Dwight Siverson, 69, battled colon cancer in 1994, but never took time off from teaching. He said battling cancer was difficult, but it made him realize he wants to spend the rest of his days in pursuit of endeavors he loves.

Photo by Michelle Balleck

Dwight Siverson, 69, battled colon cancer in 1994, but never took time off from teaching. He said battling cancer was difficult, but it made him realize he wants to spend the rest of his days in pursuit of endeavors he loves.

A life worth living

Dwight Siverson, 65, photographer, retired teacher

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Dwight Siverson, a retired Craig Middle School mathematics teacher, has enjoyed success outside the classroom in photography. Siverson launched his photography business, Frank Mills Studios, in 1979 and shot senior pictures, weddings and sporting events.

Craig resident Dwight Siverson said he’s tried to center his life on helping others.

Siverson, 69, likes to help those he can, and his background testifies to that personal mission.

Siverson spent 42 years teaching middle school mathematics, has helped numerous local residents navigate, manage or become more familiar with their computers, and has provided many parents over the years with free photos of their children playing sports.

The longtime local resident said there’s no place he’d rather do all this than Northwest Colorado.

A farm boy from Minnesota, Siverson moved to Craig in 1977.

But, after more than 30 years in the community, Siverson said the area has become home and he can’t imagine leaving.

“I have so many friends up and down the Western Slope and Wyoming,” he said. “If I was to move back to Minnesota, it would be really hard for me to leave.”

The plan goes awry, luckily

Siverson graduated from Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., majoring in mathematics and art with a minor in German.

Education wasn’t his first choice as a career pursuit. Architecture was, he said.

However, in the 1960s the National Defense Student Loan helped aspiring teachers pay for college if they taught for five years in math or science.

Siverson said educational assistance was the enticement he needed, along with his experience working at the local YMCA in Fargo, N.D.

“I had a scholarship for the first two years, and I had to borrow some money,” Siverson said. “But, because I taught, they cancelled 10 percent of my loan and during the same five years, I could afford to pay another 10 percent, so I paid no interest and got half my loan forgiven.”

For the first 12 years of his career, Siverson taught in Elgin, Ill.

Middle school students, Siverson said, are sometimes difficult because of the emotions students go through at those early teen ages.

Despite challenges in the classroom, Siverson said he enjoyed his work, but it wasn’t just students he had to deal with in Elgin. Issues like race tensions, gangs and funding shortages were also present.

“We had a half-black and half-white and Hispanic culture and there was a lot of gang things going on,” he said. “They started to pull out classes like (physical education), art and music. I loved teaching there, but I knew I had to move on.”

A colleague suggested San Juan Capistrano, Calif., as an ideal destination.

After accepting a position there, the new school district Siverson was set to teach in backed away from teacher contracts after it was determined a new school would not be built.

But, providence wasn’t far away.

Siverson heard from Roger Little, then the principal at Craig Middle School, who was looking for a math teacher who could create his or her own curriculum.

Siverson accepted, and a lasting home was found.

The first 17 years in Craig went without many hitches for the Minnesota native turned Colorado import.

Then, toward the end of the 1994 school year, Siverson got sick.

Life throws a curveball

School ended on a Friday in 1994. By that Sunday, Siverson began experiencing sharp pains. He drove himself to the emergency room of the local hospital.

The next day, doctors determined he had a blockage and ordered tests. Their timing was a blessing.

“I had colon cancer,” Siverson said. “I was lucky because we got it soon enough.”

Siverson’s family came to town to be with him as he prepared for surgery.

A young surgeon from Steamboat Springs was assigned to handle Siverson’s procedure. The surgeon’s age and experience was the first thing Siverson’s mother asked about.

“My mother said, ‘Are you sure you want to have that baby-faced kid operate on you?’” Siverson said. “But, I had found out he had done over 100 surgeries. Most of my cancer was gone from the surgery, but we still had (chemotherapy) to do.”

Siverson said chemotherapy was mild and he never lost his hair, but the therapy took 18 weeks and continued into the fall when the new school year began.

“I had my planning hour during seventh hour, so I would leave school and walk to where the old hospital was to do my chemo,” he said. “Then, I went back and taught for the last period and went home with a mild or major headache.”

Siverson said he was lucky to have gotten through surgery and treatment easier than many others, but the cancer didn’t come without challenges.

“When you go through cancer, there are all these stages people go through,” he said. “I am a Lutheran, and I talked to my minister, but a local pastor named Gary Neptune stopped by and stayed with me the whole night I found out I had cancer.

“We went through all the stages and the next morning I was ready. I never thought about taking a break from teaching and I really got help from prayer chains.”

Life through a lens

After 30 years of teaching at CMS, Siverson decided it was time to call it a career, and he retired in June 2007.

Retirement didn’t last long — just two days — before he went back to work, this time at the Moffat County Schools Federal Credit Union.

Siverson plans to retire from the credit union in May 2012. From there, his time will be spent pursuing his lifelong passion — photography.

“When I taught in Illinois, photography was part of the industrial arts program,” Siverson said. “The building I taught in had an old photo dark room. It hadn’t been used in awhile and still had enlargers and cameras that had sat for years.

“I used my income tax refund after my second year to buy a camera and asked the principal if I could use the dark room to start a photography club.”

When Siverson moved to Craig, he opened Frank Mills Studio in 1979, a company name he borrowed from a friend in Elgin.

Through the years, Siverson has taken senior photos and wedding pictures for people around the area.

But, sports photography has always held a special place for Siverson.

“I love watching sports,” he said. “I didn’t do an awful lot, just tennis, but I had two roommates in college who were wrestlers and I learned about the sport and started picking up on basketball and volleyball as well.”

After a fearful brush with cancer, surgery and the grind of chemotherapy treatments, Siverson said he wanted to spend his golden years of retirement doing something he loved.

He has handled sports photo packages for the school district as well as photo work for yearbook.

Siverson said it’s about providing for kids.

“I like to follow and support the kids, and if they can be good scholar-athletes and keep their academics going and be good people, I said I would try to support them in athletics,” he said. “I have met kids and families from all over the Western Slope and Wyoming and parents always want to pay me, but I don’t do that. I just burn a CD and give it to the moms.”

The job at the credit union, Siverson said, has helped pay for him to travel to tournaments in other cities, including 18 years and running at the Colorado wrestling state tournament in Denver.

Siverson dissolved his photography business Dec. 31, 2011, and focuses solely on freelance work.

However, with old cameras and editing equipment strung throughout his house, the passion will never fade.

“When I have money, I use it to buy more equipment and I have never gotten rid of a single camera,” Siverson said. “(Photography) is something I love to do and I will continue until I can’t motivate myself any more.”

An established home

A lot has changed for Siverson since he came to Craig in 1977.

He has gone through a career and endured and survived a life scare.

On top of CMS and his photography business, Siverson also taught computer classes at Colorado Northwestern Community College’s campus in Craig.

Siverson’s first residence was a trailer near Cedar Mountain and now he owns a house in Ridgeview.

Siverson said he has seen Craig blossom during the 37 years he’s called the community home.

“We have been a boom and bust town, “ he said. “It seems to be a boom here again, but it all depends on the oil and natural gas exploration. I never taught at the new middle school and I thought I would never see it built. The same goes with the new college campus and hospital, because those are just wonderful things for this town.”

Siverson has family around the world, but none in Craig.

His 91-year-old mother lives in Minnesota and he has a sister who is only 15 minutes away from her and a brother and sister not far from there.

Eventually, Siverson said he would probably move back to Minnesota to be closer to family, but it won’t be without a heavy heart.

“I said I would give 30 years of teaching and I wrapped up with 42 years of teaching and it didn’t affect me at all,” he said. “But, I’ve lived here so long, all my family says (to) stay in Craig as long as you want.

“I have lived here as long as any place and I love it here. I love Craig.”

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