Pete Simpson, Wyoming ’50, Receives Medallion Service Award

Oct 6, 2011

picture  of a pumpkin

GAMMA PSI (Wyoming) — University of Wyoming alumnus and Professor Emeritus Pete Simpson, Wyoming ’50, who has contributed a lifetime of public service to the state and university, has been presented the Medallion Service Award from the UW Alumni Association.

The Medallion Service Award, initiated in 1968 but not given annually, recognizes outstanding service and dedication to the university. Simpson will ride in UW’s Homecoming parade Saturday, Oct. 15, and will be recognized at the UW-UNLV football game.

A young man who grows up in a famous family, with a father who would be both a governor and member of the U.S. Senate, might feel some pressure from the outside world to succeed.

For Simpson, son of Milward and Lorna Kooi Simpson, bearing the family name came both with advantages and expectations. Simpson said expectations are not always a bad thing, especially when the family is supportive of one’s choices. His decision to “run away and become a historian instead of a lawyer” wasn’t what his family expected, but it led to his becoming an individual who has used his breadth of interests and abilities to serve the University of Wyoming.

When he chose to study history at UW, (B.A., ‘53 and M.A., ‘62 ) he was a member of the second generation of Simpsons to attend the university. He followed the family footsteps by joining Alpha Tau Omega fraternity. Now the number of generations is up to four, since he and brother Alan have both had children and grandchildren attend UW.

Maggi Murdock, dean of UW’s Outreach School, said, “What significant contributions of time, talent, and support of the University of Wyoming has he not made?” Specifically, Murdock described the enormous undertaking that led to UW developing a relationship with Casper College, led in large part by Simpson. The end result was that UW provided upper division courses at Casper College, paired with the lower division courses already provided on site.

Simpson was appointed to coordinate the program in its first year.

“The real key was the front line, in the trenches, the professors,” he said. The challenge was how to deliver education to site-bound homemakers for instance, or to young men who had just started careers and couldn’t leave to come to Laramie to finish their four-year degree, he explained. But once the classes were offered and students were taking them, Simpson said the administrators and others could see it was working.

Simpson was invited to speak to the first graduating class of the UW/Casper College Center. He recalls there were a few dozen graduates with the ceremony held comfortably in a small hall. Then he was invited many years later to give a commencement address to a graduating class and audience so large it had to be held in the Casper Events Center. Looking out at that crowd was a powerful experience — “it blew my mind,” he said. “This was one of the good things that happened.” His service to the university didn’t stop there, through. He later served as vice president for development, alumni relations and university relations and executive director, UW Foundation; and also as vice president for institutional advancement.

Simpson’s own belief in his university has translated into involvement with the UW Foundation Board of Directors, the A&S Board of Visitors, the Symphony Association board, and as a major donor. After he retired from his UW administrative post, he and his brother, Sen. Alan Simpson, were asked by the political science department to team teach a course on a one-time basis. But the course was so popular it was extended into a 12-year run for Pete. He explained that his brother enjoyed the work “but the CNN truck kept pulling up behind student housing so he just came as guest. His being there was fun and enlightening for the students, because Al was in the center of some pretty profound action in this country.”

When he officially retired from teaching, Simpson and his wife Lynne returned to Cody. He said he’s going to miss contact with students “like fire.” He said that working with students — both in and out of the classroom — is a passion. He had a chance to work with students in a non-traditional way by appearing in several UW theatre productions.

UW professor Leigh Selting directed Simpson as King Hamlet’s ghost in a recent production of “Hamlet.”

“Each night, rather than leave when his two small scenes were completed in rehearsal, he watched students, talked with them and involved himself in every way in the production,” Selting said. Not surprisingly, in 2001, Simpson helped establish the Peter Simpson Acting Scholarship, which has provided partial tuition to more than 15 students over the years, according to Selting.

And while Simpson’s teaching and administrative careers at UW have ended, he still intends to be involved.

“I don’t do heavy lifting any more but I do open doors,” he said.

Photo: Pete Simpson


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