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College of Agriculture and Natural Resources

University of Wyoming

Department #3354

1000 E. University

Laramie, WY 82071

Phone: (307) 766-4133

Fax: (307) 766-4030

Email: agrdean@uwyo.edu

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Legacy Award - 2019

College of Agriculture and Natural Resources

Stella McKinstry

60-year UW Extension employee posthumous Legacy Award recipient

Stella McKinstry receiving award from Past UW President Tom Buchanan
Stella McKinstry receiving award from Past UW President Tom Buchanan

Former UW President Tom Buchanan stood clapping, smiling, and looking at Stella McKinstry holding a plaque he had just presented honoring her 60 years of employment with the university.

On this 2006 January afternoon, Stella, wearing a yellow, purple and red corsage on a coat given to her with the plaque, glasses hanging about her neck via a chain, acknowledged the applause of the trustees and others wedged into the smallish meeting room in Old Main on the Laramie campus.

This year’s Legacy Award posthumous recipient from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources joined what was then the UW Cooperative Extension Service in 1946, working longer than most would call a full career – 33 years – before Buchanan joined the university as an assistant professor in geography. She would work for every UW Extension director during her 60-year career with the organization.

She would later create the Stella McKinstry Scholarship in the college.

Born in Teton County

McKinstry died in Jackson October 26, 2016, at age 93. Ironically, she was quoted in an earlier article when she moved from eastern to western Wyoming, “My dad used to say, ‘A colt always returns to where it was foaled.’” Stella was born in Jackson on October 12, 1923, to parents Linda and Harold, who were homesteading in Jackson Hole.

The former hospital building in Jackson where McKinstry was born still stands, a block off the square to the north. Her mother, who was from Massachusetts, met her father while teaching in Washington, D.C. He brought her to his homestead out a ways from old Moran (the town of Moran was moved from its initial location). The homestead is now part of Grand Teton National Park.

The family moved to Casper, then to Colorado, and Stella would graduate from Colorado State University with her undergraduate home economics degree and then a master’s degree from Washington State University.

McKinstry held only four jobs in her life – her extension position, one year of teaching in Colorado, working at a college men’s boarding house as a college sophomore, and waiting tables in a dormitory as a freshman.

Colorado had almost landed her instead of Wyoming.

“The reason I came to Wyoming instead of Colorado is that the starting salary here was $2,100, and down there was $1,800,” she had related. “That was a good wage. That $300 made the difference.”

Joined extension year after World War II

Harry Truman was president when McKinstry joined UW Extension. RCA demonstrated the first color TV. The laundry detergent Tide was introduced, and the first clothes dryer was available for purchase.

She would work for 11 of the 26 Wyoming counties, although her home was in Sublette County, where she settled in 1952.

McKinstry had flirted with teaching but chose to educate through the extension service. A single woman driving her own car through the society of the 1940s, she would work in several counties a month at a time.

“I was received fine by people,” she had related. “I think one of the things that was interesting is there weren’t too many women who had cars at that point. People couldn’t figure out how a single woman could have a car and be independent. My first car cost $600. It was a four-door Ford – a cute little car.”

But then, McKinstry’s entire life had been different, said Mary Martin, Teton County extension educator, whose mentor was McKinstry. “Women didn’t have cars in those days,” she noted. “Stella had a master’s degree back when women didn’t get master’s degrees. Her whole life had been different from most women’s.”

Continued working after retirement from fulltime

McKinstry worked part-time for several months in Sublette County after her retirement from fulltime until a full-time educator was hired. She was a 4-H volunteer in the county until 2015.

Martin traveled with McKinstry throughout Wyoming and said no matter where they went, someone would know Stella.

“People generally cared for Stella and cared about seeing her,” Martin had noted. “She’s a person you were glad to know,” and said at the time, before McKinstry’s retirement, for the extension field staff there would be a hole when she left.

“We talk loosely of an extension ‘family’,” said Martin. “For a long time, she (was) the matriarch. People who knew her are better for having had her in their lives.”

Contact Us

College of Agriculture and Natural Resources

University of Wyoming

Department #3354

1000 E. University

Laramie, WY 82071

Phone: (307) 766-4133

Fax: (307) 766-4030

Email: agrdean@uwyo.edu

Find us on Facebook (Link opens a new window) Find us on Twitter (Link opens a new window) Find us on YouTube (Link opens a new window)

1000 E. University Ave. Laramie, WY 82071
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