Editor’s note: This profile is part of a larger project in which Daily Universe reporters traveled across Utah and Wyoming to investigate the state of local newspapers.
KEMMERER, Wyo. — Michelle Tibbetts and her husband got in their car with their two dogs and $300 in their pockets in the summer of 1994 and drove west. They had been married for four days and decided to leave Boston to go live in the mountains. They didn’t have an exact destination in mind.
After a long drive, they ended up in Kemmerer, Wyoming.
“It was like a movie set to me,” Tibbetts said. “Coming from Boston, this was like your typical Western town.” That same day, Tibbetts and her husband bought a piece of land in a mountain subdivision, where there was no winter access. They didn’t have a place to stay, so they slept in a tent on the empty lot that first night and went looking for jobs the next day.
“We went to the workforce [service] and then a woman said, ‘we have this great job at a residential clinic that just posted yesterday, but there’s a downfall — you have to live there.’ It was meant to be,” Tibbetts said.
Together, they got the job working as “house parents” at a residential treatment facility for troubled teens. With every paycheck they bought wood and started building their house, Tibbetts said. “It was an incredible experience to build our own house and clear the land. We did it all with hand tools and no power.”
The job took an unexpected turn when, “one day the cook quit; she just walked out,” Tibbetts said. “We had 40 students and 30 staff, so I started cooking, and I liked it a lot better than actually being in the house as a house parent.”
Tibbetts said the new position led to greater success.
“They bought all of their food from the grocery store, and they had to go there three or four times a week,” Tibbetts recalled. “So I said, ‘you should use a food service distributor.’” Tibbetts called a few of the local stores and got them to deliver the food, which she said “saved them huge amounts of money.” Tibbetts said the owners were happy and grateful.
She worked closely with the salesmen who were selling them the food, and eventually one of them asked Tibbetts to work for them. She applied for the job and started working for Cisco as the sales representative for the area. As the first sales representative the company had hired in that area, Tibbetts said, “I grew the territory about 190%. It was incredible. I got a lot of awards.”
After living in Kemmerer for 11 years, Tibbetts became pregnant with the couple’s first child, a boy, who was born in October. The day after she got back to work following her pregnancy, she learned she was pregnant with their second child and decided to quit her job and stay at home.
Their baby boy was born in February, Tibbetts said, and “when I got out of the hospital, he was in my bag and I was on a snowmobile bringing him to the house.”
Their house was built on a mountain and wasn’t easily accessible, especially in the winter.
“For the first three years, we had to ski in and out of our house, 13 miles.” She said they had to plan well, especially for the amount of supplies to have at home during the winter and when to go to the store.
After every shopping trip, her husband would use a sled to transport groceries up the mountain to their house. “It was teamwork, preparation, and dedication. You really had to be committed to do what we did,” Tibbetts said.
There are other people who live on the mountain now, but the house she built with her husband is still there. “We were the first people to successfully live there all year round,” she said.
After their second child was born, Tibbetts and her husband started a residential treatment program for teens 18-years and older. The program doesn’t exist anymore, but Tibbetts says she is back in the food business working for U.S. Foods.
Tibbetts also started working for the local newspaper, the Kemmerer Gazette, about six years ago. “I love meeting people and doing feature stories,” she said. Her job includes digging into the personalities that live and work in this ever-changing western frontier town, where the relative isolation means people still read the newspaper, often cover to cover, and know a lot about the lives of their fellow residents.
“Getting involved and mingling and listening to people — I love it. I love doing that.”