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Two to Receive UW Honorary Degrees

April 4, 2018
Neltje and Maggie Scarlett

The University of Wyoming will confer its highest award, the honorary doctoral degree, upon two individuals who will be recognized during UW commencement ceremonies May 12.

They are famed Wyoming artist and philanthropist Neltje, a major supporter of arts programs at UW and elsewhere; and Margaret Webster “Maggie” Scarlett, a UW alumna who has served in literacy, library, museum and arts volunteer leadership roles, and has received state and national recognition for her work in creating and expanding museum and library collections.

Neltje will receive the Doctor of Arts degree; Scarlett, the Doctor of Humane Letters degree.

UW alumni, current or former trustees and faculty members are eligible to nominate individuals for honorary degrees who embody the university’s high ideals; exemplify the values of excellence, service and integrity; and possess distinguished accomplishments in their professions, public service or service to humanity. Submissions are referred to a joint committee of trustees and faculty members, which forwards recommendations to the full Board of Trustees for approval.

Neltje was born in New York City and raised in Oyster Bay, Long Island. An abstract expressionist, she is essentially a self-taught artist who moved to Wyoming in 1966 and also has gained distinction as a rancher, developer, entrepreneur, educator, retailer, designer and benefactor.

In 2005, she was recognized as one of Wyoming’s pre-eminent artists with the Governor’s Arts Award. Neltje’s work has been featured in collections at the Smithsonian, the Yellowstone Art Museum in Billings, Mont., the IBM Corp. in Denver, the UW Art Museum and the Wyoming State Museum in Cheyenne, among others. In addition, her work is in private collections in California, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania and Wyoming.

From her home in Sheridan County, she has been a major contributor to that community, including saving the historic Sheridan Inn from demolition and renovating it for public use; and contributing to the Sheridan YMCA, the Sheridan Young Writers Camp, Sheridan Memorial Hospital, Sheridan College and other entities.

She also founded the Jentel Foundation, which awards artists and writers from across the country with monthlong artistic residencies. And, the estate gift of her Sheridan County ranch to UW, to serve as the university’s Neltje Center for Contemporary Visual and Literary Arts, constitutes the largest private gift in UW’s history.

“As always, her purpose has been one of advancing Wyoming’s cultural life, often without public recognition,” wrote Susan Moldenhauer, recently retired UW Art Museum director. “To say that Neltje has changed the cultural life and opportunities in Wyoming is an understatement.”

“For more than four decades, she has quietly, and often anonymously, gone about working with the Wyoming Arts Council and other nongovernmental organizations to build and strengthen Wyoming’s cultural community,” wrote Tom Buchanan, former UW president. “Her legacy will live on and, hopefully, will inspire others to follow her footsteps.”

Scarlett was born and raised in Cody, and earned a bachelor’s degree in hearing and speech science from UW in 1963. She worked in public schools for 21 years as a speech-language pathologist. She now resides in Jackson.

Her volunteer service in Wyoming includes work for two important cultural institutions in the state: the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson and the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody. She helped found the National Museum of Wildlife Art and served on its board for many years, and she played a significant role in expanding the McCracken Research Library at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, where she serves as a board member.

Her work to create and expand museum and library collections has received state and national recognition. She was appointed by President George W. Bush to the Institute of Museum and Library Services board, and she led the renovation of the vice president’s residence in Washington, D.C.

She also served on the boards of the Teton Literacy Program, Bill’s Fun Run and Dance with the Stars, and has been an active leader in the Republican Party.

She and her husband, Dick, are major UW benefactors, including establishing the Maggie Scarlett Endowed Lecturer Series, and the Dick and Maggie Scarlett Endowed Chair in Business Administration.

“Maggie is truly a living symbol of all that is so great about the University of Wyoming,” wrote retired U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson. “She has developed so many numerous talents, in addition to the ones she learned at the university, including art appreciation, philanthropy, political volunteerism and even dancing!”

“Maggie cares deeply about Wyoming -- its university, its government, its cultural institutions, its people,” wrote D. Kurt Graham, director of the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum, and former director of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West’s McCracken Research Library. “She has given her time, talent and resources to making the state a better place to live. An honorary degree from her alma mater is a fitting tribute to a lifetime of service that has already formed the basis of a distinctly Wyoming legacy.”

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