said. “There is a plethora of stray cats in this town and they carry as many diseases as any chicken does. If you want to talk about all the diseases, there hasn’t been a case in our area in 15 years.

“Water fowl that fly through here carry avian influenza more than backyard chickens would carry.

“We have more to worry about from water fowl flying through and stray cats than we would from four little chickens in the backyard.”

Ultimately, the issue was tabled on May 21. Hill said the issue was tabled in order for the city to get a little more background on urban chickens. 

Hill said she thought it would be appropriate to table the ordinance for the time being, which would allow the council to hear from representatives from other towns on Wyoming who have approved such an ordinance. 

“I just feel there are a few people I’d like to have come and speak on the matter, or against the matter, who are experiencing in other towns,” Hill said. “I’d like to hear what kind of experiences they’re having. 

“Like I’ve said, I don’t personally want a chicken in my backyard, but some people in town do. I’d just like to get a little more information.”

GCEDC lands USDA
entrepreneurship grant

GOSHEN COUNTY – The Goshen County Economic Development Corporation and the United States

Department of Agriculture have come up with nearly $100,000 of grants funds aimed at assisting small businesses and entrepreneurs in Goshen County.

According to a press release issued by the GCEDC, the USDA’s Rural Business Development

Grant will be used to fund training, technical assistance, professional services and equipment for entrepreneurs. Over the years, the GCEDC has assisted 123 potential start-ups, resulting 29 business openings and 50 new jobs in the area.

According to CEO Ashley Harpstrieth, the grant funds will help the GCEDC grow those numbers.

“We are proud to have a system in place in which we can ‘grow our own’,” she said. “Starting your own business is hard and this will allow entrepreneurs and small businesses the ability to focus on what they are best at while receiving professional technical assistance to take their company to the next level.”

The funds are going to help improve the GCEDC’s Business Incubator Program, as well. The incubator, located in the Goshen Enterprise Center, helps emerging businesses by providing office space, technical support and office equipment.

June

Dozens fill GCC meeting
to protest road conditions

TORRINGTON – A saga several years in the making came to a head on June 4 when an estimated 80 county residents attended a Goshen County Board of Commissioners meeting and forced the board to hold its meeting in the district courtroom. 

The commission allowed everyone in attendance a turn at the podium. Many citizens elected to level criticism at the commissioners and the Goshen County Road and Bridge Department for the condition of the county’s roads. 

David Platt, a rancher who lives in northern Goshen County near Prairie Center, said the roads in his area have deteriorated to the point that it’s nearly impossible to pass. 

“Here about two months ago, my four-wheel-drive pickup, with a trailer and a tracor on the back, I buried it in the middle of a county road,” he said. “(GCC vice chairman) John Ellis was the one who pulled me out. How embarrassing.”

Bill Brandt, who has spoken at numerous GCC meetings about his concerns with the county roads, laid the blame squarely on Hort and the commission. 

“I live on two roads that the county came in and destroyed last fall,” Brandt said. “They were going to come up and shape the roads and pack them with gravel, and this isn’t the place for me to lose my temper, but they do a sloppy job in everything they do. It’s a major safety issue for everyone in this whole county. There’s no road that is particularly bad, they’re all bad because, No. 1, lack of leadership.”

That sentiment was met with a round of applause from the attendees. 

Amidst the criticism and accusations, some citizens proposed ideas to fix the problem. Patrick Zimmerer, after he spoke about the problems the county roads have cause for his winery, suggested creating some kind of reporting system to ensure the county knows about problem areas. 

“I hope we can find ways to report these conditions a little easier,” Zimmerer said. “We could use some cheap, unconventional ways, like maybe tweeting or sending emails to the office. We could report real-time road conditions, with pictures. We are the boots on the ground and we can give you guys the heads up, too.”

GCC announces five-point
plan for road repair

TORRINGTON – On June 18, just two weeks after the contentious June 4 meeting, Goshen County Commission Chairman Wally Wolski announced the retirement of Goshen County Road and Bridge Superintendent Jerry Hort and unveiled the commission’s plan for fixing the roads. 

The five-points of the plan were to hire a new road boss to replace Hort, additional training for road and bridge equipment operators, explore the option of using outside contractors to repair roads, examine implementing a special use tax for the purpose of maintaining roads, and forming a citizen-led advisory committee to work with the road and bridge department and GCC. 

Val Hankins was announced as the interim superintendent, and she continues to hold the post. The county did put each of its operators through training sessions with Caterpillar trainers, and the committee meets regularly. 

Hibben appointed circuit judge

TORRINGTON – Gov. Mark Gordon appointed Torrington Municipal Court Judge and practicing attorney Nate Hibben to replace Randal Arp, who retired in April, as the judge of the Eighth Judicial Circuit Court. 

“Thank you, Gov. Gordon, for entrusting me with this opportunity and privilege to serve the people of the Eighth District and Wyoming,” Hibben said. 

Gordon chose Hibben over current Secretary of State Edward Buchanan and Wyoming Supreme Court Clerk Patricia Bennett. 

“This was a very difficult decision to make and all three candidates were outstanding choices,” Gordon said.

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