CASPER — Longtime Wyoming journalist and columnist Sally Ann Shurmur knows a lot of people in the Cowboy State. She calls herself a “Wyoming girl,” but not a “Wyoming native.”
She spent 43 years writing for the Casper Star-Tribune about those people, telling uniquely Wyoming stories in her uniquely Wyoming way. Now she’s back in the saddle writing her weekly column for Cowboy State Daily. And while she made a career telling Wyomingites about other Wyomingites, here’s a little bit about Shurmur.
Born in Wyandotte, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, she moved to the Equality State as a nearly 6-year-old when the family followed her father to Laramie when he joined the coaching staff of the University of Wyoming’s football team. It didn’t take long for them to learn Wyoming is more than a long way from Michigan in miles, it’s a world apart in lifestyle as well.
“I think Wyoming is so different than the rest of the United States,” she told Cowboy State Daily. “I think we are our own thing. It’s just so different here. Just look up at the blue sky, and there are not a lot people — it’s a great place to be.”
She points to her “dearly beloved” University of Wyoming as an example what makes the state unique. It is the state’s only four-year university, and everyone rallies behind its sports teams, unlike her native state which boasts several four-year schools and a great in-state rivalry between the University of Michigan and Michigan State University.
“It’s one of the best things about Wyoming. We have this magnet focus on the University of Wyoming,” she said.
As the daughter of, by then, UW’s head football coach, Shurmur enrolled in UW with a desire of becoming a “defensive coordinator” like her dad had been for many years. She knew the odds were against her, so journalism became her hedge.
However, Shurmur confesses that she offered her own advice to coaches along the way.
Her freshman year would be the last year her dad, Leonard Frank “Fritz” Shurmur, who had been promoted to head coach three years earlier would be at the school. He would go on to serve as defensive coordinator for five NFL football teams, the Detroit Lions, New England Patriots, L.A. Rams, Phoenix Cardinals and Green Bay Packers.
As a budding journalist at the university, Shurmur wrote for the campus newspaper Branding Iron and served as an intern in the UW sports information office in the early days of Title IX, the civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on sex at universities and schools that receive federal funding.
“I helped out with the women’s side of things, with their publicity,” she said.
Her Career Launches
After graduation, she headed north to Casper for a job that blossomed into a career at the Casper Star-Tribune. Her 43 years there began in the sports department, where she covered games and wrote a sports column.
Later, she segued into the other side of the newsroom and began writing two general columns a week, one titled “Talkin’ With Sal” for the lifestyle section and another one for the food section.
She wrote about trips, about family, about the people of Wyoming, about becoming an empty-nester when her children launched into adult lives and her own life decisions that can be controversial for others.
On April 21, 2021, she wrote about her quest to get a COVID-19 vaccination: “I got the shot. And all I feel is grateful.”
She never considered leaving Casper for greener pastures.
“I got married there, I had two babies there,” she said. “I was at the biggest and best newspaper in the state, so why would I look anywhere else?”
As the newspaper industry changed and she considered her dad’s life, which was cut short before his retirement and just after he took a job with the Seattle Seahawks in 1999, Shurmur said she wanted to enjoy some leisure as part of her last chapter. She left the paper one day before her 65th birthday in 2021.
Before she did, she shared from her heart what her career meant in a parting column.
“From the corner of First and Jefferson streets in a one-level brick building with almost no windows, I learned what it means to have a job you love,” she wrote. “That words mater to people and that somehow, although it didn’t feel at all like work, I could get paid for talking to people, writing down what they said and watching sports. I also learned that relationships are the very best part of the job …”
But she’s not done writing. Shurmur is reviving her column with Cowboy State Daily, which starts Friday.
Who Is Sally Ann, Really?
For her new readers, how would Shurmur define herself?
“I would say that she is opinionated to a fault, and it often gets her in trouble, and that she has a heart of gold and that she is a woman of deep faith,” she said. “And family means a great deal to her.”
Shurmur has two children, two grandchildren and a significant other of 22 years. She enjoys driving the golf cart while he plays the course, and you can hear her voice cheering on every University of Wyoming home football game as a season-ticket holder for the past 15 or so years.
Even when she is not there.
Shurmur said when the Cowboys scheduled a homecoming game with an evening start a couple of years ago, she “threw a fit.” It would be a late-night drive back home to where she now lives in Glenrock. She decided to boycott.
So her friends in Section G, the same section she has rooted for the team from for 15 years, blew up a photo of her head and put it on a broken yardstick. They put it in her seat, took photos and posted it on social media.
“And the next time I went they gave it to me,” she said. It’s sitting in her house.
Shurmur said her column for State Daily will touch on “everyday things that people are experiencing and don’t know how to put in words.” She plans her Cowboy first one on a holiday theme.
“I am going to write about a Christmas tradition that means a lot to me,” she said. “I am happy to share my life with people.”
Dale Killingbeck can be reached at email@example.com.