#WHYoming: Dennis Freeman

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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 and talk with Dennis Freeman, Boy Scout Troop 312 leader. Dennis has been involved with boy scouts since he himself was a boy scout as a kid. He got involved with the program once again when his son was young, and he’s been a scout leader since.

Dennis worked in education for over thirty years, starting as an art teacher at Mountain View High School. He took a job at Green River High School in 1990 where he worked until 2016 when he retired as assistant principal. Now, Dennis works part time at Monroe Elementary School helping out with assistant principal duties.


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Dennis, how did you get involved with Boy Scouts?

I was a Boy Scout when I was a kid. I didn’t stay with it all the way through, but I was a member of Troop 4, which is still chartered over in Rock Springs. I got other interests going in high school and sort of drifted away. But, my current involvement really started with my son Alex when he was in first grade. He is now 31 and has a kid of his own.

He brought home a poster from school saying they were recruiting for this new program called Tiger Cubs. I initially said, you’re not old enough yet, but we went to the meeting and sure enough they were starting a program for younger kids. I left the meeting as the Tiger Cub group coach, so I was the parent who was sort of organizing things for the other parents. I’ve been in uniform ever since, really.

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What do you enjoy about Boy Scouts?

A lot of things. I think the biggest thing is I can see the results of it. I get to work with these kids when they’re 11, and I’m often working with them past their 18th birthday, and I get to see the effect the program has on them and how it develops very self-sufficient capable young men who have also got some values. That really keeps me going.

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What is special about Troop 312?

Troop 312 is kind of a unique piece. What we do is an adventure and travel program. So our kids camp every month, two nights a month, 12-months a year, all weather. So they have to learn some survival skills, they have to learn how to stay warm in cold weather, along with all the basic scout skills.

But then they’ve also been to nine states and Canada for summer camp. We try to make summer camp a big deal, so we’ve traveled around all over the place in order to attend summer camp. The idea is to get one hundred percent of the boys to go.

We really work on making sure that they can provide services for their community. Our biggest service is flag ceremonies. We retire about 200 flags a year. We’re really one of only two organizations in Green River that people can call on for that. The other is the Fire Department. There are other troops and groups that should be able to perform flag ceremonies but the way it works out is that we’re more experienced so we get a lot of calls.

Dennis dressed in his scouts uniform.

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How did you end up in Green River?

I grew up in Rock Springs, graduated from Rock Springs High School, and I attended the University of Wyoming where I got a degree in art. However, after I got out of college, I was offered a job through the university with a thing called the Wyoming Human Services Project. The Human Services Project put multi-disciplinary teams in impact communities. My big draw was that I lived in an impact community and had worked in the construction industry through college.

They put me in Wheatland, Wyoming. Initially I worked with senior citizens with a program called Green Thumb program. I was later given the job of being the project director. When I got out of that, I was looking for a way to stay in Wyoming. I did a brief stint in Baltimore, Maryland doing commercial art and then I came back to Wyoming. I wanted to stay in the state and do something useful.

A friend of mine, who is now a retired teacher and lives in St. George, Utah, called me up one day. He asked if I would come into his classroom, it was an elementary school, and do something with his kids with my cartoon art. I thought, what can I do that kids would like? So I had them give me an animal, and I’d draw something, then I’d have them give me another animal, and I’d add another animal part on it. So I had this big cartoon that was made up of all these different critters and then we would give it a name. The kids loved it and I liked that.

I liked the kids reaction to it and I started thinking about it at the time. I had already taken the LSAT and was thinking of going to law school, and then I changed my mind. So I went back to the University of Wyoming and got a teaching certificate to go with my art degree in spring of 1984. I did my student teaching here in Green River and then I took a job at Mountain View High School, and I was there from 1984 to 1990. I was the only art teacher in the building so I taught everything.

I was recruited to come to Green River High School in spring of 1990 and I joined the staff in the fall. I’ve been here ever since.

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What are you doing now that you’re retired?

I’m back at work part time. The district asked me to consider coming to Monroe elementary school to do some back up administrative work. So I’m working three days a week as assistant principal at Monroe.

I have gone back to doing a lot of artwork. I’ve done some artwork for the Catholic Church, I’ve done artwork for scouts, and for myself and my family. I have a grandson so that’s a big change. And my daughter joined the staff at Green River High School when I left, so she got hired just as I was out the door. So I interact with her a lot and I’ve been helping her with the We the People program. I travel with them, I attend their community hearings to give the kids some coaching on how to do a better job. It’s a pretty complex thing they do.

I hang out at the house, I take my dog for walks, I have more freedom to do what I want. Although, with only two days off in the week, it’s not that much.

Part of a group installation Dennis created at Immaculate Conception Church, 2017. “Flight to Egypt” 3’ x 4’

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What is something unique about you?

I am good at working with kids. I think I have special skills with adolescents. I think I’ve been able to use that in a variety of ways.

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What are some of your hobbies?

I’ve done a lot of living history. I used to do portrayals of Alfred Jacob Miller. He’s the first artist to cross the continental divide, he’s the first artist to come to what is today Wyoming, and the only artist to attend a fur trade rendezvous. So I do first person presentations of Miller. I used to do it as Miller contemporaneously during the fur trade era, but I’m too old for that now. So I usually do it as a remembrance, as a reminiscence of the summer he spent in the mountains going to a fur trade rendezvous. So I’ve done a lot of research on Miller, and that helps me be able to speak about him in first person, it allows me to be Alfred Jacob Miller.

I read, I’m a veracious reader. I read mostly non-fiction. I do artwork, obviously. I like to shoot. I like to shoot both historical firearms, I own three Flintlocks, and modern firearms. And I like being outdoors.

Dennis designed this patch for a Scout event.

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What do you appreciate most about our community?

Well first of all, I love living in a Thomas Moran painting, because we do, we live in the middle of a Thomas Moran painting. As an artist and an amateur historian, I appreciate both the artwork and the place where it was done.

I like the fact that Green River is a generous community. It believes in schools and is willing to contribute to make sure they’re successful. I like that for instance the community donates around $40,000 for Make A Wish. I had something to do with starting that so that one’s a big one for me.

I like the fact that there’s so many different things to be engaged in around here. Now, the kids will tell you that it’s boring here, but it’s amazing how many of them end up back here if their careers will it. I think the ones who stay really appreciate that it’s a great place to raise kids, it’s a great place to hang out, it’s safe, it’s clean, and it’s attractive.

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If you could give one brief piece of advice, what would it be?

I would tell younger people that they should find something to do that they value. That’s not the same as follow your passion, but if you can find something to do for a living that you believe matters, you will work and there will be tough days, but it will be worthwhile.

That’s really how I feel. I made some choices, and I don’t know how things would have worked out if I would have gone to law school for example. But, I got to live in great places, and work with amazing kids, and do something that I thought had value for 30 plus years, and that’s pretty cool.

Pursue your goals, but don’t let stuff just happen, you’ve got to make decisions.

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Where is your favorite place to hang out in Sweetwater County?

There’s a couple of really neat ones. I would say that hanging out in schools is a favorite place for me, and now that I can do it as a volunteer it’s even more fun. Now I can say no if I don’t want to. However, I’m not a volunteer at Monroe. But, I like going to the high school and helping them with the senior walls.

Sweetwater County in general, I really enjoy the area up around the sand dunes and Steamboat Rock and out into the Great Divide Basin. It’s a really unique environment. It’s a place where you can see sand dunes where there are ducks and geese all over the place, where you can run into elk with not a tree in sight.

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Would you rather walk, ride a bike, take a horse, or drive a car?

Generally, if I’m outside, I like to walk. That’s my fav way of getting around. I like bicycles but I’m not really good with mountain bikes. I spend more time tending to injuries on myself than I actually ride, so I like to walk.

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What would you sing at karaoke night?

Something hopefully in my range, I don’t know. I love music and most people love to not hear me sing.

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How would your friends describe you?

Well read, opinionated, willing to help and volunteer for things. I’d be afraid to ask, I might get answers I didn’t like.

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What is one of your proudest accomplishments?

Well my kids first of all. I think most parents would say that. But in terms of career, I think that establishing some things that remain traditions at Green River High School are things that I take a lot of pride in.

We started the senior walls while I was student council adviser. We started Make A Wish while I was student council adviser. The sort of sense that it’s a community-based school and that relationships matter– I wasn’t the only one who was responsible for that, but I definitely was involved in pushing that.

And I’m proud of running the best Boy Scout troop in the three state area, because they are.

This is a mural Dennis painted in his grandson Henry’s nursery.

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Who would you want to play you in a movie about your life?

Richard Dreyfuss could play me now. I don’t know who would play me as a more youthful me.

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Why do you continue to live in Wyoming?

One reason is my family is here. My son and his family are in Laramie, my daughter is here, so we’re figuring on sticking around until the kids land someplace else. I don’t want to be too far away, I have a grandson now and I’d like to be around while he’s growing up.

Also, I just really enjoy living in a place that has more antelope than people. I think that’s a cool thing. I have seen a lot of changes to the state, and I’d like to be around to help influence the changes we make in the future. We’ve made some mistakes, and I’d like to be able to continue telling some people that we may want to start thinking about preserving some things that are valuable to us and that are valuable to other people. People don’t come to Wyoming and pay to see an oil field. Now, is an oil field a valuable thing, you betcha. But is that why people come plan trips to Wyoming? No, they plan trips to Wyoming because we have large herds of free ranging wildlife. They come to Wyoming because we have the natural features they want to see. They come to Wyoming because it is a very sparsely populated state with a lot of landscape. And I think that’s what I appreciate about the state and that I’d like to preserve.

 

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Do you have someone you think would be great for our WHYoming interviews? Let us know!