Ray Burger, 59, chats with nursing school classmate Eliza Shippy, 19, at Gillette College during a recent class. Burger opted to enroll in nursing school after he was locked out from his job after 37 years of mining Powder River Basin coal.
Ray Burger works late into the evening as a custodian at Moorcroft K-8 School after a full day of attending nursing classes at Gillette College. Burger was one of nearly 600 local coal miners locked out of their jobs for months in 2019 by Blackjewel LLC, which owned the Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr coal mines at the time. Instead of going back when the new owner called, he decided to go back to school and become a registered nurse.
Ray Burger sits in a college classroom with his wire frame glasses resting upside down on the table in front of him. His deskmate, Eliza Shippy, 40 years his junior, sits beside him as a guest lecturer boots up a presentation on dementia.
In the sea of laptop screens raised in front of his Gillette College nursing school peers, Burger sits beside a pen and paper. Usually known for the colorful shirts that his wife, Dawn, makes for him, he’s instead wearing a light blue nursing school polo with a face mask almost the same color.