By on March 21, 2017

Readers’ Choice
Best Teacher 2017
Krista Stevens (Gold)
Reed Chambers (Silver)
Kelly Kaiser (Bronze)

For the last four years, these three teachers have been more or less winning in the Best Teacher category, so we thought it time to sit down with each of them.  – Jessica Sell Chambers

Krista Stevens

After a week of grueling parent-teacher conferences when the teachers sometimes put in 12 hours a day, Stevens sat on a stool perched above her fourth grade students Friday morning as they huddled around to review factors, multiples, and additive angles for the upcoming PAWS test. I couldn’t answer any of the questions as the kids quickly rattled off the answers.

With a degree in nutrition, Stevens moved to Jackson from Austin, Texas, and started subbing mostly at the high school where she coached girls basketball. (Stevens herself is a talented athlete.) She loved being in the classroom and around students so much she decided to get her master’s in education and got her start teaching at Wilson Elementary and then one year later landed at Colter Elementary, where she’s been for the last nine years.

When she has a hard day, or asks herself why she’s a teacher, she refers to a framed letter on the wall from a student who challenged her every day. The girl thanked her for her kindness, her ability to make her laugh and feel safe, her trust and her support, among other things.

“Knowing you’re a part of that [student growth], and just the relationships you build with them is great,” Stevens said.

Reed Chambers

[Full disclosure: Reed and the author happen to be married, but the author made a good case as to the intimate perspective she could offer as the winner’s spouse. – Eds.]

Reed thinks the formality of our interview is weird but he indulges me. His eyes perk up as he talks about teaching, triggering admiration in me. He’s had this effect on people of all ages for as long as I’ve known him (read: late 90s Pittsburgh).

“Since I graduated high school, I guess every job has been in education,” he said.

As a teenager, he worked at an after school program, and his warm demeanor landed him a job as a preschool teaching assistant at 17. After hiking the Appalachian Trail the following spring, he went off to college for forestry, taking an education job in the Adirondacks when he finished. Skiing brought him to Jackson, where he worked as a wildlife guide while getting his master’s in teaching, finally settling in at Colter Elementary where he now teaches fifth grade.

Chambers is a force in the classroom. He models what he teaches: courage, a willingness to try new things, grit, vulnerability, and perseverance. Students give him notes thanking him for what he does, which “make it all worth it,” he said. Clearly moved, he said the hardest part for him is the last day of school: “It’s tough watching them go.”

But, judging from the countless students and parents who eagerly stop him (and me) around town, his effect goes with them.

Kelly Kaiser

Kelly Kaiser “learned to love teaching” in the Galapagos on Isabela Island off the coast of Ecuador, where in addition to instructing English from kindergarten to 12th grade, Kaiser, “ate lobster almost every day, played soccer on the beach, and met countless, amazing Ecuadorians.” Life is a little different in Jackson where Kaiser has been teaching language arts for the last four years at Jackson Hole Middle School.

Creative, unique teaching practices are what set Kaiser apart from the rest. She uses a zoo-jungle tiger analogy, from Trevor Ragan, to impart the idea that there is safety in sticking with what you know (safety of the zoo), but she says that’s not necessarily how learning occurs. “One challenge I face is encouraging kids to live in the jungle, willing to make mistakes, take risks, and put themselves on the line while understanding that while scary, this is how we grow and learn best,” she said.

In her classes, students learn about the power of argument, research, critical thinking, listening, speaking, writing, poetry, stories, etc., by keeping a focus on this powerful quote all year: “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” They define silence as fear, apathy, indifference, or ignorance and explore the tools to combat silence. “I hope my students walk away motivated to use their voices and listen respectfully to others’ voices,” Kaiser said.

Readers’ Choice
Best Blog
Wanderlust Out West (Silver)

Denim is a staple of any true Westerner’s wardrobe—and lots of it. Fifth generation local Jessica Gill is out to prove that “Western” and “fashion” can be used in the same sentence.

Her blog Wanderlust Out West is only a year old, but has gained massive traction among photographers, fashionistas and outdoor enthusiasts alike. To Gill, those don’t have to exist as separate identities. “Jackson is such a bro town,” she said, “it makes girls try to hide or tame their girliness. There’s nothing wrong with being a badass skier, climber, fisherwoman, whatever, and liking clothes and makeup. I want to encourage people to embrace that.”

Gill describes her style as “mountain fashion,” which is Western (read: denim-centric) but with a “flare of girliness.” Her blog is a series of well put-together outfits and fashion tips, combined with reports from adventures both locally and around the world. Gill says with her blog she is excited to explore and share the parts of Jackson that are still unfamiliar to her, even after growing up here.

– Shannon Sollitt

Readers’ Choice
Best Librarian
Maria Hayashida (Bronze)

You know the tired trope of the librarian shushing kids from behind her desk? Maria Hayashida is not that librarian. She is endearingly known as the “potty mouth librarian” among some of her colleagues. “People are usually shushing me,” she said.

Hayashida was an outside person for the first 18 years of her life in Jackson. All of her jobs, from firefighting to dog sitting/walking, required her to be outside. Finally in 2008, Hayashida said it was “time to settle down.”

When she had to make the shift from outside to inside, her love of books and community made working at the library an easy choice.

“I work with a lot of people who love to share their love of reading, but also love to share themselves,” Hayashida said. For her, the library is more than just a place of learning. It is a sanctuary. Hayashida said if she could keep the library open 24 hours a day, she’d do it.

“I think we really imagine the library as being a community place, a safe place,” she said. “And I love that we’re always there for the community.” While she is eager to share her love of reading with every person who walks into the library, Hayashida is also proud to now share it with her six-year-old daughter. “Fostering her love of reading and her use of the library has just been such a great experience,” she said. “It’s been so fun to watch along the way.”

– Shannon Sollitt

Readers’ Choice
Best Yoga Instructor
Niki Sue Mueller (Silver)

Shortly after Niki Sue Mueller moved to Jackson Hole 24 years ago, she discovered the practice of yoga. Though she recalls doing yoga postures as a small child, a close friend introduced her to the diverse and challenging sport.

Though yoga might strike some as the elite domain of the most enlightened and flexible folks, Mueller, who takes home this award every year, insists it’s great for pretty much everyone. “Even though yoga is not only a physical practice and workout, it’s attractive to the Jackson athleticism. The yoga practice compliments any sport, activity and even addresses ailments caused by job demands; sitting at a desk, carpentry, throwing clay. It is important for people to do yoga as a way to counter the demands life puts on our bodies.”

Mueller has a creative approach to sharing her expertise, too. No need to get your downward dog on in a crowded studio; if you prefer, she’ll bring a private, customized yoga class to you.

When she’s not wrangling her two busy kids, Ruby Sue and Remy, or helping manage the aviation company, Fly Jackson Hole, that she co-owns with her husband Peter Lindell, she enjoys the full complement of local sports from skiing to wake surfing. In quieter moments, she’s passionate about cultivating orchids. Mueller, whose intense hot fusion class at Inversion has become the stuff of legend, is all about finding a perfect balance.

– Melissa Thomasma

Readers’ Choice
Best Dressed
Christian Burch (Silver)

To get a feel for the inimitable style of author and Mountain Dandy proprietor Christian Burch, picture a handsome red-head with close-cropped hair and a definitive five-o-clock shadow. He sports thick-rimmed eyeglasses in that geek-chic fashion that only some people pull off well (he does). He’s probably wearing a dress shirt and necktie with a hint of flair, and perhaps a suave black high collar cardigan, dressy but not. Loose-fitting jeans rolled ever so expertly at the cuff compliment his relaxed elegance, which is finished with dress shoes, no socks.

Christian is one of those people who emanates style; he dons a blue gingham shirt and looks like he just stepped out of French Vogue. In the summertime, he’s at home in a rakish, narrow brimmed Panama hat, a polo shirt, and muted red shorts. But for all his sartorial expertise, he says he doesn’t think about how he puts his style together much. Maybe that’s because he’s been practicing since he was nine, when he received a clothes valet for his birthday and began laying all his clothes out on it for the next day at school. Now, he says, “I just love people, homes, retail businesses that are put together.”

– Meg Daly

Readers’ Choice
Best Massage Therapist
Dan Hady (Silver)

Dan Hady knows how to do up a massage. Walking into his studio in the plaza off of Scott Lane in Jackson, you are transported to a different world for an experience that caters to your needs, in mind, body, and spirit. You will walk out feeling like a renewed being, just like this author did.

Body work comes naturally to Hady. “I started doing it more and more and eventually people said, ‘You should charge for this. You should do this,’” Hady remembered. “After a couple of years of doing it on the side, I decided to go to school, study up and make a real go of it.” This is Hady’s second year winning the Best of Jackson Hole, but he said it’s still a surprise to him.

Hady moved to Jackson to “play outside,” following his four years at Colorado State University. Warm and personable, Hady chalks up his thriving massage business to the friends he has made since arriving to the valley 10 years ago. Anyone who’s into the local music scene knows Hady; he’s a huge music fan and he loves to dance. He just loves life, really. Maybe that’s why he has such healing hands.

Hady’s parting words of wisdom: “Get massage more often … take that time for self-care.”

– Jessica Sell Chambers

Readers’ Choice
Best Athlete (Under 17)
Anna Gibson (Gold)

Runner Anna Gibson assures she has no “goofy race preparation habits like some people do.” Instead the fiercely fast Gibson uses her mental strength to achieve her goals. “When I am racing, I am always thinking about all of the workouts I’ve completed over the course of the season,” she said. “When I prove to myself that I have done everything I can to readily prepare, I realize how ready I am to race hard. It gives me confidence to think about the interval workouts I crushed.”

Gibson, a senior at Jackson Hole High School who will run for Brown University next year, competes in three sports, two of which she races on the junior national scene, cross-country, nordic, and track. In cross-country, she won states and went on to place fourth at the Nike Cross Nationals; she also won states in nordic and competed at Junior Nationals.

She gleans inspiration and motivation from her coach, Matt Chorney. “[He] keeps running fun, knows how to push me just the right amount, and always thinks I am capable of more than I think I am.”

– Jessica Sell Chambers

Readers’ Choice
Best Mountain Guide
Brendan Burns (Silver)

Brendan Burns has been guiding in Jackson for about 14 years, but the turning point in his career happened just two years ago when he became one of the first snowboarders to pass the American Mountain Guide Association certification test… on a splitboard. At the time, snowboarding in the backcountry was still battling for validity among some backcountry athletes. Back in the day, he said, people gave him a “bunch of slack” about splitboarding. Now, he sees splitboarding as essential to the industry.

“It opened up the door for more boarders to guide, and for people to see that snowboards and splitboards are valuable tools for guiding,” Burns said. Today, Jackson is on the map as one of the premier splitboarding destinations in the world. To be at the forefront of that growth, he said, was the highlight of his career so far.

But that’s not to say he doesn’t love his job on a daily basis. As a guide for both Exum and Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Burns loves having the chance to share the outdoors with clients in a more “technical” way. “It’s empowering people to do something they think they can’t do,” he said. He loves the look on clients’ faces when they look back up at the line they just skied or the route they just climbed. And he gets to experience all of his favorite places through new eyes each time he guides. “I never get sick of it,” he said.

Guiding is not without sacrifice. Burns estimated he sat in front of the guide office at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort for about eight years before they finally asked him what he thought. “I had to put my time in,” he said. “It wasn’t an easy path, but it makes me appreciate it every day.”

Burns’s newest challenge is learning how to balance work and spending time with his five-month-old baby boy.

– Shannon Sollitt

Readers’ Choice
Best Physician
Dr. Christine Turner (Bronze)

Dr. Christine Turner doesn’t regret trading in the metropolitan buzz of Washington D.C. for some cowboy boots. Her family left the East Coast and returned to her husband’s roots—one of Jackson’s oldest dude ranches, the Triangle X. “The ranch is a special place that we all love and appreciate,” Turner said.

Turner loves that she has the best of both worlds here. She gets to spend time with her kids at the historic guest ranch, and explore the wilderness around the valley during camping and hiking trips. But that doesn’t mean she’s stuck practicing small town medicine. “As an internist here in Jackson, I have the opportunity to practice the full spectrum of internal medicine and manage complex patient issues in both outpatient and inpatient settings, which is why I chose to go into medicine in the first place.”

She’s certainly not one to back down from a diagnostic challenge, and perhaps that’s part of why her patients love her so much. “I feel deeply honored to have the opportunity to care for my patients, particularly when they are faced with a terminal illness or frightening condition,” Turner said. Small town relationships meet top-shelf medical insight in Turner’s practice, and all of her patients benefit.

– Melissa Thomasma

Readers’ Choice
Best Nonprofit
Animal Adoption Center (Silver)

On the outside, the Animal Adoption Center appears just a boutique shelter, where cats lounge in “Kitty City” and dogs enjoy belly rubs in “Dog Town.” But AAC is making real strides when it comes to animal rescue in Wyoming.

Its adoption counselors facilitate the adoptions of more than 250 animals a year that are rescued from all over Wyoming and Idaho. When someone comes in looking for a new addition to the family, AAC’s adoption counselors consider everything about that person’s lifestyle in order to make the ideal match between pet and owner.

The AAC team holds spay and neuter clinics throughout the state, from Riverton and Fort Washakie to Star Valley. And to encourage pet owners to be a part of the solution, AAC works with local veterinarians to offer voucher programs that subsidize spaying and neutering costs.

But like many valley advocates, the AAC team refuses to take the credit.

“We would be lost without our volunteers and people that foster our animals,” said adoption counselor Jess Farr. “They are the heartbeat of the organization.”

From 10-year-old dog walkers to the ladies that care for the kitties when the center is closed to the people who open their homes to pets in transition, “they are animal rescue,” Farr said. “I am floored by how many people fit us into their everyday lives.”

– Robyn Vincent

Readers’ Choice
Best Elected Official
Greg Epstein (Bronze)

Born and raised in Jackson, Greg Epstein has deep roots in the valley. As a newly minted Teton County commissioner, Epstein brings a passion for this place that resides in his marrow. His first two months on the Board of County Commissioners was punctuated by a joint retreat with the town in January, out of which came several important initiatives. Epstein said he’s thrilled that health and human services were added to the top priorities of the town and county, along with housing and transportation.

“I’m excited that we are really thinking about our community and how government can make a strong community,” he said. In recent weeks his focus has been on understanding how the board and its staff work together to reach the goals they are trying to achieve. As a newbie to politics, Epstein—who garnered the most votes of any commissioner in the November election—maintains that he is not a politician. Instead, he sees himself as an everyman who is doing his part to give back to the place he loves. He hopes that others are inspired by his example to participate in local politics.

“Government is for the people,” he said. “It’s made up of your friends. I think people become intimidated when we talk about government, but when you really boil it back down, it’s about our local communities.”

– Meg Daly

People & Living

Best Nonprofit

Gold: Habitat for Humanity

Silver: Animal Adoption Center

Bronze: PAWS

Best Charity Event

Gold: Old Bill’s Fun Run

Silver: Teton County Library Gala

Bronze: Dancing with the Stars

Best Teacher

Gold: Krista Stevens

Silver: Reed Chambers

Bronze: Kelly Kaiser

Best Lawyer

Gold: Dick Stout

Silver: David DeFazio

Bronze: Doug Schultz

Best Dentist

Gold: Scott Larsen

Silver: Catherine Tebay

Bronze: Aaron Gailbrath

Best Nurse

Gold: Mary Ness

Silver: Brian McGeogh

Bronze: Tessa Enright

Best Banker

Gold: Frank Lyons

Silver: Pete Lawton

Bronze: Lance Windey

Best Athlete

Gold: Travis Rice

Silver: Crystal Wright

Bronze: Jimmy Chin

Best Athlete (Under 17)

Gold: Anna Gibson

Silver: Daniel Tisi

Bronze: Neo Emery

Best Real Estate Agent

Gold: Katie Colbert Brady

Silver: Mack Mendenhall

Bronze: Mary Beth Hansen

Best Elected Official

Gold: Pete Muldoon

Silver: Jim Stanford

Bronze: Greg Epstein

Best Elected Official Who Doesn’t Hold Office

Gold: Mark Barron

Silver: Sara Flitner

Bronze: Captain Bob Morris

Best Boss

Gold: Joe Rice

Silver: Gavin Fine

Bronze: Bud Chatham

Best Librarian

Gold: Diana Eden

Silver: Lori Clark Erickson

Bronze: Maria Hayashida

Best Dressed

Gold: Blake Morley

Silver: Christian Burch

Bronze: Ana Maretic

Best Interior Designer

Gold: Kristin Fay

Silver: Jen Visosky

Bronze: Kate Binger

Best Knee Doctor

Gold: David Khoury

Silver: Angus Goetz

Bronze: Andrew Bullington

Best Physician

Gold: Bruce Hayse

Silver: Mark Menolascino

Bronze: Christine Turner

Best Yoga/Fitness Instructor

Gold: Ariel Mann

Silver: Niki Sue Mueller

Bronze: Neesha Zollinger

Best Alternative Medicine Practitioner

Gold: Mark Menolascino

Silver: Kevin Meehan

Bronze: Taug Boschen

Best Physical Therapist

Gold: Hayden Hilke

Silver: Francine Bartlett

Bronze: Norene Christensen

Best Massage Therapist

Gold: Rena Trail

Silver: Dan Hady

Bronze: Oliver Tripp

Best Architect

Gold: Jamie Farmer

Silver: Nona Yehia

Bronze: Peg Gilday

Best Hair Stylist

Gold: Jenny Bragg

Silver: Rob Hollis

Bronze: Hannah Poindexter

Best River Guide

Gold: Lily Shipley

Silver: Adam Woolly

Bronze: Ian Lynch

Best Mountain Guide

Gold: Zahan Billimoria

Silver: Brendan Burns

Bronze: Dave Miller

Best Blogger

Gold: Meagan Murtagh

Silver: Jessica Gill

Bronze: Annie Fenn

Best Reason to Drive to Driggs/Victor

Gold: Victor Emporium Shakes

Silver: Music on Main

Bronze: Grand Targhee Resort

Best In Uniform

Gold: Jim Whalen

Silver: Mike Moyer

Bronze: Ben Thurston

About Various Authors

Sometimes it takes a village.

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