This Legacy Award winner and 1997 graduate of the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences weaves her passion for fabric and design into her continued relationship with the department.
Tammy Au-France attends various department activities, travels with department student groups overseas, and has provided an endowment that assists faculty member development and better prepares students for careers.
Au-France is making the dress she'll wear to the dean's awards banquet that Friday evening of Ag Appreciation Weekend. The design of the dress is literally from the ground up. She and Professor Donna Brown, now head of the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences, were in Houston last fall when Tammy found a pair of shoes she liked.
"Then we had to go to a fabric store to buy fabric to match the shoes," she says, and laughs. "If it all works out, that's what I'll be wearing at the dinner."
Don't let the talk about fabric and sewing fool you - she wears blue jeans, cowboy boots and a BIG belt buckle for another passion - her horses.
Tammy and husband, Robert, live south of Laramie. A multi-color, winged Pegasus flies across the east and west ends of their horse arena. Pegasus has become a big part of Au-France's life, but that story comes later.
News she had received the Legacy Award was humbling, she says.
"It's certainly not something I set out to do. I do things because they come from the heart and not because I am interested in recognition for it. I'm in awe they felt I was worthy to receive it. I know I'm not the only one helping the college out. When I see who has received it in the past, I think "wow!"
Quentin Skinner, who is receiving one of the outstanding alumni awards, had intended to be a dentist when he returned to UW. He would enter plant sciences. Au-France returned seeking a degree in accounting and left with a degree in family and consumer sciences.
A Jersey girl, her family moved to Laramie when she was 11 and later moved to Durango, Colorado. She returned in 1982. "That's why I moved back, to go to UW," she says. "Laramie is much better than Durango. I had more friends in Laramie, and I wanted to go to school at UW. What they say about Wyoming is, "If you leave, it calls you back."
Interest in accounting waned as children needed to be raised, and she left college after her junior year. Ten years later, she returned to UW and switched majors to family and consumer sciences.
Those seeds were planted early. "My mom taught me to sew when I was about 6 or 7," she says, and, when she worked at the territorial prison in Laramie, she made her own period clothing to wear. Designing and making historical clothing is a favorite.
"I wanted to get my degree by the time I was 40," she says. "You put so much time and effort to being a senior, seemed a waste not to finish with a degree."
Au-France has accompanied faculty members and students on study tours to Great Britain and Italy, regularly attends department events including the student recognition luncheon, and has been both an attendee and exhibitor at the yearly Coat Couture.
She has also supported the department financially each year, and, when the Legislature created the state's matching program, she approached the college to establish an endowment. Over the next four years, she created the Pegasus endowment. The fund continues to help faculty members and students.
"Tammy Au-France has shown a dedication to our students and the fiber arts," says Professor Karen Williams, former head of the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences. "Her foresight has enabled us to modernize equipment in our teaching labs and support faculty members and students in their design submissions. She never fails to attend our student events. Her support is amazing!"
Au-France has her reasons.
"I believe I received a really good education from them," she says, "and I wanted other students to get the same quality of education. They need to have equipment that works."
Equipment includes state-of-the-art embroidery machines, a digital fabric thickness gauge, software for the clothing construction and interior design laboratories, and a flammability tester.
The Pegasus Endowment is the largest gift received by the textile and merchandising program option.
"The Pegasus Endowment means a great deal to the textile and merchandising programs," says Sonya Meyer, associate professor in the department. "It has allowed us to upgrade and improve our teaching and scholarship laboratory needs in a way we would not have been able to do."
Some of the department's teaching and research equipment had become outdated or in need of repair; the department's budget is not always able to cover needs. The Pegasus Endowment is used for equipment upgrades and repairs and faculty development.
"The real beneficiaries in this are our students," says Meyer. "Through the Pegasus Endowment, students have access to textile, apparel, and design more in keeping with the industry."
Au-France is a founding member of the Wyoming Quilt Project, whose members have traveled Wyoming documenting quilts in the state.
"Quilting is popular now," she notes, "but for awhile was dying. People didn't value quilts. We wanted to preserve how they are made, what fabric, the different patterns used. We have found quilts that have old blankets as their batting and quilts inside quilts. A lot of people have wonderful quilts but know next to nothing about them. All that history about the women who made them is lost. So, it's as much a women's history issue than anything else."
Au-France has quilts from the bicentennial era, and possibly one from pre-Civil War, but she's not certain. Her favorite is one of the first she purchased - because of the color, she says - cheddar, or, more specific, chrome orange. The dye is toxic and the color is no longer used.
It was a child's imagination that sparked Pegasus. Au-France was riding her horse, Mick, with her son, Matt, 14 at the time. The horse jumped high to clear a stream, and Matt named the horse Pegasus. She rode Mick - Pegasus - to the Rocky Mountain Quarter Horse Association 2005 Dressage outreach program championship.
She's been riding since 13 and says she's never been without a horse since (see sidebar).
Robert and Tammy have four children, Matt Payne, twins Christy and Carrie Payne, and Garrett Au-France.