For Travis Peterson, it was a sudden change, but a very welcome change.
He was coming home.
Peterson, a Cowley native and 1996 graduate of Rocky Mountain High School, was hired in August as the new seminary teacher for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Lovell, launching a teaching career and taking him down a joyous path he thought had ended 10 years ago.
The son of Randy and Karen Peterson of Cowley, Peterson was a stellar athlete for the Rocky Mountain Grizzlies, playing for Coach Ben Smith’s state title football teams in 1992 and 1995 and earning all-state honors as a linebacker his senior year and playing for Coach Tim Winland’s state title basketball team in 1994-95 as a junior.
After a two-year LDS mission in San Jose, Calif., Peterson married Necia Haslem in the summer of 1998 and joined her at Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Utah. He graduated in 2003 with a degree in psychology and a minor in biology, but during the spring of his senior year, he experienced something that would eventually change his life. He worked part time as a seminary teacher.
Peterson had a choice to make: return to school and earn a master’s degree in psychology or teach seminary at Cedar High School. He chose the latter, working in 2003-04 as a part-time teacher.
“I had to decide which direction to go,” he said, “and decided that seminary teaching would be our thing. I turned down (master’s) programs for psychology at BYU and the University of Utah.”
In 2004 Peterson applied for a full-time position as a seminary teacher but was not hired. His two post-college pathways had fallen away: teaching and psychology, so he did what any young man would do. He called his dad.
“I felt like God wanted me to teach seminary, and I was discouraged and surprised at how I didn’t get what I thought God wanted me to do,” he said.
Randy Peterson and his brothers Ray and Joel hired Travis to run the Riverton branch of the Office Shop, and he started a nine-year stint as manager in September of 2004.
Peterson settled into the Riverton community and received a calling to teach institute classes at Central Wyoming College, the college version of seminary. He started the program at CWC.
“I thought maybe that’s why (he didn’t get the Cedar City position),” he said. “Maybe that’s what God intended.”
Peterson ran the CWC program for two years, he said.
In July of 2013, while serving on the Riverton Stake high council, Peterson was serving as a volunteer state seminary supervisor and attending an in-service training in Powell with the Northwest College LDS Institute when a simple comment opened a door for him.
“I shared my rejection (in Cedar City) as a joke, but a month later I got a call from Area Director of Seminaries and Institutes Scott Simmons (of Boulder, Colo.),” Peterson said. “He calls me on a Tuesday morning out of the blue and says, ‘We may have an opening for a seminary teacher in Lovell. I know you’re close to the area. Are you interested?’”
Peterson was told that Mikal Noreen, who had served the prior school year as the seminary teacher in Lovell, had received a calling to work in the curriculum department for the church in Salt Lake City.
“I said, ‘Yes, I’m definitely interested in hearing about it,’ and a week later he called again,” Peterson said.
At that point Peterson’s life became a whirlwind. He was interviewed in Lovell two days before school started in August and was hired. He was asked how soon he could begin.
“I had a home in Riverton and my kids were in school. It was so crazy,” he said. “It was hard. I was in the Office Shop pretty deeply, and if my dad retired I would get part ownership and wanted to continue the company’s growth throughout the state. I talked to Dad and my uncles about the situation and decided I’d do what we feel God wants us to do.”
It took Peterson a couple of weeks to wrap up his affairs in Riverton. His cousin Reese was made the Riverton manager, and Travis moved in with his folks in Cowley while looking for a place to live in Lovell. He started teaching on Sept. 16. His wife and kids stayed in Riverton through Halloween, joining him on Nov. 1 and moving into the family’s new home, a rental on Circle Drive.
He said his family has adapted quickly to their new community.
“I can’t say enough about the community of Lovell,” he said. “The teachers are fantastic for our kids. It’s been a pretty big transition for them. We have four daughters, and they’ve made new friends. It’s pretty amazing. Everything fell into place.”
Travis and Necia have daughters Ashley, 12, Aubrey, 10, Kadie, 6, and Kellie, 5.
Peterson said he received some requests from friends and family to live in his hometown of Cowley, but he felt it was important to live in the community where his students live so he can be a part of their lives and activities.
“I know small towns,” he said.
Peterson is loving his new job and his new life.
“The more I get to know the kids, I’m just as happy as ever,” he said. “We have good, solid kids. They do the right things. They’re kind and do what you ask them to do.
“I don’t know if I could find a better environment for family and the opportunity to teach.
by David Peck