Walker honored by Wyoming Governor with RISE Award

Ryan Fitzmaurice
Gwen Walker’s Monday morning was far more eventful than she prepared for. 

At 9 a.m. Monday, Walker walked into the Lovell Elementary School gym filled with students, school administration, Representative Dalton Banks, Senator Dan Laursen, Wyoming Superintendent of Education Megan Degenfelder and the Governor himself, Mark Gordon. 

Little did she know that they were all there for her. 

“You guys have got the coolest, coolest person who is going to get this award today,” Gordon told the students assembled. “One of the things that’s really cool about this is that this person does not know.”

Walker was recognized Monday morning for winning the RISE Award, which stands for the Recognizing Inspirational School Employees award. The award honors classified school employees who provide exemplary service.

“These are hard working individuals that aren’t necessarily teachers and today we want to recognize someone who is dedicated to students and community,” Gordon said. “This person has worked in the district for 29 years; 14 of those year have been in the library. She is someone who should make this community very, very proud.”

Walker has been in the library all 29 years of her career, she clarified later, but split between the middle school and the elementary school for the first 15 years of her career, and then was moved to the elementary school library full time for the last 14 years. 

Degenfelder said in the assembly that Walker was chosen due to her work toward student literacy as the library paraprofessional for Lovell Elementary School. 

“We know that being able to read is really your ticket to having a future in the 21st century world. Without literacy, without being able to read, you really don’t have that incredible future ahead of you,” Degenfelder told students. “That’s why we’re so incredibly thankful for people like today’s recipient for what they do to help you all to read.”

Hazen, in remarks submitted to the state to nominate Walker for the award, recognized Walker’s work ethic and commitment to students. Hazen said many of the words written in the nominating letter were the words of kindergarten teacher Joni Geiser, who sought to honor her coworker for the difference she makes in student lives.

“Her impact on the elementary’s culture and environment cannot be overstated. Her superior work ethic and tireless efforts to provide every student with the best possible experience when they enter her library is second to none,” the nominating letter reads. “Gwen’s strengths are myriad. She will always go above and beyond her normal job duties. Gwen has strong core values and always puts others, specifically students, first when making decisions. She has tremendous communication skills when working with students, parents and staff. People are naturally drawn to Gwen and look to her for guidance. Her passion for students and professionalism are qualities I greatly admire and consider essential in education. Gwen makes the difficult job of working with students look easy.”

Hazen personally recognized Walker’s efforts in the assembly.

“Joni wrote some very kind things and that got the ball rolling,” Hazen said. “We’re very grateful for your dedication and what you do for the community and for our library.”

Gordon also awarded Walker with the Governor’s Challenge Coin. 

“This is given to people who do an exceptional job for the state of Wyoming,” Gordon said. 

Walker said the ceremony did, indeed, come as a shock to her.

“I was like ‘oh dear,’” Walker said.  

Walker said that the work she was recognized for comes naturally to her and is the product of instruction and guidance she has received from others.

“It’s just fun. I love reading. I love kids. I love books. I’ve had good teachers to help me. It’s all the teachers I  had that I have to give credit to,” Walker said, “my teachers growing up, the librarians that taught me, the teachers here. You get something from everybody. All that I do came from somebody teaching me.” 

At the end of the day, Walker said she does the work because it brings her joy. 

“Kids are the best. You can’t do anything else and have so much fun,” Walker said. “Every day I love going to work.”