TORRINGTON – As is the nature of the truly selfless, Rick and Marilyn Cotant spent their time in the spotlight at the Torrington City Council meeting on Tuesday not relishing on their own accomplishments that earned them the honor of being named Community Heroes, but by thanking others.
The Cotants were the fourth recipients of the Community Hero Award, which is presented by Mayor Randy Adams and the council to people who have made an impact in the community. Adams said the main reason the Cotants were honored is the Goshen County School District No. 1 backpack program, which they founded, that distributes backpacks of food for around 500 children every week to ensure they have something nutritious to eat on the weekends.
Adams also noted their work with students in the local schools, at Eastern Wyoming College and in the community as a whole – but still, Rick Cotant said he’d rather be doing those things than be awarded for it.
“Most of you when it comes to stuff like this, I’d rather not be here tonight,” he said. “I could be at home and that would be good with me. I’m just not into this stuff, but I appreciate it very much.”
The Cotants were both Nebraska residents throughout their school years, and moved to Torrington in 1987. Rick was the assistant principal at Torrington Middle School and Marilyn served in various positions at EWC until she became the Vice President of Student Services.
Adams said they have been a positive force in the community both in and outside of those roles.
“It’s really difficult to nail down all of the things Rick and Marilyn do to help others,” Adams said. “It’s not just this community. First and foremost, they’re the first ones to show up at the hospital or the family home whenever there is an emergency. They are always willing to step in and do whatever is necessary to ease the family’s pain.”
Adams said that while Rick doesn’t necessarily like to be honored, his deeds deserve recognition.
“Rick typically tries to stay in the background, but has been equally busy,” Adams said. “He was the assistant principal at Torrington Middle School, and since retirement he has been a substitute teacher and a substitute principal. He’s given many years as a track and cross-country coach. He’s bought shoes and clothes for his athletes, and who knows how many meals?”
But it’s the backpack program, Adams said, that cemented the Cotants’ status as Community Heroes.
“The main reason for this honor tonight is their creation of the school district’s backpack program,” he said. “The program sends bags of food home over the weekend for any student who wants one. Over the years, thousands of students have gone without food over the weekend because they come from low-income or food-insecure families. Thanks to Rick and Marilyn those kids, as many as 500 a week – and I’m sure many others in those families – have had nutritious meals on Saturdays and Sundays.
“For years, Rick and Marilyn were the driving force behind the program, seeking financial support, inspiring others to help, and keeping the backpack program strong. They have since turned the backpack program over to others, but children continue to benefit from their caring.”
Rick credited Marilyn for being the true driving force behind the program, which gained acclaim statewide.
“Our middle school was the first in the state of Wyoming to have the backpack program, which is pretty neat,” he said. “When we did the program, we received calls from all over the state of Wyoming wanting to know how we set this program up.
“My wife is the one who talked to them. She’s the brain behind it all. She does all of the paperwork, she put in a phenomenal amount of time. It’s a huge project with a lot of things involved.”
When Marilyn addressed the assembly, she didn’t tout her accomplishments through the program. Instead, she used the platform to thank the volunteers, school custodians, paraprofessionals and local churches who have made the program possible.
“Many local churches have been the backbone of the backpack program,” she said. “In particular, St. Rose Catholic Church for all of the fundraising, Wyoming United Presbyterian Church for financial donations, as well as the huge backpack donation. They had so many backpacks they covered their altar during their church services.
“Many other individuals have made the program possible by loading, transporting and distributing backpacks. We will always be grateful to all of them.”
Adams said the Cotants were two prime examples of community heroes.
“Today, we honor two people who epitomize the meaning of volunteering in their community,” Adams said.
“No one lacks a friend when Rick and Marilyn are on the scene. They don’t wait to be asked to help. They actively seek out opportunities to pay it forward on a daily basis.”