Prairie vistas have shaped my life, but not everyone shares the same outlook

January 07, 2021

In the late 1990s, I was working for Morgan County Economic Development Corporation, and I helped organize a meeting of the Colorado Rural Development Council in my hometown of Grover, Colo. We took the conference attendees to see the Pawnee Buttes, a pair of iconic geologic features rising 300 feet above the plains, beaconing visitors to the Pawnee National Grassland.

Dr. Flo Raitano, executive director of the Colorado Rural Development Council, asked me a simple, yet profound question. I don’t know if I even answered it very well at the time, but I have often reflected on that moment…and everything leading up to it.

She asked, “How has growing up in a place like this shaped who you are today?”

My roots on the prairie on Northeast Colorado instilled a deep sense of community pride and appreciation for history. I learned a strong work ethic, grit and resourcefulness. 

In the years since Dr. Raitano and I gazed at the Pawnee Buttes, I have discovered that I am a visionary with an entrepreneurial spirit.

Perhaps those traits came from my Great, Great Grandmother Catherine Lingelbach. She homesteaded in the Pawnee Buttes area (in the proximity of Grover and Keota, Colorado) in the 1880s with 12 of her 14 children. She left the two oldest married daughters and husband (who was a heavy drinker) behind in Ohio. She made a living by capturing wild horses in a box canyon. I wonder if that is where my entrepreneurial spirit and grit originated.

I’d like to share a story about another visionary woman from Keota, from the book, “Those Strenuous Dames of the Colorado Prairie” by Nell Brown Probst.  The daughter of a homesteader, Edith Steiger Phillips, finished grade school at Keota and went to high school in Cheyenne, keeping house and babysitting for room and board. Edith made her way to Chicago and worked her way through college at Northwestern, before becoming a marketing executive at Revlon in the 1940s. She married a General Motors executive, earned two master’s degrees and a doctorate, and taught at the University of Michigan. Edith was an authority on marketing and consulted with national firms like Ford, Dow Chemicals and others. 

Probst said in her book, “…that her early freedom on the prairie may have given Edith the confidence that led to a highly successful career.”

Long Highways

Reflecting on my career in economic development that has covered long highways in New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming, I am reminded of a time when I was working for the Wyoming Business Council to attract a manufacturer from San Jose, California. The tour for the business owner began early one morning in Cheyenne and made a loop through Torrington and Wheatland on the way to Laramie. Somewhere along the drive, the owner remarked he just couldn’t get over how empty it is in Wyoming. 

Our perspectives differ based on where we live. Riding across the Plains fuels my creativity, while the bustle of a city energizes others.

One of our company values is: We respect heritage. We understand where we come from shapes our future. 

My inborn love for horses and business can be traced back more than a century to the Western Plains. Today, I live in the best of both worlds – as a Wyoming ranch wife and business owner who guides others in their business and personal success.

I’ve recruited a team of dynamic business and leadership consultants, designers and communicators with a common desire. Our mission is to guide growing businesses, corporate and nonprofit leaders, and the future workforce to translate vision into reality through developing growth strategies and influencing public policy.

Keep forging ahead!

Lisa Johnson
Lisa is an enterprising idea person who likes to share with others to help in their business and personal success. She was raised on cattle ranches in Wyoming and Colorado. She holds a B.S. in Communications from Eastern New Mexico University and is a graduate of the Economic Development Institute. Her economic development career has spanned 20+ years and three states, with leadership roles at the county, regional and state level. She founded Orbis to enjoy the advantage of working on unique consulting on projects while being actively involved on her husband’s family ranch at LaGrange, Wyoming. Lisa is equally as comfortable in the corporate board room or in the saddle.