An unexpected path leads to an economic opportunity in Wyoming
January 3, 2017 by Laura Phagan
Fourth generation Lander resident Ben Avery always thought he would continue his family’s ranching legacy, but his path changed while attending Central Wyoming College.
Avery started his college career at Utah State University but after his father got blood poisoning and almost had fatal issues to the treatment, Avery came back to the ranch to help take care of the animals. Avery had set his studies aside, when CWC’s first president, Dr. Walter Palmberg, called him and asked if he would like to join the rodeo team. That phone call prompted Avery to enroll in the spring of 1969, transferring his credits from Utah State.
“It didn’t cost much,” Avery said. “I was living at home and had scholarships for tuition and books.”
Restarting his college education, Avery focused on agriculture until Professor Jim Lamphrecht encouraged Avery to explore a different degree path.
Jim told me I should learn something I didn’t know anything about, he told me I already knew a lot about agriculture; I had learned that from my dad but to expand my knowledge. ”
So, Avery changed directions to learn more about economics. That decision also led Avery to become a member of the first Student Senate.
“I was the senior class president at Lander Valley High School so it was a natural transition,” Avery said.
In 1970, Avery graduated with an associate’s in science degree from CWC’s first graduating class. He continued his education through the University of Wyoming. UW gave him the same opportunities in rodeo scholarships and in 1972 Avery graduated with a bachelor’s degree in professional economics.
Avery soon found employment in the banking industry and has worked throughout the state of Wyoming and parts of Colorado for about 25 years. In the last 15 years Avery has been the state of Wyoming’s Business Development Director for the Wyoming Business Council. Avery’s projects have included working with Microsoft to bring the data center industry to Wyoming, expanding Cody Laboratories and working with private companies to convert coal to carbon in Campbell County, just to name a few. He has recommended approval of three loans for about $40 million for the State Loan and Investment Board.
“These things will help employ people in our communities,” Avery said. Now Avery’s goals include working on a strategic plan with the council as he looks forward to retirement. Avery has family near Phoenix and plans to buy a retirement home in the area.
From 1996-2001 Avery served on the board for CWC. During his tenure he helped the college grow through adding structures and programs. Avery resigned from the board after he left Fremont County to take his current job in Cheyenne. In 1995 Avery was named Outstanding Alumni. Throughout his life Avery kept in contact with Lamphrecht and was often a guest speaker for his classes.
“I went to his class once a semester and gave a talk about what it meant to get a degree at CWC and at UW and how it prepared me for the business world,” Avery said. Lamphrecht passed away in 2009 but Avery said it was Lamphrecht that changed his path.
Avery looks back with fond memories of his time at CWC when the small campus was only a classroom building and an administration building. He remembers hanging out with the students outside or in the lobby of the administration building. There were no dorms at the time so many students like Avery lived at home while others stayed in local hotels or with community members.
“CWC didn’t have that classic history like other community colleges,” Avery said. “It was a melting pot of other communities; rivals came to school together and setting that aside we all became friends. I went to school with older students, vets who had come back from Viet Nam. They were worldly and had been out and seen more things but with that small population of students we had a lot of friendships that continue today.”
And those friendships and experiences from his time at CWC remain important to Avery, even as he prepares for the next phase of his life.
“I could have stayed on the family ranch and I feel my life would have been just as successful but my life took this path,” Avery said.