If you’re a casual observer of the comings and goings in the city of Cheyenne, the name Mary Hartman might not ring any bells.
But if you start to recite the long list of her accomplishments and organizational involvement, it becomes clear that most everybody in town has felt her impact.
Hartman is a longtime elementary school teacher, an avid historian, the original organizer of the Delta Kappa Gamma book sale and a tireless community volunteer.
“Why hasn’t she been properly recognized by the community?” her friend Mark Junge wrote in a letter. “The answer is simple. Because her life is testimony to the adage: ‘It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.’”
But today, Cheyenne’s “unsung hero” is coming into the spotlight. Hartman is this year’s recipient of the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s Community Spirit Award.
Hartman grew up in Casper and has spent the past four decades in or near Cheyenne, where she taught at Cole and Baggs elementary schools.
She said her favorite part of her job was trying to make school so much fun that her students didn’t even realize they were learning.
One of her favorite lessons was about bats. She said young boys would get so excited about the subject matter that they wouldn’t even realize they were learning new vocabulary words and reading skills.
In a nomination letter, one of her former colleagues, Kathleen Janssen, also wrote about plays that Hartman organized for children.
“This included special costumes (she provided), unique backdrops (she built with the help of volunteers), teaching of stage terms and memorization of parts. Her character picks were perfect matches to student abilities,” Janssen wrote. “The experience provided the students with positive, lifelong memories and knowledge of ‘plays’ that carried over into future learnings. The whole school looked forward to this yearly event.”
Hartman has also been active in getting the elderly involved in education through the Foster Grandparent program – an effort that allows people without a lot of income to earn a little bit of extra money by helping out in local classrooms.
She said she’s seen the benefits both as a member of the board and as a teacher benefiting from their help.
Her commitment to education also extends to history.
Hartman has been actively involved in Cheyenne Frontier Days as a member of the Wheels organization, on the CFD Carriage Coordinating Committee and as a leader for the CFD Western Art Show and Sale. She has helped chronicle the history of many of the carriages and has found a joy in learning about them.
But perhaps Hartman’s biggest legacy has been the Delta Kappa Gamma book sale. She initially pitched the idea of having a “little” sale to raise some money for the organization’s scholarship programs. Now, that sale has taken on a life of its own, fielding thousands of books and raising money for educational programs and scholarships.
To list the rest of Hartman’s service, with all the organizations she has touched, would take a while. Some of the most notable are the CFD Old West Museum, the Southeast Wyoming Mental Health board, the Westerners Society, Wyoming State Historical Society and the Philanthropic Educational Organization.
But even with all of her service, Hartman is the last to acknowledge her impact. Instead, she’ll recognize the other people who drive carriages, sort books and organize different programs.
“I think it’s really important that you stress that I couldn’t have done any of that stuff alone – I had to have all the wonderful people in Cheyenne,” she said. “It’s a team effort. This is not just one person, and I’d really like … to give them credit.”
Hartman’s goal in service, after all, is not a selfish one.
When asked why she participates so much in the community, she had to think for a moment.
“I want to empower people through education; I want people to have choices with their lives,” she said. “I’m just as proud of a kid that I’ve had that’s a master welder as I am with a kid that has gone to college. We all are educated and interested in different things … I just want everyone to have that choice.”