PINEDALE – Ever since she was a young child, JJ Huntley was interested in lifetime fitness.
“Health and wellness was the avenue I chose to work in,” Huntley said Wednesday.
As a child growing up in northeast Ohio in the greater Cleveland area, Huntley attended Indiana University Bloomington, where in 1976 she received her bachelor’s degree in science and outdoor recreation.
In the meantime, in 1975 Huntley was drawn west as a student with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), in Lander, Wyo., before her college graduation.
She enjoyed what Wyoming had to offer, graduated at IU and moved back to Lander in 1976, living there through 1982.
While exploring areas in Wyoming with her husband Jim Huntley, the pair stumbled across Pinedale and Daniel, eventually purchasing land near Horse Creek in 1980. Shortly thereafter, she and her husband went abroad to Kenya to work with the NOLS Kenya Branch from 1982 until 1984.
She returned to Sublette County that same year and began setting down roots on the old homestead they purchased several years earlier.
“We moved into an old homestead cabin with no running water and an outhouse,” she smiled. “We made our life from that. We were committed to Sublette County from that point on.”
She and her husband raised three daughters, Whitney Huntley, May Huntley and Gracy Carpenter on the homestead, instilling a love for the great outdoors in her children from a very young age. To this day, JJ still has a passion for kayaking, hiking and biking when she can get the opportunity.
“I spend a lot of time outdoors,” JJ said. “Our property is on the boundary of the Bridger-Teton National Forest, so we ski, hunt and fish from our house.”
In 1993, JJ returned to her passion for working in wellness as the aquatic director at the old Pinedale Pool, located where the current PAC gymnasium resides. As time passed and the pool’s condition worsened, talks of bringing a large-scale aquatic facility began in 2005. In 2006, a joint powers board was formed to start the discussion on how to make the PAC a reality.
The Pinedale Pool was later demolished, and the PAC opened up its first pool in August 2007, as the joint agreement called for it to be ready for the high school swim team’s use that fall. During that time, JJ and a handful of others hired on in the early stages of development utilized a lifeguard room as their office until the rest of the PAC was built. In February 2008, the PAC held its grand opening and the facility has thrived in providing a community venue for healthy activities to this day.
Users of all ages find something to enjoy there. JJ says the PAC has a very large – and loyal – elderly crowd of patrons nowadays.
Through Huntley’s efforts with the PAC, it has grown to accompany much more than just pool activities. The PAC offers youth sport programs, special events and adult sport leagues. Students enrolled in the Pinedale schools benefit with their varsity coaches using it for early-morning training and physical education teachers enriching the programs they offer with the facility.
Throughout the year, the PAC offers up family-friendly fun happenings such as an annual 3-on-3 basketball tournament, the Frosty 5K, Underwater Easter Egg Hunt and much more to bring the community together.
Due to her involvement in working with the community and bringing numerous opportunities to Pinedale residents over the years, Huntley was honored with the 2017 Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.
Ranae Pape, who serves on the council for Physical Fitness and Sports for the state of Wyoming, presented the award to Huntley at the PAC on May 3. The purpose of the award is to publicly appreciate someone who has taught, volunteered, role-modeled or in other ways encouraged Wyoming residents to make healthy lifestyle choices.
Amber Anderson completed the award’s nomination letter about her mentor.
“JJ has been an incremental part of health and health promotion in the Pinedale community for almost 25 years,” Anderson’s nomination stated. “JJ is passionate about health and fitness and loves her work. It is because of JJ’s grand vision of what the PAC could be in the community that put PAC where it is today. She saw ‘more than just a pool’ and led her staff to create an organization the community ‘can’t imagine living without.’ She lives, breathes, and bleeds PAC – her whole heart is invested in her job – it is her passion.”
JJ was taken by surprise when Pape announced she was the recipient of this year’s award, as she had no idea of her nomination until Pape asked her to come up to accept the award.
“I was absolutely shocked; it was completely out of the blue,” she said. “It’s a team award; I’m proud of my entire staff. Truly, a person is only as good as those they surround themselves by.”
Outside of the PAC, JJ is an avid pianist who accompanies community theatre performances and had the chance to play the piano for the previous two high school musicals at Pinedale High School. In 1986, she co-founded the female ensemble “Sweet Harmony,” which traveled and performed concerts until 2015.
Currently, Huntley is the church musician at the Pinedale United Church of Christ.