In early 1970, less than five years after the founding of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Wyoming was one of six states to model potential concepts for structuring a state humanities council. The model that Wyoming and Oregon implemented, forming an independent committee of people from around the state who were committed to the public humanities, was selected as the optimal method to give access to the humanities to all citizens. In 1973, “Wyoming Council for the Humanities” was incorporated as a 501(c)3 independent nonprofit organization and Dr. Audrey Cotherman was installed as its first executive. Audrey is still very active, publishing columns in the Casper Journal and now at the Casper Star Tribune. At 86 she ran for house of representatives against an opponent nearly sixty years her junior! She recently published a collection of her witty and wise columns in A Pinch of Salt: Savoring Life in Wyoming.
Since Audrey, there have been four executive directors during our nearly five decades of serving Wyoming. Dave Tebaldi, who left Wyoming to become the executive director of Massachusetts Humanities Council, Dennis Frobish who served for a brief time before beloved directors Bob Young and Marcia Wolter Britton each took the helm for a decade or longer. I became the state’s sixth leader of the humanities council in 2013. I’ve turned to audrey, Dave, Bob, and Marcia for advice and guidance. They are truly some of the finest thinkers and humanists I’ve been blessed to meet. I’m so grateful they are all still well and able to tell stories and provide sound advice.
Nonprofits attract special kinds of people. You sacrifice a lot to be able to serve a mission for which you are passionate. The people who have worked at our humanities council are unique and each came to us in a different way. Our current team is small but mighty:
- Sheila Bricher-Wade is our program officer and came to us after more than two decades at the State Historic Preservation Office—she knows every nook and cranny of Wyoming. A road trip with Sheila is always an adventure filled with stories about every single historical marker.
- Emy diGrappa works out of our Jackson office in the Jackson Hole Center for the Arts. Emy is the on-air interviewer and executive producer for our podcast, “What’s Your Why?” But she does so much more than that—everyone in the town of Jackson knows Emy as a true leader in the cultural events scene. She is as passionate for the arts and humanities as anyone in Wyoming and adds incredible value to the strong creative infrastructure in Teton County.
- Erin Pryor Ackerman called us a few years ago and asked if she could volunteer in our office. She was just completing her PhD in English from Indiana University and had moved to Laramie with her husband, Al, who works in UW Athletics. It didn’t take long for Erin to completely own our membership systems and soon she was managing our grants operations. Erin writes a great deal of our newsletter articles and we consider her the humanities brains behind most of the work we do. If we need to know how to say something Erin is who we turn to.
- In my years of working in nonprofits I learned through observation and through experience that the second-in-command of an organization is the greatest indicator of its health and potential. For two years Wyoming Humanities has been privileged to have Josh Watanabe serve as our assistant director. We are a small but complex organization and frequently it takes two heads to solve a problem. I thank my lucky stars to have Josh at my side to ensure the organization is running on best practices, using advanced technology, and having as much fun as possible.
- This past summer, our beloved long-time CFO/Fiscal Officer, Kathy Burman, had to leave due to health issues. It was a devastating blow to lose such a strong leader and contributor. She was a thoughtful and gifted administrator and brought an unsurpassed work ethic and devotion to our organization. She also brought very strong development and fundraising experience to the council and her guidance and wisdom is sorely missed. We send her our sincerest best wishes for a year of improving health and our love to her, her husband, Tom, and her entire family for all they have done for us and for the State of Wyoming.
Nonprofits are governed by boards of directors who assume responsibility for the mission of the organization as well as its fiscal and legal health. Wyoming Humanities (formerly Wyoming Council for the Humanities and Wyoming Humanities Council) board can have up to 20 directors, five of whom are gubernatorially appointed. Our past board members, many of whom are reading this, are a who’s who of Wyoming leaders and thinkers. We have former first ladies, prestigious professors, bankers, state legislators, attorneys, writers, judges, college administrators, and even our Governor-elect Mark Gordon has taken a seat on our council’s board. These are people who care deeply about Wyoming and the value and importance of the humanities. They want all Wyomingites to have the opportunity to explore important issues, learn about our heritage, and think about our future using the humanities as a tool to illuminate what we need to know. Our board must ensure we are being run effectively, both fiscally and legally, that we are complying with federal and state regulations, and that we are serving all parts of the state. It is a fun board to serve on, but we ask a lot. I am humbled by the generosity—the gifts of time, wisdom, and money—of the people who have served and currently serve on our board. God bless each and every one of you!
On this day of thanks-giving, I have so much for which to be grateful. I am about to become a grandmother, I have a beautiful and loving blended family who are all healthy including a husband who is fun and incredibly supportive, and I have many friends all around the nation. My work is my passion and I am so very thankful for the people I get to work with who care as much as I do about the quality of life in Wyoming.