March 21, 2021

Meet the Team | Gwen Dildine

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The Walla Walla Union Bulletin recently featured 39 Under 39 highlighting young professionals who are energizing the Walla Walla Valley. I am honored that I was included in this recent feature. Reading about all the wonderful people doing great work in the valley inspired me to feature the other members of the Outside Walla Walla team. As I’m sure everyone included in 39 Under 39 would agree, it is never just one person. It takes teamwork, collaboration, and a network of support. Since my answers were already prepared, I’ll go first. Meet Outside Walla Walla team member and Chief Exploring Officer, Gwen Dildine.

Meet Gwen Dildine, Chief Exploring Officer

Who is your mentor?
I am fortunate to know a handful of wonderful people who still say yes to requests to talk through an idea or problem. Pre-pandemic, I was at least able to treat this dedicated bunch to coffee for their trouble. The sign of a great mentor is their willingness to challenge you and, at times, offer painfully honest feedback. Those folks are special because it means they have your best interest at heart.

What inspires you?
Exploring inspires me. I love researching new adventures, getting lost in details and ending up with more questions than when I started. Out on a trail it is literally one foot in front of the other, learning as you go.

How long have you been in your profession?
I’ve worked at Inland Family Dentistry for twelve years, but since I can remember going to dental school with my mom, Nannette Goyer, on occasion, you could say I’ve been in the field for about thirty years. Conceptually, Outside Walla Walla started on September 2, 2011. I posted a blog talking about how the grass is always greener in reference to a trip we took to Bozeman, Montana. That trip set in motion the events that led to Outside Walla Walla’s creation. Check out our first podcast, An Adventurous Idea, to learn more.

What is your favorite book you’ve read lately?
Just over ten years ago, I was a grant writing intern at the Wild Salmon Center. A dear friend, who never fails to recommend the perfect book, came across Stronghold by Tucker Malarkey a few months ago. When inquiring if I had heard of a gentleman named Guido Rahr, I replied, “sure, I worked for him.” Stronghold is a beautifully written story about the Wild Salmon Center’s executive director, Guido Rahr, and his quest to save the last, best wild salmon habitats across the Pacific Rim. Reading about all the distant places and ambitious programs I was writing about as a care-free twenty something was an interesting experience, and the book definitely showcases the tough, meaningful work over decades that it takes to build community and create lasting change.

How long have you lived in the Walla Walla Valley?
We moved to Walla Walla from Texas in 1998. As a cranky teenager all I remember my mom saying was that we were moving near the Tri-Cities. Not fully picking up on the nuance of what she said, I heard Twin Cities, so you can imagine my surprise when a tiny prop plane landed in southeast Washington and not Minneapolis.

What brought you to the Valley?
After attending Washington State University for my final few years of college, I played a little volleyball, met my husband, Steve, and then moved to Portland for graduate school. Missing living in a small town, eastern Washington weather, and family we moved back to Walla Walla.

How did you get into your profession?
I was recruited by an incredibly talented and smart woman. While this is true, that woman also happens to be my mother. She knew Steve and I weren’t enjoying the big city as much as we thought we would. I was almost done with graduate school, and the timing was perfect for me to jump in and help with the business side of things. A few years later, we were contemplating another move yearning for more outdoor recreation opportunities. After a chance encounter in Bozeman, Montana, we decided to really research recreation around the Blue Mountain region, thus the start of an extremely rewarding and incredibly fun project that is now Outside Walla Walla.

Describe your title and what you do in your work.
I wear a few hats. Actually, right now I wear a mask by day at the dental office and beanie through the weekend playing in the snow. When people find out I’m Dr. Goyer’s daughter I usually joke that she is qualified to do everything in the mouth, and I take care of everything outside the mouth. I’ll clean storm drains, tackle the accounting, and play the hold game to make sure insurance behaves. I take that same attitude to Outside Walla Walla. We love research, and feel strongly about accurately reporting on what to expect while enjoying any number of adventures. This means my desk job sometimes catches up to me when trying to climb 2,500 feet back up a mountain in short order. It also means that my office hours for Outside Walla Walla align more closely with nocturnal creatures.

What do you enjoy most about your work?
When I first started at Inland Family Dentistry, I had an amazing opportunity to learn the administrative ropes from two amazing women. I admired their tenacity, problem solving abilities, but most of all the authentic relationships I could tell they had formed with patients over the years. Patients really trusted them, and I wanted people to feel that comfortable with me. I knew that that kind of trust was earned, so everyday I try my best because what I enjoy most is helping people. The same is true of Outside Walla Walla. We want to help people connect with all the amazing opportunities to enjoy our public lands across the valley and in the Blue Mountains. There are so many benefits to enhancing outdoor recreation in our region from economic development to health and wellness and beyond.

Talk about some of the challenges you’ve faced in your profession.
Running a small business definitely has its challenges. In the early months of the pandemic, there was one particularly rainy day. I think I had already shoved my arm down a storm drain or two, and as I was talking to Dr. Goyer (aka mom) about an emergency patient the ceiling started to leak on my head. As I mentioned I wear many hats, and unfortunately that day I didn’t have one on. I’m slowly learning as I approach 39 to not overreact or take setbacks personally. Water drains, roofs are fixable, and barring a pandemic we manage to unlock the front door the next morning.

Tell us about challenges you’ve overcome.
I realized the other day that Outside Walla Walla is truly a passion, and perhaps the first time I can declare something as such. I’m constantly thinking about development opportunities, blogs to write, places to explore, and cheesy one-liners for social media. With great passion there is some inherent insecurity–will people like what I write or am I even remotely funny? So sometimes I think I’m my worst critic. I haven’t quite overcome that one yet, but recognizing when self-doubt is creeping in seems like a great early win.

Talk about other people you work with and how you’ve built those relationships, whether at work or in your volunteer work, etc?
The Blue Mountain Land Trust has a special place in my heart. When I first moved back, I wanted to stay engaged with a non-profit. I’ve volunteered with the land trust for a number of years, and currently serve on the board. Boards offer a unique opportunity to work with people who likely wouldn’t cross your professional path. I enjoy hearing perspectives from people who work in higher education, agriculture, government, health care, and other small business sectors. We can all fall victim to ‘silo mentality,’ becoming locked into a tight vision that doesn’t see other perspectives. Coming together from different backgrounds, education, and experience to further a mission inherently builds mutual respect and therefore quite meaningful and lasting relationships.

Describe how the pandemic has affected your professional or personal life.
Initially, I wasn’t sure how to answer this question as I’m not confident I fully grasp the impact. As an only child, I don’t often admit that I’m lonely, but it is definitely weighing on me the loss of time spent with friends and family or jokes not told around the lunch table at work or round table discussions after Blue Mountain Land Trust board meetings. That is how relationships are built. Perhaps more pressing is the relationships my kids aren’t building, and as resilient as they are, I worry.

Is there anything in your personal life that you want to share with readers that might shed more light on your character and your career pathway?
One of the reasons I started college at Colorado State University was the fact that they had a dual major program in business management and recreation and tourism. My goal was to run a rafting company (despite only ever rafting once). Life happens. I kept a card for a long time that said, “if you go down the wrong road, make a right turn.” I just kept turning, and it finally feels like I’m on the right road. Even though the destination isn’t quite what I thought it would look like, I’m happy to report it is even better.

What are your hobbies?
This is likely the most anti-climatic hobby of all time, but I love to organize. I just finished sorting Allen’s legos by color and even though I carved a divot in my thumb nail separating all the pieces it was super therapeutic. I love to read and usually have a highlighter in one hand and sticky notes in the other. We play loads of sports at our house, and it isn’t officially spring until blue tape spans the yard serving as our volleyball net.

What are the personal and professional goals you have for the future (where do you see yourself in five to 10 years)?
This is a scary question since in five to 10 years I won’t qualify for this recognition anymore! My goal is to grow Outside Walla Walla into an incredibly dynamic community database– giving many voices a platform to share their adventures; connecting people with any number of activities across the Blue Mountain region; and showcasing events, outfitters, and groups. More importantly, the next decade is potentially the last with kids at home, and it is not lost on me how precious those years are. I have some hope given the fact I live with three generations that they might stick around.

If you would like, tell us about your family (spouse/partner, kids, pets, names, ages, etc)?
I met my husband, Steve, in college. He too is an only child, so when we married we were finally legally obligated to share. Outside Walla Walla is really a family ordeal. Our kids join us on most outings. Allen is the youngest person to earn a Blues Crew helmet (Blues Crew is a volunteer trail maintenance group of the Blue Mountain Land Trust). Anytime we ask Joanna what she wants to do, she answers, “go camping!” That is how we accurately report if something is kid-friendly or not–we work through the meltdowns to save you a few.

Thank you very much for spending some time getting to know me! I hope one day we meet on the trail. I look forward to highlighting our Outside Walla Walla team over the next few weeks. Without further delay, meet my better half.

Pendleton Adventure Trails Recreation Area (Photo Credit: Gwen Dildine)

On Deck: Steve Dildine, President of Research & Discovery

Since I can easily find our President of Research & Discovery, I look forward to introducing you to a very special man. Steve is tenacious when it comes to studying maps and compiling information on all our activities. He can put together an itinerary that guarantees fun and lasting memories. He can make a bike do things that no one with a deductible should attempt. He is patient with his wife and mere mortal whose fitness is not as on point as his own, and, most importantly, Steve’s endearing ways with our kids inspire their love of the outdoors. For that I am forever grateful.