Will Dineen / by Michael Falco

Who is Will Dineen?

Will Dineen was born and raised in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He attended university in Mount Vernon, Iowa at Cornell College and studied political science, soon after moving to Turkey to study as a Fulbright Scholar. He grew up in the historic downtown area of Cheyenne in an early twentieth century Victorian craftsman home and attended public school. His family is Irish Catholic and has ties to the area as early as 1876 when his ancestor opened a grocery store and livery stable. He moved back to Cheyenne after his studies in Turkey and worked for a political campaign while waiting tables. For the last three years he has worked as the public information and communications officer for the Wyoming Secretary of State's office. He is twenty-eight years old. 

Excerpt from interview with Will Dineen by Whitney Dow, 2018

Q1: Yes, absolutely. You know, you talk about the picture of your house growing up, you talk about your relatives when they came here. How do you feel personally connected to that history? How do you feel connected to that? How has that, sort of, manifested itself in you?

Dineen: [01:05:32] That’s a good question. That history manifests itself in me, I think, in a commitment to the community. Maybe more so than I would have if I hadn’t had, kind of, a long community or family history of family that had been really committed to this town— helped build it from patches of dirt to what it is today.

And I think that part of my family were Nebraska ranchers, Nebraska farmers. Some of them came in the—during the Dust Bowl, and they settled in the encampment—in the Camp [phonetic] River Valley, which is west of us over the Snowy Range Mountains. And then, you know, some of them from—moved from that ranching community, moved to Cheyenne, and others moved from the Midwest during the 1940s. So that was how my mother’s family got here. All kind of Irish immigrant types who’d started in the Midwest and moved their way farther west.

I feel a deep connection to that history, to kind of the Irish Catholic, immigrant experience and how that really helped shape me. Why would they have decided to stop in the middle of the prairie in this inhospitable place in the 1870s, you know, fresh off the boat from Ireland, working on the Union Pacific Railroad? Why here? And it is a place where, I think, that they felt that it was the frontier. That they could see themselves maybe having escaped incredible poverty in Ireland or in Connecticut where they first found themselves, but they chose here. And I have always admired that in them because it still is a little bit of the frontier. I think Cheyenne still is a little bit of the frontier on the prairie, the Great Plains, and Wyoming is that, kind of, same way.
It doesn’t take long to be driving up from Colorado or be driving west from Nebraska to realize, all of a sudden, that you’re rising quickly, that the elevation is rising, the landscape is changing, and all of a sudden, you’re on a plateau. You’re on the steps of America, the Great Plains, You know, the Mongolia of America. I like that. It takes a hardy and a hardscrabble kind of people to live here, I think. But at the same time, I think a lot of the people that have lived here—that live here now and have ever lived here have seen it as a place where they could make an impact, that they could make something of themselves and embrace a little bit of uniqueness.

I think there’s a roguish nature to my first ancestors that moved here. They were bootleggers during Prohibition, and they weren’t necessarily the best people. I mean, they were kind of roguish, Irish Democrats, but they made the best, and they worked hard for what they had. And they love their community too. I don’t think they expected to be handed something, but they—they liked that they worked hard for it, but they didn’t want to act entitled with it either.

So, I romanticize the history of my family quite a bit. I certainly do, but I like the unique history of my mother’s family and my father’s family. They have totally unique stories that I—you know, I don’t know the facts of necessarily, but I like thinking that I do, and I like romanticizing them.

Interview Transcript