ROCK SPRINGS — Reverend Dr. Bernadine Louise Craft and Norma Heikkila Prevedel are The Remember When Monday Committee of Rock Springs Young at Heart’s Women of the Month.
The two women will be honored during Remember When Monday at 11:30 a.m. and again at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the center, 2400 Reagan Ave. Meals will be served during both presentations. The food costs $4 for those 60 and older and $6 for those 59 and younger.
Sponsors include the Daily Rocket-Miner, Sweetwater County Historical Museum and Rock Springs Historical Museum.
If you would like to nominate a woman to be honored during the Year of the Woman, she must be 60 or older, a Sweetwater County resident and have dedicated her life to service of the community, family, career or church.
Contact Rock Springs Young at Heart with your nominations at 307-352-6737.
Reverend Dr. Bernadine Louise Craft: Educator, Counselor, Legislator, Priest
Bernadine “Bernie” was born in January in Rock Springs to Ralph and Louise (Larson) Craft. Her mother’s father, John Larson, was an immigrant from Sweden who came to Sweetwater County as an engineer building the water line from Green River to Rock Springs. He grew to love this area and starting raising sheep, and a family, on a ranch north of Rock Springs.
His daughter, Bernadine, went to the University of Wyoming and became a social worker in Cheyenne. There she met a young airman, Ralph Craft, who was stationed at the F.E. Warren Air Base during World War II. While he was in Virginia waiting to be deployed, they got married. After the war, Rock Springs became their home where they were successful in their finance business.
Bernie graduated from Rock Springs High School and attended the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, earning her Bachelor of Arts degree in Speech and Theatre and her Master of Arts degree in Educational Psychology. She began her teaching career in Salt Lake City but was lured back to Rock Springs by Frank Prevedel, then curriculum director at Sweetwater County School District No. 1. She became the school counselor at White Mountain Junior High School, where she was on the staff for 27 years.
During this time, she began work on her doctorate and took a sabbatical to earn her PhD in Professional Psychology at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley in 1980. Also during this time, her friendship with Larry Hill, who lived and worked in Denver as a counselor, became serious. Larry and Bernie first met at a professional conference and over time a romance was born and they wed. Bernie liked Denver and she hoped to get a teaching position at one of the universities. Instead, she became very ill and returned to Rock Springs to convalesce. Larry joined her and began his counseling practice and Bernie returned to White Mountain Junior High School.
Meanwhile, Frank Prevedel was elected to the Wyoming Legislature and was successful in his efforts to initiate the Board of Cooperative Education Services (BOCES}. He later became the director of BOCES in Sweetwater County. He encouraged Bernie to apply for that position when it became open in 2004, and she is currently the director.
Shortly after joining BOCES, her husband Larry became very ill, and he died in 2006.
Along came RaeLyn Jobst! She had decided not to run for re-election to the Wyoming House of Representatives and she convinced Bernie to do so. She was elected and serve in the House and then in the Senate for a total of 10 years.
You would think she would begin to slow down, wouldn’t you? Oh no! All her life, being a “from the cradle” Episcopalian, she yearned to be a priest. Now that women had become accepted as priests, what did she do but get her Doctor of Divinity degree from the Iliff School of Theology in Denver and became an ordained priest, serving Holy Communion Episcopal Church in Rock Springs, her home church in 2014. She is the Dean of the Southwest Wyoming Region in the Diocese of Wyoming and also serves on the Diocese of Wyoming Foundation Board.
Bernie has many interests — all in which she serves people and the community. To name a few: Create a Christmas (for impoverished children); Kiwanis Club (lifelong member, following in her father’s footsteps); the Community Concert Association as Treasure (also her father’s dream); the Rock Springs Humane Society; the Wyoming Humanities Council; Actor’s Mission; and the Suicide Awareness and Prevention Coalition. Recently, in her role as Dean of Southwest Wyoming for the Episcopal Diocese of Wyoming, she spearheaded the formation of St. Christopher’s Highway, composed of many churches in Southwest Wyoming, to aid travelers who are having issues and need assistance. It promises to be her lasting legacy!
Wow! What a woman!
Norma Heikkila Prevedel: Teacher, Mother and Legislator’s Wife
Norma was born on Sept. 12, 1938, in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, to Arvo and Helen (Kukkula) Heikkila, whose families are from Finland. She grew up in Lunenburg, Massachusetts, where she graduated from high school in 1956.
After high school, her church congregation sent her to Alabama for a work experience which led to college, where she worked for the college president.
She came to Rock Springs to teach in 1961 at the junior high school and she met her mate for life, Frank Prevedel. Norma says she was planning to go to the Peace Corps, “but instead, I married Frank and started my own corps.” They have five children: Maria, Michael, Matthew, Amy and Anna; and a number of grandchildren. Norma says she was lucky to be able to stay home and raise her kids.
Then she began teaching again. She taught at Saint Cyril and Methodius Catholic School. She retired from teaching in 1996.
Norma served as chairman of the Sweetwater County Library Board when the White Mountain Library was planned and built. She also served on the board of the Sweetwater County Museum. Frank served in the Wyoming Legislature for many years and being a legislators wife kept her busy.
“After retirement, we did a lot of traveling. We saw most of the United States and Elderhostel, and Viking River Cruises introduced us to Europe. Our favorite trips were to Egypt, France, the Normandy beaches and New York City. Both Frank and I were fortunate to connect with our roots; he in the Tyrol, and I in Finland. I am proud of my Finnish roots. Finnish was my first language. Visiting with Finnish cousins in Finland was an awesome experience. When I got there I had the feeling of going home. Luckily, my kids have also connected to their Finnish family.”
Currently, Norma volunteers for the Actors Mission as an executive producer, fundraising for the remodeling of the building to house the organization. She says, “I have gotten quite good at asking for donations.” The Actors Mission is entirely funded by grants and donations. Four plays are produced each year by all volunteer staff and actors and the culturally satisfying plays are free to the public.
Norma is a lifelong Democrat; participates in Silver Sneakers, yoga and tai chi and is a member of PEO, a philanthropic organization which supports education for women.
She and Frank have a cabin in Atlantic City, which is a favorite retreat for them and for the family.
“I am proud of my family and those whom they married. My grandchildren are special — as Frank says — they are bright, beautiful and witty and have many good qualities,” she said. “My 80th birthday party was held in Cheyenne. All my children, their spouses, my grandchildren and good friends were present to help this geezer celebrate. The stories the grand kids told were priceless! My life has been an interesting adventure and this is my every day mantra: I am happy! I am healthy! I am whole! It works for me.”