My two-week notice: Saying farewell to a community I have come to love

Ryan Fitzmaurice

So, a non-religious progressive moves to Lovell, Wyoming. 

That’s not the start of a joke. That’s the start of a profoundly meaningful five years.

I’ll admit, my wild-hearted self moved here for the canyons, the mountains and the unbelievable opportunity to be only an hour and a half away from Yellowstone. I also moved here because the brand of community journalism practiced by the Chronicle was my own, one truly focused on serving and celebrating the community that it is a part of. But, no small part of the decision was made due to the fact that you’re all just so different from me.

I twice circled the name of Bernie Sanders in the ballot box while reporting in Leadville, Colorado, and I was surrounded by those who felt similar about the world they lived in. But, the political turmoil and upheaval of the 2016 election called for something personal on my end. It felt right to break out of my bubble and serve a community who thought differently from me. To find communion and understanding. The deep red Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints haven of Big Horn County seemed right for that.

Most of what I found out was that you’re not any different from me at all. 

In fact, to a large degree, north Big Horn County is not significantly different from any community I’ve covered. You care deeply about the education and well-being of your children and hold your elders in honor and esteem. You stretch middling funds to try and figure out road repairs. Dramatic town meetings are held about snow plowing. The summer is defined by town festivals. You have a deep communion with the nature and the resources around you. You have a great community grocery store where the prices are perhaps a tad too high. You tell the joke about how in Wyoming you experience all four seasons every single day. You struggle to find that balance between finding new economic opportunity while preserving the culture and spirit of the town you have come to know.

But, there are things that set Lovell apart, too.  I think it was fortuitous that I moved here right before the hailstorm of 2018.

I had an inkling of what I saw during that storm the first week I moved here, with various community members landing somewhere in the double-digits coming up and offering furniture, silverware, bedding and whatever else I could possibly need to move into my new apartment. 

But, it was when I ran out to cover the aftermath of the hailstorm that I got the first sight of the extraordinary community I had moved to. As I canvassed the entire town of Lovell there was not one front yard where neighbors weren’t extending a hand to neighbors. Within the wreckage was a community spirit in response that was beautiful, inspiring and really just another day in Lovell. 

There’s a dedication to the quiet, peaceful life here in north Big Horn County that I’ve grown to truly appreciate, but more than that, there’s a commitment to be there for one another in these communities. It’s that same spirit that makes it so you can’t check into a motel without a 20-minute conversation. My parents visited here in 2019, and after walking up and down Nevada Avenue, stated that it was so strange that every person who drove past them waved. 

I’ve seen that same spirit in all the high school games I’ve covered. Growing up in Michigan and then reporting in Colorado, I was used to high school games that took place in front of largely empty bleachers. It took me a while to get over the fact that when I went to a Lovell or Rocky basketball, football or volleyball game, those bleachers were full.

I’ve grown to appreciate how hard the people here work. I work a lot of hours as a journalist, but I will never fully appreciate the toil of laying fence in a ranch and tending to cattle and crops or the demands of mining bentonite or processing sugar beets. What I appreciate even more is the humility under which that work is pursued. It’s not a chip on the shoulder, it’s a connection with the land and an understanding of what it takes to live a good, productive life.

I have also been taken aback, and personally changed, by the patriotism and deep connection to the country that the residents of this area have. There is a common unity and devotion to an idea of America that is beautiful and sacred.

I have always struggled with the traditional concept of patriotism. I struggle with most anything that calls for allegiance and abiding respect to any kind of authority and hierarchical structure and neatly fit the definition for both a skeptic and a cynic. It makes me a good journalist and a lousy member of most organizations. 

But, I remember the vast majority of Lovell residents line Main Street on July 19, 2021, to honor the return of Vietnam veteran Ray Krogman, who was shot down over Laos in 1967 and whose remains were recovered more than 50 years later. 

Standing on a raised platform, I fully understood the meaning, the purpose and the sanctity of that patriotism and allegiance, witnessing the unity and reverence on the streets. I have never seen such a demonstration anywhere else. I see the same thing with the practice of faith here. They are the common tethers with which these communities are held together. 

But, for me, what I will most remember is the simple goodness I have found in the people here. I have never had such open, warm and friendly relationships with the sources I work with. I have never been in a community where I have held so many people in esteem and respect. From the very moment I stepped foot in Wyoming, the communities of north Big Horn County have welcomed me with open arms. I truly feel at home here, I always have and I always will. 

Where in the heck am I going? Well, anybody in my life will tell you that I have never been one to stand still for long, and my next adventure calls to me from the East after falling in love with a girl from Maryland. That’s another lesson I’ve learned here, that when you’re fortunate enough to truly find a rare love with someone else, you go all-in. You prioritize it above everything else.

But that’s a column I am never going to write. 

This column, though, is about the love I have found here in my communities of Lovell, Byron, Cowley, Deaver and Frannie, who have accepted me, supported me and even celebrated me within these last five years.

It has been the privilege and honor of my life to serve you, and I hope I did half as good a job toward you all as you have all done by me. 

Thank you for everything. I have been truly blessed.