California sunshine exudes from Randy. He has a surfer vibe even in a snowstorm. In fact, he is living the best of both worlds and has been since the day he came to Jackson back in 1976. That day describes him perfectly: surfing San Diego in the morning followed by skiing in the afternoon in Jackson. Randy is the kind of guy who can have a day like that and make it seem normal.
A lot of people come to Jackson and then decide to stay but are not sure what they can do to make a living. Randy is different because he moved to Jackson for a job. He left the Southern California beach lifestyle to be an elementary teacher in Jackson. He had been a student teacher at the first publicly funded alternative K-12 school in the US. As Randy explains, “that was a little radical for Jackson in the 70s.” But while that was a great place to work, he decided the “Jackson school system was interesting with exciting programs and curriculum as well as dedicated teachers.” This was the right path for him because as it turns out he was an educator for 30 years.
When one thinks back on their life they typically can point out a few things they might have done differently. Not Randy. And that is why he is so unique. He follows the advice his dad gave about being an individual. “I wouldn’t change anything. I attained a career that helped people and traveled a lot.” While many raised an eyebrow at the thought of him leaving the beach for Wyoming, he feels it was the best thing he ever did. Randy isn’t one for regrets and instead has carved out a life that is fulfilling and true to him.
Randy credits his peaceful nature to living “a life of my own choosing.” He admits that sounds easy but it hasn’t always been that way for him. His approach is “to stay pretty true to my beliefs and try to improve on them as purely as I can.” He adds, “there is some kind of tranquility and bliss knowing that.” The elements that keep him true to this way of life are his wife, Ellen, their friends, and the environment. He luckily met Ellen running on the Elk Refuge one afternoon and soon learned she was a substitute teacher. As fate would have it, she was in the classroom across his the following day. The kids were giving her a bit of a tough time, and Randy took notice and came over to help her out. And then “of course she fell in in love with me! We’ve been married for over 30 years.” Again, another example of a story that might seem too good to be true yet you actually believe it because it comes from Randy.
He didn’t leave the beach life for good when he took that job as a teacher. At first he went back to lifeguard each summer. He has managed to enjoy both worlds. Jackson attracted him because “it was a diversified town full of great people doing all kinds of things from all different backgrounds with interests pretty foreign to me.” He liked that it wasn’t all about skiing. He actually likens the friends he has to each other in both towns. “It’s just different toys and different beer.” It’s no surprise he attracts friends “who are upbeat and don’t take themselves too seriously, have a deep desire to improve the world and the place they live.”
Being able to split the year between Wyoming and California is the right combination for Randy and Ellen. They soak up all they can during the ski season and depart in a puffball. Later that same day they ease the transition by putting their toes in the sand. Randy reflects how Jackson and his California town, Encinitas, are each struggling with similar issues: housing, rapid growth, traffic congestion. In that respect he can relate and understand them. The fact that they are opposite from an ecosystem aspect is how they each offer a renewal for him. He explains that in Wyoming, “I live above the valley with views all the way to Yellowstone. It is static yet vibrant.” But in California, “I live above the ocean with its expanse disappearing into the horizon. It is vibrant yet static.”
The upbeat personality is not an act. He doesn’t’ take things too seriously and tries “to see the best and unique in all people.” You feel that when you see him because he is one of those rare people who is interested in what you are saying. A few things he loves are: the severity of the weather and the way people smile about it; people who get a rush out of the radical environment; valley residents’ views on life, politics, the community or just cool stories they tell. He says “I love that Wyoming people in general mean what they say.” Randy is by nature a teacher and that comes across when you notice he is actively listening as much as he is engaged in discussing.
Living the dream means something different to everyone. But that phrase could be a slogan for Randy. He has many interests and he has carved out a life that allows him to pursue them. He taught for 30 years, volunteered as president of Friends of Pathways, became a successful abstract/figurative painter, and surfed in exotic locations. The dream life is one where you get to do something you love. He has found a way to live a life where all of his passions are chased and he still enjoys them to this day. Jackson is distinctive because it offers the dreamers a chance to chase those passions. After all these years, Randy enjoys “the solitude, quiet and night sky of Wyoming. When I’m painting here I can easily work without interruptions or outside influences. It’s easy to stay pure to the intent of the idea. This place lets me be more introspective and get closer to what it all means.” We should all be so lucky to live as true to the dream as Randy.
h/t Bridget Pattee