Adam LeRoy Strausner: Educators Are “Merchants of Hope”
LeRoy Strausner served from 1991-2004 as the fourth president of Casper College. He died in Atlanta, Ga., on Oct. 23, 2014, at age 74. This oral history was conducted by Dana Van Burgh at the Casper College Western History Center on Sept. 5, 2013.
Dana Van Burgh, longtime science teacher at Dean Morgan Junior High School in Casper and, later, science instructor at Casper College, won the 2014 Henry Jensen Award from the Wyoming State Historical Society for his leadership of the Casper College Western History Center’s oral history project.
Editor's transcription notes: In most cases I have deleted redundant ands, ers, uhs, buts, false starts, etc. If I deleted an entire phrase, I have inserted ellipses . . . Where you find brackets [ ] I have added words for explanation or to complete an awkward sentence. Parentheses ( ) are used for incidental non-verbal sounds, like laughter. Words emphasized by the speaker are italicized.
--Lori Van Pelt, Assistant Editor, WyoHistory.org, Oct. 24, 2014
Dana Van Burgh: OK. It’s the 5th of September 2013. We are at the Western History Center at Casper College. I’m Dana Van Burgh and presenting his story today is Adam LeRoy Strausner, former president of this institution.
Dr. LeRoy Strausner: Thank you.
Dana: Start from where you started?
LeRoy: Did you have a question you’d like me to focus on?
Dana: Oh just, where were you born? Where-where did you start and then we’ll kinda come up to there.
LeRoy: I’m a Wyoming native. I was born in Thermopolis. All my growing up years were there. Graduated from Thermopolis High School and, not intending to go to college, but at the last moment, decided to drive down to Casper and visit the campus and talk to some folks that were very friendly and welcoming, and I decided I that was gonna give it a try. Come to Casper College. The irony was, I didn’t have any money. So I had to work while I decided to go to school. I talked [to] my best friend, he was planning on going to [an] out-of-state school, and I talked him into coming to Casper College. We rented an apartment, a basement apartment, down on Ash Street, pretty close to campus here. And we both worked for the college. He worked as a custodian, and I worked in the bookstore and our faculty adviser was Ralph Masterson, a name you’ll remember.
LeRoy: And he was my faculty supervisor and there were two student employees. The bookstore at that time was in the small room down in the entryway, which is now a copy center. That was the bookstore and there was this sophomore student who was the student manager and a freshman who was the clerk at the front window. I really enjoyed working there. They let me get in a lot of hours so I could make more money. And Ralph Masterson was a wonderful supervisor with lots of good advice about school and keeping us on the straight and narrow on our work things we had to do.
And then I worked the evenings for Chuck Amadio, on the building crew, and I got quite good at running a buffer, mopping and all those kinds of things. Then I worked on the weekends, ’cause there was always some kind of social activity, seems like, on Friday evening, and the place needed to be cleaned up over the weekend and ready for school to start on Monday. So I really got familiar with all of the workings of Casper College, all of them.
Then in the course of events, I stopped in the gym one afternoon to watch Swede Erickson’s basketball team practice. Forgive me, it sounds a little arrogant, but I thought I could play with those guys. So I asked Swede if he ever took walk-ons and he said, “No, I have my team.” And I said, “Well, I’ve been watching and I think I can play with those guys.” And Swede said, “Well, be here with your tennis shoes on tomorrow night and we’ll see.” And I ended up making the team and got a little basketball scholarship. Played for Swede for two years and had a wonderful experience in Casper College.
I just was treated well by people, and I worked hard and had great teachers. I had people who were so interested in our succeeding as I—as I watched—it wasn’t just me, but my friends who were in classes. If they were stumbling or having trouble, there was always some welcoming hand … “Stop by my office and let’s talk about what you’re struggling with.” I think back to some names you’ll recognize, one in particular who was helpful to me, was Winifred Thompson. She was delightful and uh, Marie Stewart was another one, who was Marie Thayer at that time. Then I just think back to the faculty members that I had, and they were all genuinely interested in seeing their students succeed, and, so anyway I was here two years and graduated stone broke.
I borrowed money along the way, so I stopped out of college. I didn’t go on that next year. I got a job in an oil refinery up in Thermopolis. I went back home, and I went to work in a refinery. I was there a couple of years and did all the usual things, got a little money in the bank, bought a car, got married. Very fortunately, I married a young woman who was very interested in seeing me go back to college so I ended up going back to college.
I had struggled when I was at Casper College with finding a major. I had changed my major many times. In fact, Ralph Masterson was my adviser, and one day he became so frustrated he said, “You need to find somebody else to talk to, ’cause you don’t know what you want to do. I don’t know what you want to do. See if you can find somebody else to tell you what you should do.” But, in the course of events, I went back to school, went down to Colorado, to Greeley, which was at that time was called Colorado State College. It was before it was Northern Colorado University, and worked there. I worked as a teller in a bank there … I changed my major, so it took me three years to finish up my baccalaureate degree. The school I student taught in hired me, so I went from being a student teacher on Friday and came back on Monday as an employee at my little school. That was a good experience, I enjoyed my time there and—
Dana: Where was that?
LeRoy: I lived, continued to live in Greeley, and drove out to a little town called La Salle, just south of Greeley on [U.S] Highway 85 towards Denver. And uh, ironically, because that little school took student teachers, we got what were called reciprocity waivers, so if I wanted to take a night class at the university or go to summer school I just had to go in to my principal and tell him my desire. He had a book like a big checkbook, and he would fill in the form with my name and he would sign it and tear it out and hand it to me. I got to go to school, got most of my master’s degree for free.
LeRoy: Because I was teaching in a little school that accepted student teachers. In fact, I had only been on the payroll teaching for two weeks, when I had my first student teacher.
Dana: Oh, my gosh.
LeRoy: So I had no—couldn’t be considered much of a veteran. But during that time—and this has Casper College ramifications—the first full summer that I was going to school then after that I was walking across campus one day, and lo and behold, I ran into Marie Stewart. And she knew that I had dropped out of college to work in an oil refinery.
She was kind of shocked, and said, “What are you doing here?” And I said, “What are you doing here?” She told me she was working on her doctor’s [doctoral] degree. I told her I was working on my master’s degree, and we had a great visit. Then summer went on, and school started up again, and the next winter, uh, I got a call one night from her … We didn’t have a phone, but my landlady had a phone, and she called me to the phone. It was Marie, and she said, “We have an opening, and we’d like you to consider applying for it, and could you come up next weekend and meet the president?”
That’s when [1961-1979 Casper College President] Dr. [Tilghman “Tim”] Aley was president. His academic dean was Sinclair Orendorff. We came up and actually the job was to be the director of the college center. There was one other fellow being interviewed, Jack Romanek. We were both there at the same time, and we met each other. I thought the world of him. Jack had a master’s degree and had run the Chadron State College Union for seven years.
During my interview, I remember saying to Dr. Aley, “You don’t have much of a decision to make. This fellow who’s being interviewed has seven years of experience as a union director, he’s got a master’s. I don’t even have a master’s degree yet, seems to me like he’s your best decision.” They hired him. But before then, I did tell them I would rather come to Casper as a faculty member than to run the student center.
We got back to Colorado and I had written a letter to thank them for thinking about me and for the interview. The day they got my letter, a psychology instructor resigned, and they had a faculty opening. I was getting my master’s in psych and counseling. And so they called me back up and said. “Could you come back up next weekend? I’d like to visit with you about that teaching position.” And so, I was back, and on May 8 1965, they signed me on as a faculty member. And I was absolutely thrilled to death. That’s when I started at Casper College. I had to go to summer school that summer, but I came back in the fall and came here to start and stayed here til my retirement in 2004. Place was good to me, and I think I was good to it.
Dana: You had the longest tenure of anybody here?
LeRoy: Oh, no, you know the person I think who holds that record was [Agriculture Instructor] Bill Henry.
Dana: Oh, I suppose.
LeRoy: At least, Bill Henry was here longer than anybody and I think of the current people working at the college. I think [Biology Instructor] uh, Tom Clifford has been here right close to that. And I don’t know how many years Tom has been here, but uh I think he’s kind of the longevity leader right now.
Dana: I think you’re right.
LeRoy: But anyway, that’s kind of how a kid from Thermop got started here. It was such a great experience, and I sat in lots of different chairs. I started out as a classroom instructor, and it wasn’t very long.
And Dr. Aley called me in asked me to be the first—what was called at that time—director of housing. Now it’s called director of residential life. It’s gotten more sophisticated, but I was the first director of housing, and at that time, McIntire Hall was still under construction. … We were so crowded for rooms we put students in rooms that didn’t have doors on them yet or anything. Because … we needed the residential facilities and that’s a challenging job.
I did that until 1975, from ’67 to ’75 and then I became director of counseling services. And let’s see, from ’75 to uh, ’85 I was director of counseling services and then I became dean of students in ’85 and then … in ’88 I became vice president for support services and then in 1990 I became president. So I sat in lots of chairs.
Dana: And you were president until …
LeRoy: That’s when I retired.
Dana: Yeah, ok. Getting them, things, you got that chronology in here.
LeRoy: Oh, boy, I’ll tell you what. I uh, and uh-
Dana: You tried darn near everything around here but the bus driver, didn’t you?
LeRoy: I probably did a little bit of that sometime too. I used to laugh because I used to tell people I was the only president who knew where all the breaker boxes were. One day … outside my office there was a terrazzo tile in the hall, and it was very slippery when it got wet. And one morning I was out putting up some of those little tin signs that say, “Caution, Wet, Slippery When Wet.” Somebody came by and said, “Is that in your contract to do that?” I said, “Well I don’t think it’s in the contract, but [it] may be one of the most important things I do.”
So anyway, that’s kind of my history at Casper College--all the different roles that I played. And one thing that I am fairly proud of is I have always believed that in education, the linchpin experience [is] in the classroom. And even through my fourteen years as president I always taught at least one class. I always--in every job I had, I continued to teach. And loved it. Right up through my retirement time, I was still teaching. I probably miss that more than anything. In the meantime, I was always proud of that, and I was close friends with the other presidents around the state, and they all thought I was a little crazy for teaching while being the president at the same time. But I felt it kept me balanced and kept my priorities straight.
Dana: Yeah, I would guess that’s probably why you did so well as president.
LeRoy: Well, they seemed to be pleased to have the extra hand to teach. And I just enjoyed it immensely, and I think it helped in many ways. It gave me a real concrete relationship with students, at least a group of students that I was teaching, but also I think it really helped my relationship with our faculty. They knew I was grading term papers and making up tests and giving grades just like they were, only on a lower scale.
Dana: Yeah, well, it does give you a certain standing in the group if you’re playing the same games they are.
LeRoy: I felt it did. Yes. So it was a great experience, and golly … we still try to go to, any time we’re in Casper, the plays and musical presentations and the athletic events. I’ve had the same two seats reserved in the gym for 25 years.
Dana: That’s pretty neat. Yeah, yeah.
LeRoy: Coaches wanted to know if I was there, all they had to do is look up, and they knew where my seats were. But Casper College is a wonderful, wonderful institution. When I think of all the terrific faculty and people who have gone through in a variety of roles that I treasure as my friends, then I think of the students who went through and have become—many of them literally famous … lots of extraordinary people got their start at this college.
Dana: What do you think makes Casper College that extraordinary college? Because it isn’t just a community college, it isn’t a junior college in any sense of the word, except it runs just two years, and it doesn’t even do that completely anymore.
LeRoy: That’s true. It’s … contracts of the upper division schools, ’course the university has a lion’s share of that, but when I retired we were offering thirty-six or thirty-seven baccalaureate degrees on campus, a couple master’s and one Ph.D. program from other schools, but the classes were meeting here, and the faculty members were usually in-house people who taught.
I taught for the University of North Dakota in the occupational therapy program. And uh, you know I had to go through a search process, I had to apply to teach for North Dakota and provide my resumé and to meet their qualifications for a faculty member. … I think it gave me a sense of pride in what I was going to be doing, but I think that’s true of all of our colleagues here at the college, and yours and mine alike that, they took pride in what they did. They knew that they were producing a quality product, and students sense that. I think they understand when somebody is genuinely concerned about them succeeding and it’s just one of those things. Actually yesterday I was at Home Depot, and I ran into [Former Casper College President] Lloyd Loftin, one of my former presidents and colleagues …
Dana: OK, yeah.
LeRoy: --and his wife and we just started swapping stories about the old days when we were working and things that happened and people that he had recently been contacted by. One of his former students is now a prominent resident heart physician, cardiologist, and he was going to be in town and take Lloyd and his wife to dinner and then somebody in his family took ill and he couldn’t come, but he’s asked them to save a spot on their calendar for him.
And I recently got an email from a young man who was student body vice president here in 1967 and wanted just to connect again. I’d known him back in ’67 and he was student body vice president and a member of Phi Theta Kappa. I had sponsored Phi Theta Kappa for nineteen years so I had gotten to know a lot of the honors students through that organization. But it’s always amazing to me to run into people that I know of your experience, because I think in the many, many years that you taught in the public schools before we got our hands on you, uh, the people that you led and nurtured and brought along--and you probably can’t go in a store and do your shopping without somebody stopping you and--
LeRoy: It’s always rewarding to have that kind of experience. Sometimes I still get a little amazed; somebody will contact me from years ago and want a recommendation. And I’ve gotten to where I have to say, “Hey, you know I don’t remember much about twenty-five years ago. That surely you’ve had a job or had supervisors or somebody that knows you better now than I would after twenty-five years.” But I’m always amazed … they would actually go there in the first place.
Dana: Sometimes when they ask, I’ll say, “Well, tell me what you’d like to have me remember about you in this, ’cause you’re wanting me to go back a long ways and unless you’ve got some reason for asking me, there’s something you think I know about you that you’d like to have in there.”
LeRoy: A lot of wisdom in that question. I think Casper College has a--I’m reluctant to use the term tradition, but I think that’s the only thing that describes my thought—a tradition of excellence. There was always, in my opinion, a real serious effort to hire really quality faculty to teach. In other positions too you know, there were people who I think were just extraordinary who worked in jobs that weren’t in the classroom. A lot of the people who ended up in administrative roles came in as classroom instructors and did a good job and then kind of gravitated into some other field.
I hate to pick out people, but someone who jumps right into my mind who immediately is someone you’ll know … [former Casper College Dean of Admissions] Bill Vance, who came in as a faculty member and, and before long he was working in financial aids and then he became director of admissions. And you know he kind of ran that admissions, financial aid operation and not a better person than Bill Vance. But he came in as a—I think he came in as an education instructor. … He’s representative of the qualities I’m trying to reference here.
Dana: Yeah, yeah. I was thinking about when the symbol of teachers at Casper College, when I was up here, was [former Casper College Humanities Division Chairman] Fred Hanselmann. What a gentleman, what a scholar, what a kind and interesting fellow, and, as we were talking here I was thinking—Fred Hanselmann and Kent Sundell. They are cut out of the same bolt of cloth.
LeRoy: Same cloth …
Dana: Totally different career field, but that same student focus.
LeRoy: Absolutely, yeah, high standards, scholarly, compassionate.
Dana: Very high standards … yep … and kind and gentlemanly.
LeRoy: Absolutely yeah, Fred Hanselmann was a wonderful example of what we were just talking about. And there were many, you know, who fell into that category and were, I don’t know what word I want to use, they were the bone and the flesh of this organization.
Dana: Somehow or other, [Casper College] Dean [Maurice] Griffith, did a really good job of picking that first faculty. In this place I think. He picked academic people for the faculty. Because uh, he didn’t envision a typical community college I don’t believe.
LeRoy: Well if, if you remember, in ’45 when Casper College was starting, there were a lot of veterans returning from the war, and I’m sure part of his thinking was that he needed people who could teach adults. Teach them well, They wouldn’t be having 18-year-old kids right out of high school, they would be having a lot of adults who in some cases had been in a war, and served in adult roles and that sort of thing, and a lot of that was getting teachers who had the stamina and the will and capacity to be able to stimulate adult learners. And he sure did. …I know there’s a fountain over there at the old administration building dedicated to him that the Rotary Club put up in there but, probably of the leaders we’ve had here, he probably deserved more recognition than he really ever got.
Dana: I’ve felt that, yes.
LeRoy: [Former Casper College President] George Hall was great, but he was only here a couple years and I think that was during his tenure that they did start the—a lot of times things are affiliated with campus expansion and new buildings—and there was the administrative building and the old automotive shop was the campus, and then they started building the little, what’s now the health science building, and that went up during ’59 and ’60 right in that era.
He was instrumental in helping that project get rolling. But then he was gone, and I’m not exactly sure where he went to after … because that’s through the same period that I dropped out of college and worked in the oil refinery. And lost touch with him and that sort of thing. But you’re absolutely right. There have been so many faculty members who have gone through these halls and were just extraordinary people. I’m awed when I start thinking about them. You know?
Dana: Yeah. There were people who have could have taught in any university in the country.
LeRoy: Oh, yeah. You mentioned uh, Mr. Hanselmann I think; his peer was [former Dean of Records and Admissions] Norman Ball.
LeRoy: He’s cut out of that same cloth again, to use that analogy. I remember one year when I was still working there was an event to kind of recognize Norm for his years of contribution, and how many outstanding, renowned physicists came back and gave testimonials to their experience of learning at Norm’s foot. There were just several of them who were. I mentioned [former Casper College Business Division Chair] Winifred Thompson.
I wasn’t an accounting major, but I took accounting and she was so encouraging. It was a struggle for me, and she’d say, “After class I want you to show me what you did,” and I’d show her and she said, “Well, I see why you did that, but you should have done it this way.” And she just, she always said, “Now don’t get discouraged ’cause this is all going to come, it will come,” and she was right. There were many, many faculty members who were just so inspirational, and that’s a word that I would love to use because they were I think—sometimes those kinds of teachers—it’s a calling. It’s a calling for them to be in front of a classroom.
Dana: They never heard the phrase “just a teacher.” It just didn’t apply. I came back here as a graduate student. I had a four-year degree and then went into the Air Force and came back out and decided to change my whole career plan, and came up here …
LeRoy: Got married.
Dana: Well yes, always yes.
LeRoy: I’ve seen your photographs in your Air Force uniform.
Dana: Yeah, yeah, married, and had a kid by then and, I came up here as an education major. Totally different. I was a geology major for my bachelor’s. And my adviser was just priceless. Do you know who I’m talking about?
LeRoy: Well, we had a lady who was state superintendent of education at one point and then there was a big tall man here when I was …
Dana: Well, this is the lady.
LeRoy: It was uh--
Dana: Verda James.
LeRoy: Verda James.
Dana: Holy cow, what a jewel!
LeRoy: She became state superintendent of public instruction. [Editor’s note: Verda James taught English and education at Casper College in the late 1950s and served in the Wyoming Legislature from 1954 – 1970, serving as speaker of the House in her final, two-year term.]
Dana: She always had time for you no matter how busy she was. [She was in the] Legislature when I was in here. But she always had time for her student. She may have to be at lunch in three-point-five minutes, but you could sit right down and talk about whatever you wanted to talk about. Boy, somebody really called it good when they hired her, she was superb.
LeRoy: Yes, I agree with that. Back when she left, the fellow they hired was--all I can remember is a very tall, very tall fellow, but seemed like the students enjoyed him. I wasn’t an education major, I was a business major when I left here. But ironically, what got me into education—I was working in that oil refinery. I was a young man, 20, 21 years old, making more money than I ever thought I could possibly make. Got great Christmas bonuses. Some of the guys in the refinery who worked lots longer than I had, got enough money from Christmas bonus to go out and buy a new pickups, and pay cash from their Christmas bonus.
Dana: Oh, my goodness!
LeRoy: And all of a sudden I, I had money in the bank and I liked working there. It wasn’t simple. I ended up in the hospital two or three times with injuries that happened to me there, but I really liked it. The men I worked with, who I will call salt of the earth men, seemed like they complained a lot. Seemed like they complained about the boss, or they complained about something to do with the job.
And I fell in with uh, remember I’d played ball for Swede, and I fell in with a bunch of schoolteachers in the high school in Thermopolis where I was working at the refinery. We were playing basketball in Worland, in a city league, and I start, two nights a week, traveling from Thermopolis to Worland to play basketball and then back home. And those schoolteachers, they loved what they did. They used to laugh about the crazy things students would do. They got sad when they were feeling like they weren’t succeeding with a student, or they would tell how some student had come in and said thanked them for helping when they were down. Began to strike me how much they enjoyed their jobs.
And when I finally got to the point when I had to go back to school, I said to my wife, “I’m going to try education.” And I said, “If I don’t like it, I’ll find something else, but … these educators like what they do and they’re happy.” They don’t make near the money that I was even making and I was twenty, twenty-one years old when I was making more money than the schoolteachers.
But, it just seemed like the guys who had the best jobs in town were always whining about something. And I thought, that’s not the way I want to live. So I went to work, as I told you earlier, as a bank teller in Greely and as I got to my last year, my senior year, the bank vice president called me and said, “We’d like you when you graduate to stay on as a loan officer at the bank, we’d like you to stay with us.” And I said, “Man, I’ve spent all these years studying to be a teacher and I’d like to try it.” I said, “If I don’t like it, can I come back?” and he said, “There will always be a place here for you.” But I liked it. That’s one of those things that I wonder--whatever would have happened to me if I’d stayed in that bank?
But, in the meantime, the teaching and the education was such a rewarding experience and the worst thing that happened was--that was in 1963 and those first few years was when Vietnam was really going--and many of the young men that I taught in school ended up going to Vietnam and not coming home and that was always sad. I, even when I came to Casper College, I continued to subscribe to the local newspaper from down there you know? I would see that a youngster had gone to Vietnam and had been killed or something like that. That was a tragedy for me to see those kids that I had had in the classroom who didn’t ever come home from a foreign land.
But that’s what got me into education, was riding back and forth with those teachers and they’d help each other. They’d say, “You know I’m struggling, I’ve tried everything I can think of and I just can’t seem to get to this kid.” Somebody else would say, “Well, have you thought about this? You know, I had that kid once and this really worked with him for me.” It was amazing to watch them collaborate, work together, and their whole function was “let’s help this kid succeed.” And they were inspirational and so I said, “I want to try that.”
Dana: And it worked.
LeRoy: Yeah. You may remember during my years, especially when I started as president, I picked up a little slogan that I still believe in. But I used it so much, finally [former Casper College Foundation Director] Paul Hallock said, “You got to quit saying that, people are sick of hearing it.” But … presumably the inspirational talk at the start of school I used to always remind everybody that we were merchants of hope.
I said, “As these students cross our threshold, they are coming here with a heart full of hope. They are hoping to have a better career, they’re hoping to succeed, they’re hoping to get a college degree. In some cases, they are hoping to meet they love of their life, but in the meantime, we’re the facilitators of that.” So I called us merchants of hope. And Paul said one day, “You know, people are getting sick of you using that term.” So I quit using it.
Dana: It’s pretty darn good though.
LeRoy: Well, I told that to the other presidents and a couple of them said, “I don’t want to steal your thunder to do that, but why don’t you write a little article about that and publish it so I can start quoting you?” But I think indeed that’s still the case to this day that when, no matter the age, … I had taught people who were older than I was but, we had the traditional student and you could see that, that hope, you know, that they want to succeed. But it’s more than that. It goes beyond that. It’s that the successes are a stepping ladder up to something better.
Dana: I see this a lot with the online students that are older students, and they have three kids and two jobs and [are] living in a trailer house, and they’re just desperate. To be something better, more interesting. They want a life that would be fun.
LeRoy: You become their merchant of hope. You know that’s such a great story, you’re so right. … We’ll find ourselves saying, “I wonder how they do it.” I remember one time I really had to eat crow here. I was so wrong on something and I admit that, and I admitted it then. Uh, but uh, remember [longtime Casper College GED and adult education administrator] Barbara Ochiltree, Jim’s wife?
LeRoy: She wanted to write a grant to start a single parent program. There was going to be some investments. She needed a computer and an office space and furniture. And she wanted to fill a position, so we were going to take her out of another role and put her in that role. And I was just having the hardest time supporting that program ’cause I, I was worried that the single parents wouldn’t have any money. A lot of them have some baggage they’re carrying, and they’re desperate.
They’re going to need a lot of counseling, and my perception was they were going to consume a lot of our resources. And the chances were, they might not make it anyway. And so Barbara really had to work with me to get my support on that. And I didn’t fight with her I just, I wasn’t sold on it. But she convinced me finally.
And Dana, I’ve got to tell you, the first year she was in that program--she was masterful. Her retention rate, because I, you know I at one point I actually said to her, “I would bet you that at the end of the year half your students will be gone.” And she brought in her statistics and her retention rate was nearly 95 percent. They all stayed; many of them were honors students.
She had turned their lives around and, one day I said, “Barbara, I guess you’re right. For many of them you’re giving them a second chance.” And she said, “No, for many of them this is the first chance they’ve ever had.” I said, “Barbara, I owe you an apology. I was wrong about this, you got one of the most successful things going on our campus.”
And of course, the single parent program is still very viable and still going on, but she started that. … She really had to persuade me to support her in it. She was just exceptional. She was the right person at the right time, and that program has flourished. For lots of reasons. The support that has come from Neil McMurry and his wife, who’ve given hundreds of thousands of dollars to support single parents and their families, and that allowed the person who is running that program. I’m not sure who’s running it right now. [Vice President for Student Services] Kim Byrd did for a while but now she’s acting dean of students I think.
Dana: Oh, yeah.
LeRoy: Anyway, that’s one of those times where, when you’ve done something, and I would like to believe I was successful in what I did here, but that doesn’t mean you don’t do some things wrong along the way.
Dana: You can’t win them all.
LeRoy: But I think back and I know that, when I walked out of that meeting with Barbara she probably went, shut the door and went “Yes!” She had sure been right.
Dana: Yeah, but that’s all right.
LeRoy: She saw the potential and I hadn’t seen it yet. She proved it, and boy, I just had to eat crow over that. And I became probably the strongest supporter she had after that. But, you know, she believed in it and she pitched it and she defended it, and she was right.
Dana: And that’s nice to have somebody on staff that is that adamant about what they’re doing and will fight for it. Yeah.
LeRoy: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Yeah. You’ll laugh, this is one of my favorite stories about when I was president. I had known [former Casper College Library Director] Lynnette Anderson and her brother Sidney for a long time. And of course, he was he was working in Saudi Arabia and his wife was desperately ill over there. And he and I communicated by email once in a while, but one night I was working pretty late when my computer dinged that I had a message. He’d sent me an email, Sidney, was his name.
Sid had sent me a message and said, “I don’t want to cause trouble, but I just think you should know one of your staff members is not good about responding to their emails. And I’ve tried everything, I’ve bought her golden jewelry, I’ve bought her jewels and charms from the Far East. And still I’m having trouble getting a response to my communication and I just thought you should know.” And so in the spirit of the thing I sat down, and this must have been after midnight here. I don’t know what it was in Saudi Arabia, but I wrote back and I said, Well, the problem is you just don’t understand this person. Gold and jewels are not important to her. That’s not important. What she really loves is chocolate.” And I copied it to Lynnette, and when I came in the next morning, on my computer here was this message that said, “Mind your own business.”
I always loved having that kind of a relationship with folks, and I’ve told that story so many times about Lynnette saying, “Mind your own business.” Poor Sid got a big kick out of it, too, because she copied her reply to me as well.
Dana: You did a good job of building those comfortable relationships with faculty and staff.
LeRoy: Well, they’re the heart of this place.
Dana: And part of that was that you did a lot of walking. Around and around and around the loop and offices and rooms and across to another building. You were always someplace other than your office.
LeRoy: Well, that’s true. I had to work late at night a lot because of that. But it was worth it. It was, it was worth it. And I wanted to know everybody. It used to drive my wife crazy. I’d leave something at the office, or I’d say, “I need to run back to the office, do you want to go along?” and she’d say--and it would be ten, eleven o’clock at night--and she’d say, “Are you going to go in and visit with the custodians?” and I said, “Well, yeah, if they’re there.”
It’s just like an extension of your family. ’Cause they really are, they’re good people, they’re doing a great job and they deserve to be known and recognized. I don’t think there’s anything more disheartening then to have somebody to say, “I don’t think my boss even knows who I am,” you know.
Dana: Yeah, that’s a sad statement isn’t it?
LeRoy: Yeah, yeah it is. It’s a tragedy. I think back to the people that I’ve worked with here and a lot of examples that I got to see that were teaching experience. …weren’t all pleasant. There were sad times, you know.
Dana: Oh, yeah.
LeRoy: It’s just one of those things. I think of kids being killed in car accidents and various other things like that that were tragic and most unfortunate. Part of that is being able to support the ones that were around them and would have been stricken by it and try to help them as best you can.
And a lot of things that were humorous. Golly, I’ll tell you what, I sometimes get together, I always see Joy, I don’t get to see her very often anymore. But Bill Vance was fun to be around that way. We’d start telling stories about what something was like when we were working together, things that happened. And the next thing we’re both rolling on the floor laughing about it. That makes life worth living is to have a job you love.
Dana: Yeah, if you can just look forward to Monday morning.
LeRoy: Yes, yes. I used to always say that my two favorite days of the year were the first day of school and graduation day. I always loved graduation. To be able to shake those hands when they crossed the stage and get their diploma—what a joy.
When I was—the cancer that I’m doing battle with now—when I was in the hospital and that was diagnosed, I think every nurse I had in the hospital was a Casper College graduate. I’m telling you I got treated in that hospital like I was a king or something. And they were just marvelous, and they’d come in and call me by [name]. I’d say, “How come you know my name?” and they’d say, “Well, you gave me my diploma.” You know I used to love to go to those nurses’ pinning ceremonies and other things that they were involved in and were meaningful to them ’cause that made them meaningful to us too.
Dana: Oh, yeah, yeah.
LeRoy: Boy, did I get good treatment at that hospital. I’ll tell you.
Dana: Jolene would have torn them apart if they hadn’t done a good job with you.
LeRoy: Well, I’ll tell you what, they are good nurses. If they’ve gone through that program here, they’re good at what they do. That’s a strong program and I’ll tell you, I don’t know any programs that aren’t strong programs. It’s a little sad to me now, uh Paul Hallock, bless his heart, is good about getting me each year one of those faculty directories, you know, that have the photograph and then the biographical information? How many people there are here now that I’ve never met? You know, there’s been a lot of folks retire since my [time]. I’ve been out nine years, this is the start of the tenth year coming up, and in that period, a lot of folks have stepped down and new people have come in.
Dana: When I first came up here I could walk the loop and know almost everybody, and now I walk the loop and don’t know anybody.
LeRoy: Well, when I come in, like yesterday to that curmudgeon coffee break, go down the hall and I look in the classrooms—when I go by I didn’t see one teacher that I knew. And uh, that’s sad to me.
LeRoy: I’m just glad it was yours and not mine.
Dana: Excuse me. I’m in the middle of an interview. I’m in the middle of an interview. Thank you. She knows better, she knew I was doing this today. It’s Deborah. Give her fits about that. One of the questionable advances in our technology. I love it, it’s more fun than any toy I ever had but it’s sure an interruption.
LeRoy: It can, it can be, speaking of that I’ll just turn mine off and then that won’t happen.
Dana: Yeah I usually remember to.
LeRoy: In fact, it isn’t on, I never turned it on this morning.
Dana: Oh well that’s good.
LeRoy: Just put it on my belt and forgot about it.
Dana: Well you just instinctively knew that you should have that shut off.
LeRoy: Yeah, yeah. Any other questions you’d like to?
Dana: Well. I was just thinking about other things you’d like to include on here.
LeRoy: Oh mercy. … But key points [like] when Dr. [Tilghman “Tim”] Aley came and they had the separation vote to make Casper College a separate political entity from the public schools, because from ’45 to ’61 this college was under the public school board and the superintendent of schools, they ran it.
Then when Tim came as the president of the college, he shepherded the board to get [a] proposal made to the community. To get on the ballot to have what they called the separation vote to give Casper College its own, I guess what I’d call tax district, so it could levy, [a] mill levy to raise money to run the college and ultimately pass bond issues to build buildings. Of course, I think we’ve all, over the years, have seen Tim Aley as kind of the architect of Casper College campus, because under his leadership there were so many new buildings built. All of that has kind of been a pattern right along. I’m anxious. I haven’t been in either of the new buildings now that are still under construction, but I’m anxious to go see them.
He really transformed this institution from a small, it was a community college, you know. We had good academic programs, we had good career programs, and, in the meantime, the idea that the only library we had was over there where the old business office used to be. That was a small, small facility to this building and compared to many community colleges. People come here to visit, and they see our campus and they are overwhelmed. It’s kind of what Tim started has continued through the years.
My 14 years in office we did a lot of remodeling and adding and all. We upgraded the theatre and added to [the] dance wing over there and the new physical science building and remodeled the life science building and remodeled the health science building. And completely gutted and remodeled the gymnasium and put in new flooring and new bleachers and safety issues because there were dangerous situations there. But that has never stopped. The additions that have come and been added and that sort of thing. You know, we put our first day care center in during my time and of course that building is gone and they have the new facility up on the hill. I’ve not been in it, but it looks very nice from the outside.
But Tim was really an inspirational guy. I often thought that he could have easily run for governor, and he would have won. He was one of the most articulate speakers I’ve ever heard in my life. And it’s always fascinating to hear him speak and he was a taskmaster. Boy, he expected hard work out of people and boy, he gave up a lot of his life for this place. I’ve often felt like so did his wife, June. His family gave up a lot so he could be here as much as he was here.
Dana: Yeah. I don’t think he was ever at home, was he?
LeRoy: Oh, oh no, my land. I’ve told the story, when he was very supportive of me when I went back to get my doctorate. One of my routines is, I would go to Laramie and meet with my adviser. I was working on my dissertation at that time, and Tim had given me permission to-- when I wrote a chapter I could make a copy of it. Three copies of it, to give to my reading committee in Laramie. I would go to Laramie and pick up my last chapter that had been marked up with red ink, bring it back to correct it, but leave a new chapter with the reading committee.
When I got back one night, it was late at night ’cause I also took a class that went from seven till ten in Laramie and then class got out at ten and the only place in town I could get a cup of coffee was the bus depot. I’d go get a cup of coffee and then head out and get into Casper about one in the morning and then be back in the classroom at eight the next morning. One night, I came blowing in, going in about one in the morning, to go make my copy of the one that had the red ink all over it.
And holy smoke they’d put those speed bumps in that day and I just about got airborne! I don’t know where he was, he must have been sitting up on the hill by the gym or something, and the next morning when I came in he said, “How’d you like those new speed bumps we put in yesterday?” And he just laughed. He’d seen me come blowing and going in, in the middle of the night and hit that speed bump. He had a wicked sense of humor.
[Former Casper College President] Lloyd [Loftin], he was kind of remembered for his careful selection of faculty. He [was] really careful to get—that was his pride and joy—was his faculty. He was academic dean for a long time and then he became president. We just had good leadership.
That’s people we often forget about—our trustees. There was a raft of people that went through this place as ultimately there’s the trustees, who were just outstanding individuals and they cared about this college and they supported it with all their hearts. They worked hard and they’d go to the Legislature and lobby. That was something I enjoyed doing … during my years, was going.
Dr. Loftin did not like going to the Legislature so when I was still dean of students, he’d ask me to go down and represent Casper College. My fourteen years as president I was always there. But that was an interesting experience you know, to go watch that. I did have the opportunity when I retired, I had an organization approach me and ask me to run for the Legislature and say that they would pay for my campaign material, but the trouble is once somebody does that sort of thing they own you.
Dana: Yeah, yeah.
LeRoy: I just told them I wasn’t interested in that kind of thing. But it’s an interesting process. I wonder if it’s changed any in the ten years that I’ve been gone now from what it was then. It kind of frustrating because there are 90 legislators. There are 60 house members and 30 senators and of those 90 people about eight make all the decisions. You know, now the others all have to vote, but they’re told how they’re going to vote.
And it’s a little frustrating you know? They have their caucuses and in the caucus, they say, “Well, our party is supporting this and this and this and we are not going to support this and this,” and you play ball or you get cast into outer darkness. And I just, I couldn’t bring myself to find any enthusiasm for that system like that. Now those eight people were smart, and they’d been there a long time and they had a lot of power. But I used to kind of get tickled at the neophytes who would run for office and say, “I’m going to go to Cheyenne and I’m going to do this and I’m going to this and I’m going to—,” you know? “I’m going to change this,” and I always wanted to say, “Have you spent any time down there yet? To watch how they work?” And I probably shouldn’t say all those things but it was oftentimes frustrating you know.
Dana: Yeah, yeah. I have a question about Dr. Aley. Since you got to watch him for quite a period of time.
LeRoy: Mm-hmm, oh, yeah.
Dana: How did he walk through walls? He could appear in a room where I’d been watching the doorway the whole time, and he didn’t come through the door, and all of a sudden he was leaning against the wall in the back of the room.
LeRoy: There he was. Like I said, that night in the middle of the night, he saw me hit that speed bump. I don’t know where he was but he was just always around. I don’t know if you’ve ever had the experience when there was something that happened that caused the hair to stand up on the back of your neck. And I remember one night—I don’t know where I was—it seemed like I was on my way home, and I turned around and came back to campus and it was fairly late. He had that old yellow Chrysler, and he was sitting by the entrance over on the east side of campus. I pulled up and stopped and rolled my window down and he said, “What are you doing here?” and I said, “What are you doing here?” And he said, “Well, there’s been an accident up the hill here,” and he said, “Well, I think some kids were involved in it.” He said, “Park your car and get in, we’ll go up there and find out what’s going on.”
But he, he stayed informed. He carried a security radio with him and sometimes tuned into the police band if there was a problem and he knew about it. But how he knew, he knew things, Dana, I absolutely would be like you, mystified, how did he know that? One night … the [
Casper College] T-Birds had a basketball player who went on to become an NBA professional. He was good, but the T-Birds were playing that night in Rock Springs [Wyo.], and it was fairly late and my phone rang.
And he said, “I need you to come up,” and mentioned the ball player’s name and he said, “I’ve heard a rumor that he’s been shot, and he has a bullets lodged in his leg. Will you go up to the dorms and find out if there’s any truth to that?” So, I was housing director, I jumped in my car and run over, went to the dorm where this fellow’s room was, went down and rapped on the door. He said, “Come in,” and I went in and we greeted each other. He said, “Well, you must want something, you didn’t come up here in the middle of the night to chat with me.” I said, “No. We’ve heard a rumor that you have a bullet lodged in your leg, that you got shot somehow.” He said, “Yeah, that’s right. You wanna feel it?”
And he and some guys had been out spotlighting, shooting things, and he was shooting with a pistol, which he laid on the floor of the Jeep. They hit a big bump, and it discharged and shot him in the behind the knee and that went all the way down through his calf. No I’m sorry, other way, it went in by his ankle, and came all the way through and had lodged [behind] his knee, but that bullet had gone through the calf muscle and all the length of his leg and it must have hurt like fire.
And so Lou Roussalis was always the team doctor, and so I called Tim and he called Lou and Lou called me. He said, “Now, has he been to the emergency room?” and I said, “Yeah, he’s been to the emergency room and all they did was put a Band-Aid over the bullet hole,” and you could see the bullet under the skin where it was, it was a .22[caliber]. He said, “Well, you tell him to be in my office tomorrow morning first thing and we’ll take that out, we’ll get it out of there.” He missed a few weeks of playing, because that leg, he couldn’t jump on it at all, but where did Tim hear that? How did, he knew everything! He just had so many antennae out there.
… It was fascinating to watch him work with [former Dean of Students] Art Trenam, another name you’ll remember. Those two were just fascinating to watch work. They both had been majors in the CID, which is kind of the military counterpart of the FBI. If some kid got in trouble in the dorm, I used to love just to sit off in the corner and keep my mouth shut and watch them question kids. By the time they were done that kid would confess to anything—to every time he ever spit in a car or drank a beer or—.
But especially Tim and I think part of it is just, like you said, he was always here. And he carried a security radio with him. If security got a call he would go too, and the one thing I appreciate though is if we had a bad problem and I called him he would be there fast. I was never, I never felt like I was on my own, I never felt like there wasn’t help available for me. He was tough and smart--whoo wow--he was smart! I don’t know if he just anticipated things. I don’t know, but I think there are other people who wonder if he could walk through walls.
Dana: I’m just sure he could. And yes. “Beam me up, Scotty” had nothing on Tim Aley, he just materialized.
LeRoy: Uh-huh. Well, he just one time, and I was still a pretty young guy, the first year I came to teach. They had multiple applications for the psych job, but they didn’t have anybody for the sociology job. They’d lost the soc [sociology] teacher and they asked me to teach soc full time and then I got to teach one psychology class. Then the next year I went full time in psychology but. They said I’d only have to teach the soc for a year and the end of the year came and he called me down to the office.
He threw me his car keys and he said, “You go to Colorado and you stay down there till you find us a soc teacher.” I was 24 when I signed my first contract here so by then I was probably 25, I don’t think I was 26 yet. I didn’t have the slightest idea where to start looking. I just I called Colorado where I’d gone to school, I called Fort Collins. I called CU, [University of Colorado] called their placement services and told them what I was looking for, said I was representing a community college in Wyoming and we needed a sociology instructor.
“Do you have any candidates that you could set up for me to come and meet and visit with them?” One guy was tending bar in some little town. I went and met with him [at] the bar and found a couple pretty good candidates and made arrangements for them to come up. But then that fell through. Somehow they found another and I can’t remember what his—Nelson, Zane Nelson. I don’t remember where they found him. I think at BYU, [Brigham Young University] but they found a soc teacher. I’d the two that I had made arrangements to come to Casper and be interviewed. Both came, but they turned it down for jobs in Colorado. They wanted to stay in Colorado.
But I was so, I wasn’t a dean, I wasn’t in charge of anything academic, and he just threw me his keys and said, “You just go to Colorado and stay down there till you find…”
Dana: He just put you in charge. Right there.
LeRoy: “Till you find a soc teacher.” Oh golly, what a guy. He was very decisive … he knew what he wanted. Boy, he could just charm the skin off a snake. … I’ve been with him when parents were upset about something. He could just settle ’em down in two minutes and smooth the waters. Then, he just had a lot of genius about him. But he was tough. No two ways about that.
Dana: Well, those are probably two characteristics that are really good and necessary in a president’s job.
LeRoy: Well, I would say that’s true, that’s very true. Like I say, he and Art really worked together. And golly, I think of all the late nights we spent up here. He usually would call. I always kind of felt privileged because I saw myself as the kid, you know? There was Tim and then his academic dean was Lloyd Loftin, so there was Tim, Lloyd and then Art Trenam who was the dean of students and myself. He would call meetings and the phone would ring at ten, eleven at night. He’d say, “As soon as you can, get here.” Or he’d say, “I’m sending a security officer after you.” I’d say, “No, don’t do that. I’ve got to come back home. They’d just have to bring me home later. I can drive over.” “Nah, I’ll send security.” “No, I’ll drive.” “OK, just get your behind over here.” And sometimes we’d meet till three or four o’clock in the morning or something.
Dana: Good Lord.
LeRoy: And something, nothing had happened, but he thought something could happen, ‘cause that was kind of again, during the Vietnam War and a lot of demonstrations were happening around the country, and things on campuses. There were problems, and if he got to wondering about it: is there a chance we could have a problem like that? Then he’d want to talk about it. That’s, he was good about that. He always wanted to get everybody’s opinion about it. That was good but I spent lots and lots of nights.
Man, I remember one time, it must have been three o’clock in the morning, and he said, “Well, have you had any dinner yet?” I said, “Well, no. “Well, let’s go get something to eat.” And we went down to the Ramada Inn to the coffee shop and ordered a couple hamburgers, but he was wearing that radio and it went off. He said, “Come on. We got to get back up there.” Something was going on I can’t remember what it was. It’s amazing to me that I had a wife to go home to for a long time. She put up with me. I remember one time she said, “If I’m going to have to sit at home alone every night I want a color TV. So we got our first color TV.
Dana: Fair bargain, actually.
LeRoy: She was a tough negotiator.
LeRoy: No, he was a great find, and I don’t know if the board, how they did a search for a president at that time. He came from Grand Junction. [Colorado] He’d been down there at the community college down there, which has become a four-year school. For a long time that was his heart’s desire--was to make this a four-year school. Boy, he had us do a lot of work.
I remember one time he sent me--he picked out people and I grew up in Thermop so he sent me to Thermop. But he sent people to different towns where they were familiar and knew people. And my orders were to go sit in a motel with a phone book from Thermop and call everybody I knew in Thermop and ask them to ask their legislators and ask them to support Casper as a four-year school. And in ’77 we came within one vote, it would have passed. But there was a lot of effort put into those things. And he did a lot of speaking. Boy, he was, I’ll tell you what, he could go before the Rotary or the Lions, or Jaycees and just, anybody who heard him speak was awestruck. That was one of his, I guess I’d call it a dream, but [the] idea was to make this into a four-year school. There was always something in the wind, you know, something that was going on.
I learned lots of things from him. And I guess anybody you work with you do. You pick up things that are, skills, or goals, or something, you know? I did with Lloyd, Lloyd Loftin too. So those two guys, they were wonderful role models…
LeRoy: Of living, working kinds of things. The other thing is, when you have a lot of good raw material to work with, it makes it easier. It sure does. And uh, I really was blessed in that, in that fashion. …
One time I had a yearbook from every year that I had worked here. I used to love to get those old yearbooks out and go through and look at them. The faculty and the student activities pictures and that sort of thing. Now I’m enjoying equally this—I love getting that Footprints magazine from the alumni office. That’s, well that’s one thing when it comes in the mail, by the next day I’m going to have read every word in that piece. It’s a great little publication, and they do a good job over there. That department’s really, really cooking. I’m feeling bad; I’m going to miss their distinguished alum banquet this year. It’s the day after we fly back to Atlanta for my next interlude with my oncologist back there.
Dana: Yes, interlude, that’s a good word for it.
LeRoy: Back to the chemotherapy, and had I known that was going to be when it is, I may have tried to talk him into giving us a couple more days before going back. But I’d lost track of when it was going to be.
Dana: Well, I’ll put in a plug for the Western History Center. If you have lost track of your yearbooks, they’re on the shelf right over there. Come up here and sift through a few yearbooks.
LeRoy: OK. OK. Yeah, … I can’t believe I would have thrown them out. I don’t think they’re in our attic or the basement somewhere. I’m bad about losing things.
We went on the most—this has nothing to do with what we’re talking about—a wonderful tour of Europe. Rivers, great rivers of Europe tour. And we got home, the next week for some reason I was having trouble sleeping. I had organized my photos that I’d taken of Europe and I sit up with the computer and I typed a little script to go with every picture and put them together in a scrapbook. And it was a little bit about each castle or whatever it was in the picture. Where we were, or what river we were on, or what bridge we were going under. And I loaned that to two or three people who were going to go to Europe and somehow, I don’t know if it never came back, or it came back and we stuck it in a bookshelf somewhere, but can’t find that either. I’d love, love to have that.
Dana: Wow, oh, oh. That’s a big hurt to lose that!
LeRoy: Well, it was a fun thing, you know, it wasn’t the end of the world. But it was a great trip and I just couldn’t sleep one night, so I got out and organized all the pictures and tch-tch-tch… So I, it’s conceivable that those yearbooks are somewhere in that building. Oh, mercy me.
Dana: Well, I appreciate you coming in and doing this.
LeRoy: Well, you’re welcome, I’m a little embarrassed, I feel like I hogged all the time with just personal kind of memories, but it’s a great place.
Dana: Well, those were valuable pieces that you’ve given us, I think.
LeRoy: Well thank you, I--
Dana: I appreciate the memories of Tim Aley.
LeRoy: Well, I’ll tell you what--
Dana: Because nobody interviewed him before he got out of here.
LeRoy: Well, that’s true, that’s right.
Dana: And, you’d be better than any of the rest around here, I think.
LeRoy: Well, I’ll tell you what, it’s fascinating when you get to work with somebody like that who’s so bright. I seldom ever left a meeting where I didn’t go away with a certain level of amazement about the experience. It was kind of funny, it kind of had a pattern. If you called a meeting, and you get his folks around the table, and then he’d kind of give you the historical preparation for that moment, you know? What had happened, this happened this happened this happened, and that led to this point, and now, we need to decide about what’s next.
And he always knew what he wanted next. But the meeting would last til everybody at the table agreed, that should be next. He got his way. Yeah, he got his way. But it was, and he knew he’d always, he’d thought it through, he’d thought about it, he’d looked at the pros and cons. He knew any issues that could come up.
I used to kind of get such a grin out of that, that process, how it happened and all. A lot of times I’ve laughed about it, and thank God I’ve never had to cry about it. Oh he, you know, he just was so, he was so right about so many things and had an insight. And the respect and the adoration…He scared people to death. He was very focused. He would stop and visit with people sometimes one day, and then a couple days later, he’d pass them in the hall and he wouldn’t even look up, he’d go right by. They’d say, “Is Tim mad at me? Do you know? Did I do something to get him upset?” I can remember saying, “No, he’s just so focused. His mind was on something and he never even saw you.”
Dana: Didn’t know there was anybody around.
LeRoy: Yeah. When his mind was on something, it was just like a telescope, and he was on that. But a lot of people think that: He must be upset. He didn’t even speak to me. He wasn’t upset, he was just—. His thought was something significant right then. …
Paul Hallock was student body president here in ’65, yeah. And Tim used to call him in and worked with Paul on a lot of student things, and Paul just absolutely adores Tim also. He got to work with him a lot in that capacity. And where my experience was with [former Casper College President] George Hall [president in the late 1950s when Strausner was student body president]. He was the one that I—he would call me to come visit with him in his office. We did a lot of things. I can remember asking him to dismiss school for a day. We had a campus improvement day, one day. We, the student senate sponsored it, and all classes were cancelled. And the college bought, I don’t know how much, paid [for] garbage bags. We painted things. We planted trees, we cleaned the C Hill, you know, the old C Hill which you will know, sparkled like a diamond [because] there were so many broken bottles on it, stuff. People just went up on that hill and picked up garbage and cleaned up things and cut weeds. And then we had uh, do you remember the guy that was uh, chief rocky mountain that—?
Dana: Oh yeah, uh, uh, Ste—
LeRoy: Oh, you’re on the right track, it’s about to come, Stenkle. Stenkle. Rudy, Rudy Stenkle. He helped us and we built a big barbeque pit out there in what would today be the road going right by the front of the old fine arts building. Then out to the exit, we dug a big pit. And a
metal—had the welding shop built this spit. Put a, I think there was a half a beef on that thing, and built a humongous fire under that and barbequed all night long. There were a few beers drunk, but barbequed that all night long.
I don’t know, there were about, probably there was only about 600 students at that time. Had all kinds of contests, you know. We had um, we’d been having a beard-growing contest and then the winners got shaved. They had girls chosen to get to shave the people who had grown their beard. They, and we put grease on the flagpole and tried to have a flag. You know they’d shove you up. I remember hanging on that thing and sliding down with grease all over me.
Barbequed that beef and then we had oh, like a carnival set up. Inside the courtyard. Uh, well, they could pay money or something and you can, so many shots with a BB gun and knock a pack of cigarettes off the thing. They cancelled school for this thing. We painted stripes on the parking lot and uh, really, really cleaned up the campus, and he loved that kind of thing. In fact there used to be a little right, right behind Roberts Commons right now, there used to be a little semicircular parking lot up there on the shelf, that new building’s in there now. But I used to get a dollar a day. That was some of the work I did for the grounds crew. He had twelve cottonwood trees planted in a semicircle, and he was going to have a big barbeque built out of that red rock so he could have all-school barbeques in the pit.
LeRoy: And there were no sprinkling systems in those days. For a buck a day, I would go out in front of the administration building, unhook four hoses, carry them out to that old, it was uh, it was the auto shop at that time. Hook those hoses together, go water my 12 trees. Unhook the hoses, take them back out in front of the thing, for which I got a dollar every day. In fact, they just took the last of those cottonwoods out to build that new building over there.
But he really liked those all-school kinds of things like that. We had more fun that day at that all-school cleanup day. Cleaning up the campus and just, just pick up trash. People just had a good time. It was fun, and uh, it seemed to me like the, the uh, Libby? What was her last name, she ran the student union, and it was over there in the Administration Building on the south side and they made potato salad and baked beans and stuff. Then we had the barbecued beef, so everybody had worked their buns off. Then we had a great big lunch, you know.
Everybody went their own ways. Then one other day, we dismissed school and uh, [Casper College Drama Instructor] Ken Urey had a play on Spotner. We checked tickets out to any student that was willing to check out tickets. They came to the gym and then we just sent them downtown, trying to sell those theatre tickets. Ken wanted a lot of people to. The poll, the proceeds of that play, all went into the first fund to build a dormitory. ’Cause there were no dorms, they were all paying way too much for filthy little basement apartments. It’s hard to find, you know enough places in the area of the college to live. And so we all, you know we got ten or twenty tickets in our pocket and went downtown and went in stores trying to sell those things. But uh, that again was a George Hall thing.
One other time we had—K2 television really did a thing for us. The student body, the student senate sponsored that, to raise money for United Way. And we had Ken Urey’s contact troupe you know, we sang, and danced and all that stuff. We essentially took over K2TV for an evening. We had uh, oh a phone what am I trying—a phone bank with probably ten or twelve people answering phones. And then somebody would answer the phone and if it was you calling to make a pledge, 20, 25 dollars, somebody would make a note to, you know, go to the Van Burgh residence at this address—25 dollars. They would run outside, and we had stations all over town, and we had a Jeep outside with a big radio antenna on it. Each of those Jeeps had a radio in it, and they would call them and say, “Go to the Van Burgh residence, there’s a 25 dollar pledge.” Within ten minutes of your phone call, somebody would knock at your door for the pledge. We took in a lot of money. We were on the TV station from about seven in the evening til midnight. It was great fun you know? Then all that money went to United Way, so we weren’t doing anything for the college, the college was helping United Way.
But, we did a lot, we got a lot more involved with the community, I think, in those days. It was smaller and easier to do. You know I don’t know if, if a contemporary president would try to do that, if you’d get in trouble with the accreditation people for letting school out, I don’t know. Those days, apparently it wasn’t so strict, but George Hall dismissed classes for several days for us to do things like that. And faculty was always involved. They all—they got right in the middle of it but this was--
Dana: Probably got great return from it.
LeRoy: I hope so, community is for, certainly community relations was the—
Dana: Gets cranked up.
LeRoy: Yeah, yeah, because people felt, and that’s one of the other things that’s great about Casper College is, and I steal this though, from [Casper College Foundation board member] George Bryce. He always talks about the love affair between Casper and the college, but people in Casper think of this college as theirs.
LeRoy: There’s a, there’s a, what’s the word I’m grasping for, proprietary relationship in it. They feel like it’s their college.
Dana: Even if they never come up here.
LeRoy: Yeah, but the other thing that amazes me is, boy, try to go in a store and not have the person wait on you have somebody who’s either been up here or currently. You know? My daughter goes up there, or my son went there, or my husband and I met there, or… It amazes me. There’s a real connection. …
Dana: Which is good.
LeRoy: Oh absolutely, yeah. Because a lot of times they talk about town and gown [town and college relations]. You know, knocking heads and that kind of thing, and I don’t think we’ve ever had that problem.
LeRoy: Not at any serious consequence anyway.
Dana: Because people do talk about it as our college.
LeRoy: Well and, you know as tragic as it was, that terrible incident last year, where that young man killed his father, and the young woman, boy, what a community. I mean the community just came and put its arms around this college. You know they, people came out by the hundreds for those memorial services and, and stuff. That was a tragedy that happened in the community. It wasn’t a sense of fear or anger, or criticism. It was, “What can we do to help?” And that was great. That was really. We were in Georgia when that happened. It was great to see the community, you know, rise up. It’s … well, golly I better let you go and, my wife--
Dana: She’s gonna think that you’ve become Tim Aley--that you moved in up here.
LeRoy: She made me a pretty good breakfast this morning. She may not have any lunch for me today.
Dana: She maybe figures this is going to run on a while. Well, I really appreciate you coming up and spending the time doing this and I, I--
LeRoy: I appreciate you doing it.
Dana: And I have to ask you a question. May we transcribe this and with the transcription and the originals available to people who want to do research or study?
LeRoy: Sure, that’s no problem at all.
Dana: OK. I do thank you, sir.
LeRoy: Hey, you’re very welcome, and I thank you for your time and your energy to do this. That’s a nice thing they’re doing.
Dana: It’s been a lot of fun.
LeRoy: Good, oh, I’m sure you’ve met some folks.
Dana: I think you’re number 59.
LeRoy: Really? Fantastic! That is incredible.
Dana: It’s getting cranked up again this fall.
LeRoy: Wow. Well, you know somebody did, did Paul tell me that you’ve been working on this a couple years now?
Dana: I started last year, last school year.
LeRoy: Oh, OK, yeah. Well, that’s a lot of hours of work?
Dana: Well, you know I’ve done it over the years, talked about doing oral histories. I—I’ve got two or three ole little recorders that I’ve bought to do with. I’m too darn shy to ask people to do it. It just never got started. Groups I’ve been in have been going to do oral histories and it just never happened. The historical society, for example, has been going to do oral histories for as long as I’ve been a member of it. And it never happened. And finally I got disgusted and said well, I may not be any good at it, but I’m better than a guy that isn’t doing it at all. So here we go.
LeRoy: Well, you know it’s along that line, when I was still working. Uh, somebody in the Rotary Club wanted to do an oral history of World War II, interviewing with veterans. They wanted to know if there was a class or a club on campus that would be willing to do some interviews. So I shopped around and talked to a couple of political science classes. I wasn’t having a lot of luck, but then I thought, I’m going to try to find out how veterans feel about that.
We had about four or five World War II vets that went to my church and so I, I just asked them and said, “I’ve been asked to try to find a college group that would do this. Would you be willing to be interviewed?” They, every one of them said, “I’d rather not. The memories are too painful. What I went through, I wouldn’t wish on anybody, and I’d just rather not talk about it.”
So, I went back to that guy at Rotary and said, “This is what these five people told me.” I said, “That’s only five, but they were unanimous about not wanting to talk about it.” And I don’t think it ever, ever flew. I never heard any more about it. It seemed like it was the time—it was just before Christmas break and the college kids were all getting ready to leave. They didn’t have a lot of enthusiasm. Then when I talked to these veterans, they said, “I’d just rather not.”
I have a next-door neighbor now who I love to visit with. He’s, I think he’s eighty-nine now. He was a belly gunner in a B-17. And when they weren’t involved in a—you know when he wasn’t actually shooting—he carried a camera, took some incredible pictures. And he’s shown me a lot of his pictures and that sort of thing. One time I had to laugh. He has a room in his basement that’s his office, and he’s got a lot of photographs of the airplane and the crew and everything. And one day I was looking at the crew picture and I said, “Well…where are you? I don’t find you in this picture.” He said, and he’s a big man now. He said, “That’s because at that time I weighed one hundred thirty-five pounds.” He said, “How do you think I got down into that little turret?”
He’s just a character. …He said if the hydraulics went out, he said that you had to turn that turret to a certain spot for the hole in the plane and the hole in the turret to line up to get in or out. And if the hydraulics went out, you couldn’t turn it. He said, “I’d have just been a grease spot on the runway.” ’Cause if the hydraulics went out, they couldn’t put the landing gear down or anything. And uh, boy I’ll tell you what, those, those guys, they were prepared to pay a dear price and so, anyway. Well, Dana, I am going to take my leave, but I have enjoyed this immensely.
Dana: It’s been really fun.
LeRoy: Thank you, it’s been good just to see you, let alone ramble on about my life.
Dana: What’s really unusual is to see LeRoy with nobody else around. You know, you, you just attract people. You get three words with you and six other people are there talking and all at once, and this is great to get you in a little room here all to myself.
LeRoy: Oh, that makes me feel good. I was going to say yesterday, I, after our coffee klatch, I went on over to the Gateway Building to say hello to—I thought I was going to say hello to a couple people and, two hours later, I was leaving. I got home and my wife said, “Where have you been?” and I said, “Now, just think about that for a minute.” I said, “I went over to the Gateway Building.” She says, “Oh, yeah, and you have to talk to everybody.” Well sir, it’s been a pleasure.
Dana: Yeah, they’d be arguing if they didn’t.
LeRoy: I’ve got a neat little thing, you probably, do you know a guy by the name of Rich Lang?
LeRoy: He’s with Wyoming Financial. Every time I see Rich, he gives me some little thing, a pen or something. He gave me this old notebook, and I grabbed it on the way out. I thought I may need to--isn’t that nice?
Dana: That’s a keen little notebook.
LeRoy: Got a little pen that works with it, and I keep his card in there. But I thought, Dana’s going to ask me something and I won’t know that answer, I’ll have to ask Cathy.
Dana: I thought you knew the answer to everything.
[Left the room]
LeRoy: Oh, I’d love to make people think that. Well, folks have gone to lunch.
Dana: Yeah, they do that.
LeRoy: Well it was nice to see Bill here this morning. I haven’t seen him in a long lime. Last time I saw him he was his health wasn’t very good. I can’t remember…
[The interview is over. The recorder was left on and Dana and LeRoy continue talking outside of the room barely audibly.]
For further reading
- Landen, Bill. “Casper College’s Favorite Son Says Good bye: Strausner Reflects on 40 plus years at Casper College.” Footprints: Casper College Alumni News, Summer 2004, pp. 8-9. Accessed Oct. 29, 2014 at http://www.caspercollege.edu/strausner/downloads/footprints_article_2004.pdf.