Welcome to our series, #WHYoming, brought to you in partnership by Kaumo Law.
We are highlighting people from around our communities and asking them a few questions. We want to learn a little about them and see why they chose this great state to raise their families, start their businesses, or simply to ask — Why Wyoming?
This week, I had a chance to sit down with David Lee Gutierrez, a Reliance, Wyoming native. David has had various roles in our community both in education and the arts, spanning decades. David is currently an adjunct professor of English 1010 and 1020 at Western Wyoming Community College, and regularly volunteers for Actors Mission in various creative facets.
David’s career started many years ago as a drama teacher at Rock Springs High School and later an English teacher. Starting in 1993, he held two positions at Western Wyoming Community College; Director of Developmental Studies and Director of Distance Education.
He developed and taught a Graphic Design class at WWCC for over 20 years. David has commissioned graphic design work for businesses and individuals among the community for many years.
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David, how did you end up in Reliance?
A more interesting question is how did my parents end up here? Like many local Hispanics in our community, my mom and dad moved to the area during World War II because of the coal mines. They moved from southern Colorado, another coal region. My dad was raised in and around Trinidad, Colorado, and my mom was raised in Walsenburg less than fifty miles away.
I would describe that part of Colorado as the “old country” because my people lived there many decades before statehood. As part of the treaty that ended the Mexican War, residents could choose to either remain Mexican citizens or become American citizens. Many chose American citizenship. That means my ancestors were already American citizens decades before the big waves of European immigration.
Rock Springs was not necessarily friendly to new arrivals with Spanish surnames, and my mom had a few stories to tell about all of that. But my mom and dad got over that hurdle and ended up loving Wyoming. They would never leave.
Dad loved all the Wyoming stuff, the “elbow room”, the wide-open spaces, the opportunity to live a life connected to the outdoors. My mom liked the town and made many friends. Of course, there was good jobs in the mines and good economic reasons to stay. Like many of the “Mexicans” who moved to our area at that time, my folks were easily assimilated and came to regard Wyoming as home.
Along the way, in 1947, I was born at Memorial Hospital in Rock Springs, a Wyoming native! I was lucky to grow up in a town with 56 different nationalities, the living embodiment of the American “melting pot”.
What is something unique about you?
I try to think differently, creatively. I am sure I look foolish sometimes. I know I had to train my own nephews to call me “eccentric” when they said “ you’re weird”.
I don’t think I am eccentric. I just prefer the label to weird. My nephews were just kids and were quick with that label. Artsy people are not always understood I suppose.
I am a creative person inclined to the arts and humanities, the theater and fine arts. I worked as a graphic designer for fifteen years in the middle of my life. Of course, I like poetry and literature, writing and “creating” things. I guess I would call myself an artist, though not necessarily a very good one.
A good percentage of my working life I’ve been a teacher, English and later Graphic Design. My experience teaching was not so unique, but, nevertheless, I consider teaching a most pleasurable pursuit for the most part.
A teacher can keep an eye on the broader human story, the big picture. If a teacher has been around as long I have, he can log a lot of time just indulging in some “people watching”.
It’s like reading a good novel with a fascinating and never-ending cast of characters in an ever-surprising plot!
~ David Lee Gutierrez
Over time, a teacher gains insight into the infinite variety of humankind and has a chance to see the end of many a fine story.
It’s happened once or twice the last year or so that I have actually taught a student whose grandparent I had taught in high school back in the ’70! That would make me the teacher equivalent of a grandpa.
What do you appreciate most about our community?
I am proud of my home town. It’s really changed physically since I was in high school. It is so much more attractive visually. To me, Rock Springs seems a modern place, not quite “hip” but somewhat “happening”.
In my opinion, the college is a major civilizing factor in the town. I love the wide-open architecture and the easy and open interchange between teacher and students on our campus.
I live in the very same house in Reliance that I lived in when I was a kid. It’s an old company house that the Union Pacific sold to the miners for a $1,000 when the mines closed in the mid “50’s.
My dad and my brothers dug out the basement by hand. My dad George Gutierrez had been in a mine accident. An explosion had severely damaged his leg and would not work for months on end.
I still remember my dad in that huge cast digging the dirt out by hand and shoveling it into a wheelbarrow which my brother’s would haul out.
~ David Lee Gutierrez
To me, the house provides a safe haven in a changing world. The house and Reliance itself are humble, downright run down. The town of Reliance has seen better days alright, just like me.
But I can look out the window at that old, sadly beat up Tipple and feel a continuity in my life. Most people don’t have the opportunity or inclination to live and die in the very same place.
I’ve seen my share of the world, but there’s something to be said for knowing a place as both a young man and an old man.
While I think moving around is perfectly fine and have done some of that myself, I think there’s some kind of unexpected perspective to be gained by living in the same place at various stages of life.
(The Tipple is an abandoned mine building in Reliance that has managed to survive since the mine closed in the 1950’s. Its function was to separate, sort, and grade coal and to load it into railroad cars.
It has been preserved by the Sweetwater County Museum and is a bit of an local attraction with night lighting, appropriate signage and a walking tour that puts the landmark into historical perspective.)
If you could give one brief piece of advice, what would it be?
That’s easy. To quote John Keats in “Ode to a Grecian”: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty, —that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
I always advise people to pursue higher education even though there isn’t always a sound economic reason for that decision nowadays. In my own life, I never saw education in solely economic terms. Money is not the bottom line. Enrichment is!
Pursue what you’re interested in! You may not end up rich, but you will end up enriched.
~ David Lee Gutierrez
Where is your favorite place to hang out in Sweetwater County?
I love our desert: our landscapes that stretch from horizon to horizon, our infinite skyscapes, our subtle sunrises and dramatic sunsets! And I love our 360-degree vantage points where we can see a hundred miles in many directions.
I like erosion features, rocky outcroppings, dry washes, horny toads, sagebrush, rocks, and dirt. I like that I am a daily witness to the natural world as it changes with the time of day or the passage of the seasons.
~ David Lee Gutierrez
I love that I can be out in the middle of nowhere in fifteen minutes time and that I can find places where there is not another soul visible.
What isn’t my favorite place?
I like Pilot Butte, Boars Tusk, Castle Rock, Flaming Gorge, Little Mountain, White Mountain, Aspen Mountain, Table Rock, any place in the wide expanse of the Red Desert or Great Divide Basin. I like the sound of down-to-earth place names, like Bitter Creek, Killpecker Drainage, and Firehole.
Would you rather walk, ride a bike, take a horse or drive a car (or your truck)?
My truck when it starts. My car when I’m doing my about town business.
I’m not aiming to improve my well-being so much, and I’m not into the exercise like some folks are. I’ve been a sedentary desk-person my whole life. When I go into nature, it’s for little jaunts, and I like to bring my camera because it gives me something not too hard to do, takes pictures.
Let’s just say, I am very good at exercising, my eyes!
I’ve been an active amateur photographer for the past six years.
What would you sing at karaoke night?
Karaoke is not part of my world view. I wish I could sing. If I could, I would want to sing old Merle Haggard songs that I would try to sing in an authentic, somewhat world-weary voice.
How would your friends describe you?
Hmm, I’m not really sure. I suspect some are sincere in their liking and would say so. Some would find me funny, I suppose. I may even be popular with some. I know I sometimes grow on people, an acquired taste. Some young people are drawn to me as a phenomenon.
On the aggravating side, I may be too verbose; I know a lot of people find old English teachers prone to rambling; that’s irritating but harmless.
I acted in an art student film last year, a horror film parody called “Parasite Doll”. The film can be viewed on You Tube.
What is your proudest accomplishment?
Well, I feel proud of a lot of things, but I think I want to give Actors’ Mission a plug. I’ve been involved in Actors’ Mission almost from the beginning, and it blows my mind that we have performed over fifty plays over 15 plus years.
I’ve been on the board, served as President for several years, designed posters and graphics, directed seven great plays, and graced the stage many times usually in the role of an old man though I can’t see why.
Now, there’s the prospect of having our own black box theater in our own historic building right in old down town. It’s been great to be a part of a worthy, collaborative, and artistic venture and to know that, partly through my efforts, Actors’ Mission is an institution that is here to stay.
David recently photographed and designed the promotional poster for Actors’ Mission’s upcoming performance “Gloria.” Performances will be October 5, 6, 8, 13, 14 and 15.
Who would you want to play you in a movie about your life?
Sam Shepard, the playwright and actor, though with his passing, the movie would have to run in paradise. He was smart, good looking, and spoke and wrote in the poetry of the West.
If I did have a say in who would play the lead in the story of my life, I’d have to be an idiot not to pick an actor taller than I happen to be for real.
Why do you continue to live in Wyoming?
I don’t like what everybody doesn’t like about Wyoming: the wind and the cold! I hate walking on ice, scraping ice off windshields, wearing winter coats, driving on black ice, and hearing the sound of the wind howling to get into my house.
When there’s a blizzard outside, I hate the thought of all those lonesome miles between my town and the next. Ever notice that the big towns in Wyoming tend to be spaced out at least a hundred miles? Wyoming can be mighty lonesome, mighty lonesome.
I live in Wyoming because I feel I belong in a familiar social and physical context that I mostly like and have known forever. At the same time and more importantly, I feel I belong in a broader sense to the great expanse of our landscape which never ceases to make me think big and feel bigger and more expansive than I am.
I’ve lived in a couple of medium sized cities. I always felt smaller and less significant in a city, one of a multitude. Out here, my vision is more expansive and my experiences are more connected to something vital and beautiful in the natural order of things.
If you’d like us to interview yourself or someone you know for #WHYoming, please send us suggestions to Lillian@sweetwaternow.com