The first Black student to graduate the University of Wyoming was from Rock Springs

Bonnie Mae Fermon stands in a graduation cap and gown in front of a dark background.An excerpt from the 1944 Rock Springs Highschool Yearbook. Bonnie Mae Fermon is listed as a senior.Teno Roncalio stands in a suit and glasses in front of a tiled wall.

Photo #1 - Bonnie Fermon - her Rock Springs High School graduation portrait


Photo #2 - Bonnie Fermon’s entry as a senior in the 1944 Rock Springs High School yearbook, The Sagebrusher


Photo #3 - Congressman Teno Roncalio


(Sweetwater County, Wyo. - January 29, 2024)     February is Black History Month, and the Sweetwater County Historical Museum is recognizing someone very special - the daughter of a Rock Springs coal miner who was likely the first Black graduate of the University of Wyoming.

Bonnie Mae Fermon, the daughter of Benjamin Franklin Fermon and Jessie Fermon (formerly Jessie Anderson) graduated Rock Springs High School in 1944. She went on to study at the University of Wyoming, graduating with a Bachelor of Science Degree in 1947, as reported in the Laramie Republican-Boomerang’s edition of November 17, 1947. She earned her Master’s from Oberlin College in Ohio in 1950, the year she married Lendell Alston in Oakland, California. She died in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1977, of breast cancer, at age 52.

The Fermons lived on Booker Avenue in Rock Springs. Benjamin Fermon worked for Union Pacific Coal from 1919 to his death in 1942; his last U.P. Coal position was that of a Pit Car Loaderman at the Number 8 Mine.

Also graduating the University of Wyoming in 1947 was Teno Roncalio, the son of Italian immigrants, born and raised in Rock Springs. After graduating Rock Springs High School, he  worked as a reporter for the Rock Springs Rocket-Miner, then served with the Army in the European Theater in World War II, where he won the Silver Star. After the war, he became an attorney. Roncalio, a Democrat, 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 Governor 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.