Northern Wyoming Daily News - Serving the Big Horn Basin for over 100 years

By Karla Pomeroy

Grandma Lewis says goodbye to Extension


August 26, 2017

Tracie Mitchell

Phyllis Lewis

WORLAND - After nearly 22 years with Washakie County Extension, Phyllis Lewis is retiring.

Lewis began working at Washakie County on Nov. 1, 1995. Her last day as the University of Wyoming Northwest Area Nutrition and Food Safety educator will be next Thursday, Aug. 31.

Lewis' journey to Washakie County began in Montana. Her interest in Extension began as a 4-H member in Montana and as a home economics teacher. She also taught at Head Start and taught first grade.

When her first child, Jim, was born, she stopped teaching. After a divorce, Lewis needed to find a job again and worked at Total Energy Construction on Bozeman. When the business sold she took at job at Job Service.

Just as she is here in Washakie County, Lewis was active in Homemakers in Bozeman and the home economist for Gallatin County encouraged Lewis to come work at Gallatin County Extension. She started as secretary with plans to replace her friend when her friend retired, however the position was later eliminated.

Lewis earned a bachelor's degree in 1965 from the University of Montana in Missoula in home economics with a minor in business and a teaching endorsement. She earned her masters from Bozeman in 1993 in adult and community higher education with a minor emphasis in human resources.

"There was no point in being just a secretary. I knew I could do more," Lewis said, and more is what she did when hired by the University of Wyoming Extension.

Gallatin County's loss was Washakie County's gain as Lewis was hired as the general home economist for Washakie County. With Extension reorganization, she became the area food safety and nutrition educator serving Hot Springs, Washakie, Big Horn and Park counties.

She said even though her focus was food safety and nutrition she also answered many questions and was still active in sewing, including superintendent over fabric and fashion for the Washakie County Fair.

"It was a wonderful move down here. Just about doubled my salary. It was such a positive thing. I am so grateful to the people in Worland for taking me in, becoming my family."


Lewis will retire seven days shy of her 74th birthday. The University of Wyoming offered early buyout for employees to help with the budget cuts. "I looked and I've been thinking about it for a while," Lewis said.

She said she didn't opt for the first round of buyouts but did the second, opting right at deadline because she wanted to help her colleagues through the county fair.

The early buyout means that the University of Wyoming Extension will not be replacing Lewis' position. She said Laura Balis, the food safety and nutrition educator in Fremont County and the Wind River Reservation will begin serving the entire Northwest - Fremont, Hot Springs, Washakie, Big Horn and Park counties.

Lewis has two sons. Jim, 42, lives in Frenchtown (near Missoula) as a ranch manager with his wife and son, Clay. Lewis said Clay is her only grandson and is the "love of my life." "I get done working Thursday and I'll be in Missoula being Grandma Lewis."

Youngest son David lives in Belgrade and lays tile as well as being a pick-up cowboy for the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. Due to his pick-up duties, Lewis said her new home in Bozeman is not yet ready to move into as she is waiting for David to have time to finish laying the tile - which is expected sometime next month.

"I'm going to have to reinvent myself. I can be a Bobcat fan," Lewis said. "I've got interests. I'll be able to get back to golf. I'll have time to go skiing. I have PEO, Eastern Star." She said the local library board has already reached out to her.


What kept Lewis in Extension and Washakie County for 22 years? "There's such a variety of things that we do. You never what's going to come up or what the questions are. It's just fun. I like the people. I like being in the classroom and teaching food preservation," Lewis said.

As for classroom teaching, Lewis said she would visit Thermopolis, Ten Sleep, Worland, Basin, Greybull and Wapiti. She would also visit other schools as needed.

"I have a set curriculum and one builds on the other," Lewis said, adding that she would visit kindergarten classes twice a year, first grade once, second grade once and third through fifth twice.

Lewis said she has been asked by University of Wyoming personnel why she spends so much time in the classroom. "Well, if I don't let the kids know what I do, then when they grow up they don't know who to ask," she said. "Now when I go to a classroom a student will say 'I washed my hands'" [referring to the germ class she does in teaching elementary students how to properly wash their hands to remove the germs]."

She added that she enjoys the continuity in watching the students grow and mature in school and in 4-H.

She noted one time at the grocery store she had a bunch of microwave meals, for an upcoming class, and someone walked by and saw them and asked, "I thought you taught food safety and nutrition?" It's those connections, with so many things [that she has enjoyed].

Lewis said she has also enjoyed the many other activities she has been involved in - PEO, Chamber Ambassadors, Homemakers, Pepsi Wyoming State BBQ Championship and Bluegrass Festival Committee, Friends of the Library.

Whether with Extension or her many other organizations, Lewis said she enjoys connecting with people.

"We have wonderful groups of people around here. It bugs me when people say there's nothing happen, but there is stuff going on. If they just look at the positive there's a lot going on," she said.

Lewis said she appreciates the supportive staff she has worked with her 22 years.


While she has one more week left, many of her colleagues took time to talk about the impact that Lewis has had on them, Extension and the community.

County 4-H Educator Amber Armajo said, "Phyllis has been a great asset to Washakie County and UW Extension, always willing to lend a helping hand, goes the extra mile to finish a task and always has an ear for listening and provides advice on difficult situations. We are going to miss her willing attitude to work as a team, her ability to keep things organized in times of chaos, plus much more."

Extension Educator Caitlin Youngquist said, "Phyllis was very helpful to me, a new Extension Educator in Washakie County. I have learned a lot from her, and I am so glad that I got to work with her for a few years before she retired."

Janet Benson, Extension secretary, noted the many hats that Lewis has worn in the community.

"Phyllis is involved with so many groups in the community, she will leave a real void. Red Hatters, Homemakers, library, farmers market, Toastmasters, PEO and more that I am forgetting to mention. She offers programming for the senior citizen center and, of course, all of the classes she has done for the students at schools in Washakie County, Hot Springs County, Big Horn County and Park County."

The Washakie County Extension office is celebrating Lewis' service with a retirement party open house from 4-6 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 29.


Balis, who will be covering all of the Big Horn Basin now, said, "I worked with Phyllis for two years. She was great to work with in splitting our area. We were able to work well together, pick up programming if the other one didn't offer it. She helped me out when I first got started. My third day on the job started training me on food preservation. She showed me around all of her counties and introduced me to everyone. That's been helpful. She's been fun to work with over the years. She's always game to pick up any new programs that I want to do."

As for now covering all five counties, Balis said, "I'll be covering a large area so I'll try to rotate my programs through. If people have requests for classes or programs they need and they contact the office, that's probably the best way to ensure I get up there in a timely manner."

She said she offers a lot of the same programs Lewis did, food preservation, Dining with Diabetes, Real Food that helps people eat less processed foods, youth nutrition program and physical activity programs some geared toward older adults and some toward teens and others to all ages.

Ballis can be reached at 307-332-2363.


Powered by ROAR Online Publication Software from Lions Light Corporation
© Copyright 2018