TVRC... A Historical Perspective
1939 - Wendell “Weenie” Wilson, Harry Espenshied, and Paul Laurence (local cowboy) founded Teton Valley Ranch Camp, a boys’ ranch in Kelly, Wyoming. After the first year, Paul wanted out and took his $5,000 investment and returned to feeding elk on the National Elk Refuge. Harry Espenshied was bought out and replaced by Weenie’s new bride, Mary Ellen Rennick Wilson, his former secretary at the University of Illinois where he served as the youngest athletic director of a major American university.
The Wilson’s dream of a place where children could learn about the West and themselves through a unique program based on ranching heritage, land stewardship and respect for self and others began to take form. In the beginning, the ranch program focused on horses and rodeo sports. Over the years other activities were added, such as multi-day pack trips and backpacks as well as in-camp activities such as lapidary and archery. Throughout its history, the camp has been known as a leader in the field of experiential education.
1940-45 The War Years - During these years, the Wilson’s were able to get the boys and girls to camp on the Union Pacific Railroad to Rock Springs, WY where they were taken by charter bus (Zanetti Bus Lines) to Jackson Hole. Wartime gas rations were pooled to allow the campers to participate in activities throughout the Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and surrounding Teton National Forest trailheads. Jack Davis joined the camp staff during these years.
The first Rough Ride was created one lazy day when Weenie went riding through camp on his favorite horse, shooting his six-gun in the air and ordering everyone to the barn to grab a horse to go on a wild ride; a Rough Ride. Over hills and across the rivers they rode off on what would later become a time-tested tradition of excitement and rugged riding for campers at the ranch.
1947 - Girls' season began at Teton Valley Ranch Camp
1950s – Current Creek Ranch was purchased, an expansive “southern ranch” southwest of Rock Springs, WY where the horse and cattle herds would be raised throughout the winter. It was at Current Creek that a program for older boys (15 – 19) was created during the 50s and 60s.
1961 - Matt Montagne is a member of the first group of Yearlings at TVRC.
Every spring through 1970, a ten-day horse drive with a dozen cowboys would bring the ranch herd of 60 mules and 200 head of horses to Teton Valley Ranch in Kelly for the summer riding and pack trip programs.
1966 - Stuart Palmer's first year as a staff member of the scullery team.
1970 - Wendell and Mary Ellen Wilson decide to retire as camp directors. They hire Tal Morash, a professor of recreation and former Vice-President of the American Camping Association, along with his wife Midge, to direct the camp during the 1970 season. But Tal chooses not to leave his teaching position after the single season.
1971 - 1977 - Jay and Cynthia Deveraux, who had been operating a boys camp in Dubois, convince Weenie to let them operate their Rawhide Ranch Camps at Teton Valley Ranch. Rawhide operates through the 1977 season before moving to the Sunlight Basin north of Cody, WY.
1978 - The Wilson family turned to longtime camp trip leaders, Matt Montagne and Stuart Palmer, to take over as directors. Stuart and Susie Palmer were wed in May of 1980 and honeymoon with 125 TVRC boy campers. Susie then joined the TVRC directing team.
1989-A young Jim Walter entered camp as a Rough Rider in Cabin Garnet. He would later be a part of the Tophand, Wrangler and Post-Wrangler adventure groups.
1994 - Matt and Judy Montagne were married in the Tetons. Having been a camp counselor for two summers, Judy joined the TVRC management team.
1997 - The Palmers retire, leaving Matt and Judy to direct the ranch.
2001-During the fall of 2000, the founding family decided to sell the original Kelly ranch. Camp alumni and friends formed the non-profit TVRC Education Foundation to find a new ranch, acquire the business through the generosity of the Wilson family, and run the camp forever.
2002 - TVRC moved to its interim location, the Double Bar J, about ten miles west of Dubois on the Wind River. The land search continued with Executive Director Keith Sproule to find the "Crooked Creek Ranch". Ean Cuthbert was hired as interim director for a year while the alumni board searched for a permanent location.
2002- Jim Walter, former TVRC camper/staff member, became Executive Director of the TVRC Education Foundation. Prior to becoming Executive Director, Jim held the jobs of counselor, head wrangler, camp manager, assistant director and camp director. Through the efforts of the Ready-To-Ride Campaign to save Teton Valley Ranch Camp, the Foundation, and the staff under the leadership of Jim Walter, a new home was found for TVRC on the 2,000 acre Crooked Creek Ranch. The Foundation met a one year challenge to build new camp facility on the undeveloped property to enable TVRC to move to the new facility by 2005. Several memorable cabins were moved from the old Kelly ranch site to ensure a lasting connection to the original ranch programs.
2005-After a grueling winter of construction in Dubois, Jim and his team opened the gates of the new ranch for TVRC’s 67th summer!
2008 – Following Jim’s early retirement, Tom Holland became Executive Director of TVRC-EF. Tom and his wife, Catherine, bring their love of the ranch after several years being members of the camp community as TVRC counselors and trip leaders.