SWEETWATER COUNTY — Teno Roncalio, a son of Italian immigrants born and raised in Rock Springs, represented Wyoming in the U.S. House of Representatives for 10 years in five nonconsecutive terms.
Roncalio was born Celeste Domenico Roncaglio on March 23, 1916, one of the nine children of Frank and Ernesta Roncaglio, according to a press release from the Sweetwater County Historical Museum. The family shortened Roncaglio to Roncalio, reportedly to make it easier to pronounce correctly on first sight. A young Celeste Domenico was nicknamed “Teno” by his classmates, and it stuck.
As were so many immigrants who settled in Rock Springs, Frank Roncalio was a coal miner. Teno entered the workforce at the age of 5 with a two-wheel pushcart, delivering produce. Not long afterward, he took over a shoeshine stand at a local barber shop. By the age of 17, he had earned his state barber’s license. After high school, he worked for six years as a reporter for the Rock Springs Rocket-Miner. In 1938, he enrolled at the University of Wyoming in journalism and pre-saw, according to the release.
To meet his college expenses at the University, Roncalio tended furnaces, shoveled snow, waited tables, and washed dishes at a Laramie boarding house. In his sophomore year he was elected student body president and served as business manager of The Branding Iron, the student newspaper.
An active Democrat from an early age, Roncalio caught the attention of U.S. Sen. Joseph O’Mahoney of Cheyenne, who offered him a job in Washington, D.C. There Roncalio attended law school at night at the Catholic University of America.
When the U.S. entered World War II, Roncalio enlisted in the Army, completed officer training, and received his commission as a second lieutenant. Assigned to the 1st Infantry Division, he fought in North Africa, Italy, France, and Germany, and was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in action during the battle for Omaha Beach on D-Day. He was honorably discharged with the rank of captain in 1946.
After returning to Wyoming and completing law school at the University of Wyoming, he established a law practice in Cheyenne and served as a deputy county attorney for the Laramie County Attorney’s Office.
In 1950, Roncalio became editor of the Wyoming Labor Journal and began his active political career. He was appointed chairman of the Wyoming State Democratic Party in 1957, and in 1961 a newly-elected President John F. Kennedy named him chairman of the U.S. International Joint Commission on U.S. and Canadian Waterways, a cabinet-level post.
Roncalio ran for U.S. representative in 1964 and defeated the Republican incumbent, William Henry Harrison. Two years later, he ran for the open U.S. Senate seat left vacant by the retiring Republican Milward Simpson but lost in the general election to Gov. Cliff Hansen.
In 1970, Roncalio ran again for representative and won. He was re-elected in 1972, 1974, and 1976. He left Congress in 1978.
Among his accomplishments in Congress was passage of 1977’s Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act and his work, along with Sens. Gale McGee and Cliff Hansen, on legislation that increased from 37.5 percent to 50 percent Wyoming’s share of mineral royalties, which have, over the years, resulted in many millions of dollars in reclamation and royalty payments for Wyoming, according to the release.
Arguably Rock Springs’s most prominent native son, he died in Cheyenne of heart failure on March 30, 2003, at age 87. The U.S. Post Office on Commercial Way in Rock Springs is named for him, and an exhibit of Teno Roncalio memorabilia is on exhibit there.