Lander woman receives prestigious ‘Outstanding Educator Award’

(Lander, Wyo.) – Bonnie Willhelm, Curator for the Museum of the American West, was given the “Outstanding Educator” Award for 2014 by the Oregon-California Trails Association. The award was for the pioneer school she founded and has run in the summer at the Museum of the American West since 2009.

The Oregon-California Trails Association, based in Independence, Missouri, is the nation’s largest and most influential organization dedicated to the preservation and protection of overland emigrant trails and the emigrant experience.

OCTA members protect the trails to prevent the destruction of trail remnants, graves and other trail-related sites. Members also place markers on the trails and maintain existing markers.

Willhelm was given the award at the OCTA annual meeting held in Kearney, Nebraska, on August 7.

Willhelm was born and raised in Lander. Her family homesteaded in the Lander Valley. Her great-grandparents’, George and Alice Wroe’s, homestead was on the current site of the Museum of the American West.

Willhelm taught math and science for 34 years at Fort Washakie and at Starrett Junior High School. “I never had much interest in history, I was a math teacher!” she said. “But I became involved with MAW and I love learning about and preserving the Valley’s history.”

Willhelm and Mary McAleenan came up with the idea for the pioneer school as a fun way to educate young people about the pioneer lifestyle. The school is for kids age 6 to 12, and is taught just as it would be in 1888. School is held in the historic Bonner’s Garden school house. The kids dress in period clothing, work on penmanship with a quill and ink, read from McGuffey readers, and do arithmetic on slates with chalk. The kids learn about trails and forts in Wyoming, do crafts from that era and make butter or ice cream by hand on the last day of school.

The school is tremendously popular and there is a waiting list to attend.

Jim Corbett, Executive Director of the Museum of the American West, nominated Willhelm for the award.  “The work and creativity Bonnie has put into the pioneer school is amazing,”  he said. “Kids love the school, learn a tremendous amount about history and have a great time. It is a really fantastic opportunity for young people in this area.”

–Provided by Randall Wise


  1. Julie Lefevre

    Bonnie has always been a dedicated and energetic teacher who loves her students! I'm so happy she is being honored for a lifetime of educating from the heart!

  2. Lindsey Swinborne

    No one deserves it more than Bonnie! Way to go Bonnie! I'm so thankful my kids can go to Pioneer School! So happy for you!

  3. Teddi Winge

    Nice job Bonnie.

  4. Saundra Anderson

    One of the most dedicated teachers I know. How blessed we were to have you touch the lives of so many children, especially our own. You are on Matt's favorite list. Thank you!

  5. Homem Degraca

    come to think of those great people out there who happened to be her products way back..Nice job

  6. Jane Bowman

    Congratulations, Bonnie. It is wonderful to have your dedication to education, and the history of the area recognized.

  7. Lisa Kisling

    Congrats, mom. Well deserved!

  8. P.h. Schroeder


  9. Mike Roemer

    One of my favorite childhood teacher's. Congratulations!!!

  10. John James Laird

    Congratulations! We have heard the enthusiastic reviews from young people who have attended the pioneer summer school program. What a welcome news release of your recognition.

  11. Jeremy Kisling

    Way to go grandma!

  12. Peggy Field

    Congratulations, Bonnie !!!

  13. Rose Vowles

    Congratulations Bonnie! You have been and always will be a favorite teacher of students, parents, and colleagues. Thanks for your dedication to our youth.

  14. Patti Kopriva

    Good job….you deserve it as you are a GREAT teacher. Enjoy the accolade. Patti and Ron Kopriva

  15. Dora Medina-Flagg

    Wow! Please accept my congratulations and admiration for your creative school? Thank you for all you do.

  16. Homem Degraca

    is she your mom, then you must be blessed having her

  17. Linda Willhelm Snyder

    THATS MY GREAT SISTER-in-LAW! Way to go Bonnie. I look up to you for so many reasons. And now I have another one. Can't wait for you to get that book written now.

  18. Kathy Tompkin Clabby

    Thank you, Bonnie from me and all my kids….Julie, please pass on my gratitude and congratulations!

  19. Marie Sorensen

    That is so cool! Hmmm…wonder if I can figure out how to send my grandkids to Pioneer School.

  20. Kelly Kocherhans Chalmers


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