Growing up in the Milwaukee suburb of Waukesha, Chad Repinski was the captain of the football team.
The Jackson Hole art gallery salesman, now 42, didn’t exactly fit the mold of a stereotypical jock. Repinski’s father pushed his 6-foot-2, 190-pound defensive end son to pursue a college career on the gridiron, but even as a teen he had a gut feeling that repeatedly smashing into other humans was not in his best long-term interest — and this was well before science emerged about repeated concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Plus, he wasn’t thrilled with the image of a football player.
“Honestly, I didn’t like cliches that went along with football: big, dumb meatheads,” Repinski said. “I was the athletic clown … Yeah, I was the captain of the football team, but I also hung out with what could be defined as nerds talking about ‘Star Wars.’”
Family life was upper-middle class and comfortable. Private school. One sister. Mom was a teacher, dad an engineer for General Electric Healthcare.
“We faced the challenges of any late-20th-century American family working on the prairie,” Repinski said.
For his college years Repinski trekked westward across the Badger State to the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. It was a “spectacular” time in a town on the banks of the Mississippi River, and an era that set him on the trajectory to his current lot in life.
As a junior Repinski met a sophomore named April, the sister of a friend who he “leveraged” to land a date. She became his wife a few years later. Their first date was at the classic “Michelin 5-star” eatery known as Perkins, he said.
A college internship at Spring Creek Ranch landed via a family connection initially brought Repinski to Jackson Hole as more than a visitor. His uncle, Kent, was working in sales and marketing at the high-end lodge. He’d visited the valley in the past and was drawn to the place from the outset, but living in northwest Wyoming for months got him contemplating how he could pull off a life here.
His internship culminated in a trip to an industry convention in New York City, but then it was back to Wisconsin. The experiences outside of the Midwest were “intoxicating.”
“Three months prior, I had never lived outside of Wisconsin and had only been to, like, Florida,” Repinski said. “And three months later, I’d lived in arguably the best mountain town in the world and then went to New York.”
After graduating with a degree in hotel management, he took a job as the front desk manager at the Park Inn and Suites, outside an amusement park and horse racetrack in the outer-ring suburb of Shakopee, Minnesota. April came and lived with him for the summer, but had to go back to La Crosse to finish school. When Sept. 11, 2001, put a damper on travel and tourism industries, he was the new guy who was let go.
Repinski briefly moved back in with his parents, asked April to marry him and by 2002 plotted a move back west.
“High-tailed it out there, and didn’t look back,” he said. “I told her parents we’d be back in two years.”
Instead, two years later the Repinskis opted to buy a 800-square-foot condo in Cottonwood. He was working at Spring Creek and April in teaching jobs, and within a few years the value of their condo nearly doubled. They flirted with the idea of cashing out and traveling Europe, but opted to reinvest and upgraded to a Cottonwood home. It was 2007, and the market was at its peak and about to burst. It took seven or eight years to get out from under an underwater mortgage, but it wasn’t a problem because Chad and April were developing careers and setting roots in Jackson Hole.
“I’ve never seriously thought about leaving,” he said.
Repinski stayed in the hotel business for his first decade in the valley. After Spring Creek he joined the opening team for Hotel Terra. He did a three-year stint as the sales director for The Wort Hotel. In 2012 he changed paths and joined the sales team for the Jackson Hole News&Guide (later Teton Media Works). He liked it.
“I’d never felt like I worked in ... a place of importance, that meant something to the community and the direction of Jackson Hole,” he said.
Repinski was fond of how for the first time he was “looking inward” at the businesses that make up the community, rather than tourists drawn in from elsewhere. He learned a lot from small business owners like the Biolchinis, Frank Londy and Phil Leeds.
“I really respect people that came here in the late ’70s and took a chance on starting a business and managed to be successful,” Repinski said.
Around the office he found a bud, Oliver O’Connor, and they liked to run off each other’s jokes. Lots and lots of jokes.
Repinski never completely burnt out selling newspaper ads, but it was a challenge trying to raise more and more revenue in an “industry that has seen better days.” Being beholden to the company’s daily deadlines and the needs of clients wanting to update their messaging was stressful and tiring. It was repeated pitches from a client, Mountain Trails Gallery, that ultimately drew him away. Last summer he came on to learn under longtime gallery director Dave Navratil, who’s easing into a more part-time role.
The art business wasn’t entirely foreign: Repinski was an art minor, headed a big round of art purchases at The Wort and served on the Fall Arts Festival steering committee for six years. So far, he said, so good.
“It’s great,” Repinski said. “If you can’t be outside, I think this is the second-best place to be. There’s always something interesting and nice to look at. The people that come through are friendly, and wowed by the art that we have.”
The Repinskis are now parents of two: 8-year-old Rose and 4-year-old Ward. April is a dual-immersion teacher for Munger Mountain Elementary School. A perfect weekend for the clan might consist of eating pancakes, sledding, watching cartoons and playing with Legos and racetracks.
In his free time Repinski is a Redditor. He enjoys downhill skiing and touring a bit, and mountain biking and road biking in the summer. Organized sports are now mostly a pastime, but Repinski doesn’t mind basking in the glory days. There was high school football, of course, but also some team sports he partook in here in Wyoming.
“Kickball was a great era in my life,” Repinski said. “I’m hoping to someday make the Teton County Kickball Hall of Fame.”
His Jackson Hole News&Guide kickball teammates were mostly ineffective and the squad disbanded years ago.
Did he keep playing after that unmemorable run?
“No,” Repinski said. “But neither does Brett Favre, and he’s still in the Hall of Fame. So, checkmate.”