LHS Athletic Hall of Fame - Roy Despain

David Peck

A wrestling champion and man of many talents

When you grow up as the seventh of 10 children in a family, you tend to be able to hold your own, and when that family is a wrestling family, you grow up even stronger.

The busy household of Joseph and Trilma Despain fired a competitive spirit in their son Roy, along with a strong work ethic. Combined with a keen analytical mind, Roy Despain became one of the top athletes in Lovell High School history, and as such, he will be inducted posthumously into the LHS Athletic Hall of Fame Friday night.

Despain was a four-year letter winner in football and wrestling at LHS -- a state champion wrestler at 180 pounds as a junior and senior, undefeated his senior year, an all-state football player his senior year and the winner of the prestigious Wilford Mower Award. He graduated in 1965.

According to older brother Frank, a 1964 LHS graduate who wrestled and played football with Roy, Lovell wrestling coach Cliff Revelle wouldn’t let the Despain brothers battle in the wrestling room, lest they hurt each other, but their dad didn’t mind.

“We didn’t have large teams,” said Frank, who had a strong wrestling and football career in his own right, “and Coach Revelle wouldn’t let Roy and I square off against each other. We let it all go when we wrestled.

“We’d push back the chairs (in the living room to create a place to wrestle), and Dad allowed it. We had a cement floor and not much rug, but that didn’t matter. We’d go at it.”

Roy’s wife Deanne said, according to the family, Trilma Despain would just sit on the edge of the couch and watch the action, exclaiming, “Oh, you boys!” while the whole room was “just shaking.”

Roy Johnson Despain was born Nov. 6, 1946, and grew up “milking cows, fishing, hunting, riding horses and especially tending a large garden (on West Seventh),” according to his obituary. Frank said Roy came by his competitive spirit naturally.

“(Placing) second just wasn’t in our nature,” Frank said. “He went all out in whatever he did. In academics or sports, we gave it our all, like bucking hay during the summer. That came from our dad. Dad always made sure we had chores.

“We had about four to six acres, a huge garden. Where the senior citizens center is now was all garden, that and where the road to the middle school is. Our house was just east of the (future) center.”

The house is now owned by Rick and Julie Banks.

Deanne said Roy was a top student who excelled in the classroom and was active in school. Besides sports, his activities included National Honor Society, FTA, L Club, drama club, the senior play and more.

“Roy’s high school years were filled with honors in many fields from athletics to English literature, biology, algebra I and II, trigonometry, social studies, human physiology, chemistry, general science and mathematics,” Deanne said. “He was also given honors in Spanish. I think it is true to say that Roy took learning very seriously, and he was rewarded for his efforts.”

Despain was chosen for Wyoming Boys State during his junior year, and as a senior he was honored with the Wilford Mower Award as the top male scholar/athlete/leader in the northwest region of Wyoming.

He was also active in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, completing four years of seminary and advanced high in his religious responsibilities, including the seminary council.

Wrestling great

Despain found much success in wrestling. He competed at the Western Regional Tournament as a sophomore in 1963 and placed second as a junior in Worland at 180 pounds. After a first-round bye, he pinned Hartung of Powell and Bruce of Star Valley before dropping a decision to Devries of Cody in the championship match.

He would not lose a match for the rest of his high school career.

The following weekend Despain won the 180-pound state title at the all-class Wyoming State Tournament in Cody. He won his first match 10-3 against a Casper wrestler, then edged Holwell of Newcastle 2-0 and Page of Laramie 3-2 before exacting revenge on Devries 5-1 to win the state title.

As a team, the Bulldogs placed third with 41 points behind only Laramie with 79 points and Casper with 52. Lovell beat out Cheyenne East (29 points), Cheyenne Central (26) and others.

Despain also went out for track and field his junior year.

That fall, Despain’s senior year, the Bulldogs had a strong football team that placed second in Class A conference play behind only Buffalo and tied for third in the all-class Big Horn Basin Conference with Worland behind Cody and Lander. Despain was named all-state as a tackle.

In wrestling, Despain went undefeated as a senior at 180 pounds. His season started with a bang when he was awarded the outstanding wrestler trophy at the Billings Invitational Tournament, pinning all of his opponents. Lovell placed fourth behind Great Falls, Billings Senior and Cody and finished ahead of Miles City, Powell, Billings West and Thermopolis.

In 1964-65, Wyoming was divided into two classifications for wrestling, and the Lovell Chronicle reported that, as of February 18, late in the season, the Bulldogs were undefeated in dual matches in Class A, falling only to larger AA teams.

The Bulldogs placed fourth at the Class A State Tournament in Newcastle, but Despain won the 180-pound title. He pinned Ottema of Newcastle, Tyler of Kemmerer and Roberts of Star Valley to win the title.

Asked what made him a great wrestler, Deanna didn’t hesitate, noting, “He was amazingly quick, and I would have to say his success was (also) because he was always thinking ahead. He was data oriented and studied details of his opponents. He knew what he wanted to do and acted quickly. He was very
disciplined in what worked for him, and he tried to perfect it.”

Post high school

After graduation, Despain was awarded academic, football and wrestler scholarships to the University of Wyoming. That summer of 1965 he met Deanne Landes of Cowley while both were working for the Big Horn Canning Company and the two began dating, but they had actually first met in the first grade when both Roy and Frank wanted to hold her hand walking to school and fought over her.

“I wasn’t interested in either of them,” she laughed. She then moved to Cowley.

Roy left UW after two years to join the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam era, and after he completed basic training, he and Deanna were sealed in the Idaho Falls Temple July 14, 1967. He then had the opportunity to be assigned to the Missile Maintenance Division at Great Falls, Mont.

“Roy and I started what would end up to be 52 years together,” Deanna said. “The years began
with four years of Air Force service, two children and lots of church service in Great Falls.”

After leaving the Air Force, Roy returned to school at BYU and obtained his BS in microbiology. He and Deanna had three more children during that time. He graduated with honors and also wrestled for the Cougars – “amazingly, because he had to lose 40 pounds,” she said.

After graduation, Roy was hired by Abbott Laboratories in North Chicago, Ill., and was soon asked to help start up sister companies in Puerto Rico and Brazil, earning the admiration of professional colleagues, Deanne said.

“The knowledge of his expertise became known, and other companies sought to hire him to solve problems. He was well known for solving problems,” she said. “Several opportunities came his way. Such companies as Miles (Laboratories), Archer-Daniels-Midland and even an adventure group from China sought his help, which included a stint in China. His years saw many wonderful opportunities, seven children and experiences too numerous to miss.”

All the while, he served many callings in the church all over the country, Deanne said, from nursery and seminary to several bishoprics and stake callings. He worked on many fundraising and construction projects to help bring about new church buildings.

He was also a devoted father, and his children remember him as a “handyman extraordinaire,” Deanne said, his fatherly duties including repairing toys, constructing tree forts, making toboggan runs and “making fun with boxes, love and imagination.”

Deanne said he was always modest about his honors and that his character came out in his willingness to help others in need again and again.

Eventually, Roy and Deanne retired to Idaho, and Roy died on April 25, 2019, at age 72, at his home in Emmett, Idaho.