May 23, 2012 by Aviva Getschel
A small-town fish dropped into a big-city ocean found independence in the downtown setting with her third husband.
English Teacher Amber Dawn Wilson was born on January 2, 1974 in Alliance, Nebraska, to Jack and Sheila Wilson. Alliance is a small town in western Nebraska of around nine thousand (9,000) people. It’s a town where most people know each other. Amber was born at the same hospital as her father and her grandparents were born in the same area. “My family goes back generations in that little town,” Amber said. Her great-grandparents homesteaded there, and they started a cattle ranch, where her father worked growing up.
“If you’re from small areas in the Midwest, people value hard work. Most of my family worked doing manual jobs. My grandparents ranched and my other grandfather worked for the railroad. You end up with the sense that you have to work hard for what you want. It’s a quiet pride in your work,” said Amber.
Amber says she came to Denver in fifth grade, and that it was a major transition for her. “I went from small towns where you go to school with everybody from all different backgrounds, to school in Cherry Creek, which was all pretty much the same kind of kid and there wasn’t really that variety of backgrounds,” Amber commented on the transition. “I wasn’t prepared for how much more grown-up, I think, the city girls were. I wasn’t prepared for the level of materialism that I found in the city. Not that small towns don’t have their share of it, because they do, it’s that you end up in schools with all strata of society, whereas the school I went to in Cherry Creek was very homogenous.” Amber says that the materialism was a “wake-up call” for her. She struggled with her identity in relationship to her new peers. “There were definitely judgments in my small town on sort-of social differences, but because you have to see each other every day and hang out together–it’s not like you can go to one part of town and never see that person again. It was difficult because I wanted to fit in with these kids and I wanted to be liked, and I’d never had a problem with that before. And all of a sudden it mattered if I was wearing a polo shirt and Guess jeans,” Amber explained.
Amber spent her first year of college at CSU in 1992. During this time she got engaged to her high school sweetheart, Dan Green. She went to UCD for the next three years, 1993-96. She and her first husband were together for nearly 10 years. They lived together in Littleton, but they grew apart and eventually divorced. She moved downtown after her divorce and lived in Capitol Hill. She married her next husband, Chris Chadwick, when she was 26.
Between Amber’s 1st and 2nd husbands, her parents had been transferred to Dallas and her brother had finished high school and moved back to Nebraska, so she was left completely alone. “When my marriage fell apart, I didn’t have my parents here and I didn’t have my brother here. I had no family here and that was really difficult for me because I’m so family oriented. And yet it forced me to be very independent and I think I started forging the identity that has become who I am. There’s this mix of urban and independent with all the small-town values,” Amber explained about this time in her life.
During her second marriage with Chris, she had moved back out to the suburbs in Northglenn; however, after divorcing him four years later, she moved back to downtown in the neighborhood of West Wash Park. She says she ended up “centering herself” around the urban setting, but never let herself relax. “When I broke up with my second husband, I immediately started dating somebody else. This was the pattern of my life, not giving myself time to be single and not have a relationship or to be independent and figure out who I am. I would go from a very serious marriage to very serious relationship to very serious marriage and I never was really on my own. This last time I got my own apartment and I enforced that it was my apartment. I made a point to be single for at least a year. It forced me to really figure out who I was by myself, rather than who I was with someone. And I think that’s why things are so much better now and much more successful, because I finally know who I am.”
Amber is now with her third husband, David, whom she has been married to for two years. They were married in Costa Rica and honeymooned there. Amber says she loves to travel, and has ventured many places, including Nicaragua, Honduras, Mexico and several Caribbean islands. “I love blue water and white beaches,” Amber claims.
She also enjoys knitting, and eating and making eclectic and adventurous foods. “I like to be able to make things. I like to create,” she stated. Among her favorite foods, however, are two very distinct examples of her western Nebraskan roots. She enjoys “indian tacos” which are frybread with Mexican taco fillings. They are ‘indian’ due to the fact that the frybread originated on Native American reservations in the area. She remembers that they were her favorite food on her birthday growing up. She also enjoys another food with ethnic roots called “runza.” She describes these as “ground, spiced hamburger meat with chopped cabbage wrapped in dough and baked” and says they are similar to Russian pirogues. “There’s a whole fast food chain called Runza Huts that only anyone from Nebraska knows about,” Amber said, laughing.
Amber says she had “always known” she wanted to teach, but didn’t know what age group she wanted to work with. After trying the corporate work place, she realized she “didn’t want to be a cog in the corporate wheel.” Amber said, “I wanted a career where I could help people and share knowledge and work with kids. I’ve always loved stories and the beauty of language, and that looking at a poem or piece of language was like a puzzle to put together. I think part of what I like about teaching, especially at TJ, is that it feels like a small community, like a small town.”
The virtues of a small-town culture are evident in Amber’s personal strengths and character. Her strong work ethic and idea that one must work for one’s rewards are expressed in her teaching style and no tolerance for cheating. However, Amber can be optimistic and warmhearted. She shared her favorite quote by Roald Dahl, which evinces her sometimes childlike curiosity with the world. “Watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you, because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in the magic will never find it.”