BY KAREN BOSSICK
The Wood River Journal~Hailey
She’s seen the old Friedman general store, which had replaced tent stores, give way to Paul’s Market, then Atkinson’s and finally Albertson’s chain supermarket.
She’s seen the old Hailey high school go through a couple of reincarnations, the latest a state-of-the-art facility near the mouth of Quigley Canyon.
She’s seen the fields that once surrounded Hailey fill up with homes as Hailey’s population has burgeoned to 7,000 residents.
She’s seen Aukema Drug Store make way for the nostalgic Shorty’s diner. And she’s seen the milliner’s shop that once outfitted everyone in town with hats close its doors when residents decided they no longer needed a hat for every occasion.
“But I haven’t been affected as much,” says this former teacher and librarian who will turn 96 on June 4. This part of town is old Hailey and it doesn’t change.”
The daughter of an Italian father and German mother, Arndt was born in Virginia, Idaho—a town of a dozen people 35 miles south of Pocatello. Her father, who used to carry bullion by horseback from the mines in Custer to the assay office in Blackfoot, fell in love with the Marsh Valley while journeying north from Ogden and homesteaded there with his wife in 1906.
“It was wonderful because we were on the rail line,” says Arndt, whose father worked with the railroad. “We didn’t go very far in those days but we knew we could go to Pocatello or Ogden if we wanted. Distances are nothing now—our school kids go to Marsh Valley just for a competitive game.”
In 1936 Alba’s sweetheart, Chester “Chet” Arndt, got a job at Kansas State University that offered $125 a month job—enough for them to get married. But they figured they’d be better off in Idaho when World War II broke out and moved back.
In 1946 they moved to Hailey where Chet built homes, including the first ones in Hulen Meadows.
“From the day we came to Hailey I knew it was home. It’s such a friendly place,” Arndt recalls. “There were a lot more community gatherings then—we played a lot of pinochle. Once in a very rare while, we’d go up to Sun Valley—that lodge was a marvel. But I never skied. My interest in Sun Valley really started when the symphony started. I went to the first concert they had and I still go today.”
In 1950 the Arndts shelled out $4,800 for four lots on Third Avenue that the city’s namesake John Hailey had bought in 1884 for $50.
They were only the second family to live in the home that W.H. Bailey built in 1898 out of bricks made in Idaho Falls. Chet added his touch, Arndt proudly points out, building a patio out of firebrick tile baked in a 1930 bakery oven that used to reside in the old Wood River Journal building.
Armed with a teaching degree from Idaho State University, Arndt taught school in Hailey for 20 years, starting with elementary school music.
“I always loved music–in high school five of us drove for 35 miles in a T-model to see John Phillip Sousa perform an afternoon program in Pocatello. It was as good as any rock concert today,” says Arndt, who played the organ for many of Hailey’s weddings and funerals over the years.
Later, she branched out into reading improvement. She took 15 high school kids, including her only child Henry, to Europe in 1962, scoring a story in the New York Times as they passed through the New York airport.
School let out early the day JFK was assassinated, she recalls. And everyone, Arndt included, gathered in the homes of the few who had TVs to watch the President’s funeral.
“I never had a problem with discipline,” she says. “You keep the kids busy, keep them interested, and they don’t have time to get into trouble. But you had to be resourceful in those days—you didn’t have all the books and equipment they do nowadays. And we didn’t have field trips, either. When we took them out on a picnic, we’d head to the nearest place with shade trees.”
In 1976 Arndt began a 10-year stint as a librarian at the Hailey Library. A few years ago, the Friends of the Library donated a chair at the library in Arndt’s name.
“I never saw a library until high school. But I grew up with a book in my hand because my father was that kind of a person. And the train brought the Ogden newspaper, which we always read from cover to cover,” Arndt recalls.
Arndt’s husband of 56 years died in 1992 at age 87. This woman who once forsook driving to walk to all of her errands uses a cane today. And she must sit close to the TV to watch baseball since her gray eyes no longer see as well as they once did.
But she still gets out to Souper Supper twice a week and to church where she is often greeted by former students.
“They have to identify themselves—they’ve grown up and my eyesight isn’t so good anymore. But once I know who it is I can always see in my mind’s eye where they sat in class,” she says.
Arndt’s son Henry, who graduated Outstanding Senior Chemist at the University of Idaho, oversees the diagnostic division of Bayer Corp. in Elkhart, Ind. Her younger sisters, now 94 and 92 years of age, live in Downey and a suburb of Portland.
But Arndt wouldn’t dream of living anywhere else. Instead she relies on a network of 15 to 20 friends from Karen’s Pharmacy to “Mr. Fixit” David Ovard, who deliver her pill box once a week, keep her walkway shoveled and do her grocery shopping.
Among them, Mike Healy, a retired teacher who reads her the local newspaper once a week.
“What I love about her is that she’s 96 and she’s still interested in the political shenanigans and what’s happening in the schools,” says Healy. “She likes to keep abreast of what the locals are doing and clips out “This Week in Wood River Valley history” to send to a friend in California.”
Everything in Arndt’s home is much the same as it’s always been—from the Dresden plate quilt she made in high school to the cane chair she got in 1926 when she was 16 to the intricately carved Eiffel Tower her father carved with a scroll saw.
But, she notes, the same can’t be said for everything outside her home’s brick walls.
“Ketchum has almost outgrown itself. Every time you go up there, you see another building. You wonder where they’re going to put another one and yet they always seem to find another space for one. Hailey’s growth has been better managed—at least, until recently.”
“But I accept what comes,” she adds. “Things change and you must accept it; otherwise, you make yourself miserable. Change is good—most of it.”
She donated the antique wood cook stove now sitting in a restored cabin on the property.
The gray ruffled wedding dress was her mother Lizzie’s when she married Will Uhrig on July 3, 1890, in Hailey.
The butter churn, which Harper still enjoys pumping, was her nephew’s. And she and her brother played with the toy plows, miniature sewing machine and cast iron stove sitting in the display case 94 years ago.
Yup, 94 years ago.
Chrystal Uhrig Harper has been a part of life in the Wood River Valley for 100 years–make that 101 when she celebrates yet another birthday next Wednesday.
“I’ve given birthday parties for her since she was 83,” said Harper’s friend Sharon Schrock. “I told her if she doesn’t quit, I’m going to be too old to throw her a party.”
Harper was born on a ranch near Stanton Crossing that her father had settled after moving to Idaho from Illinois in 1887.
Albert Einstein would publish his Theory of Relativity two days after she was born. President Teddy Roosevelt was busy negotiating peace between the Russians and Japanese. And Russian peasants had started their revolt against the Czar just a few months earlier.
It was an idyllic childhood tempered only by the loss of her mother when she was 5. Harper and her five siblings played Pop the Whip, swinging each other around while skating at a nearby pond. They attended square dances in the one-room Stanton Crossing school, where they attended school with 14 other children.
“I had the nicest childhood anyone could want,” Harper recalled, describing how she’d make a playhouse in the sagebrush, which grew up to her shoulders. “I had a wonderful Dad. And we were carefree. We could go for miles without worrying.
“One time I tried boiling a potato on this little frying pan on my cast iron stove,” she added, fingering a cast iron frying pan the size of a silver dollar. “After I cooked the potato, I put it away and never used it again. I had used two of my Dad’s matches and he wondered what had happened to them.”
Harper’s father moved his brood to Boise for a better education when Harper was in the fourth grade. She returned to the Wood River Valley a few years later and at 19 married Ed Harper, whom she’d met in Boise.
The two headed off for a job with Texaco but got sidetracked in Long Beach, Calif., where they started a dry cleaning business. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Ed went to work for Douglas Aircraft and Chrystal became an Air Force warden.
“Those little planes would go over and we’d put all our lights out,” Harper recalled. “You have no idea how scary it is in a black city. I had to go out and patrol several blocks to make sure everyone had their lights out and you’d hear footprints behind you. Boy was I gad to get back home. Even today, I always feel peaceful when I see planes up in the sky over my home. I think of them as patrolling our skies.”
Discomforted by the war, the Harpers retreated to the Wood River Valley in 1943 where they farmed the old Kohler place just north of Bellevue.
Ed worked for Sun Valley’s maintenance department. And Chrystal did the laundry at Christiana Motor Lodge.
“I retired at age 88 and I’m having a ball,” says Harper, who is nicknamed Olly for her middle name Leola.
Indeed, Harper may have lost a couple inches off her original 5-foot-1 height—“I’m a midget now.” And she suffers from a hearing loss, which prompts her to cup her hands behind her ears. But, otherwise, she shows few signs of slowing down.
She takes just two pills a day—a vitamin for her eyes and an aspirin for her heart.
She plants a cornucopia of delphiniums, nasturtiums, snapdragons, marigolds and peonies, sitting amidst them each morning as she listens to the birds sing. And until a couple years ago, she mowed her three lots with a push mower.
“She amazes me in almost everything,” said Schrock. “One time I went to check on her–she was just 70 then—and I couldn’t find her so I was getting a little nervous. All of a sudden I heard her talking and she came out of the attic where she had been checking her insulation.”
Ed died a half-century ago after 35 years of marriage. But Chrystal continues to live in a small gray-framed house next door to the log cabin she and Ed bought in 1950 on Bellevue’s Main Street.
Active in the local Rebekah’s Lodge for 55 years, she goes to the senior center three days a week. Occasionally, she wanders across the street from her house to help her cousin Ora Lee Disbennett and others tidy the grounds around the historical museum. And she walks several blocks to the post office each day, her short gray hair and smiling face shielded from the sun by a neon pink hat with embroidered flowers.
“It used to be you could go to the post office and spend an hour gossiping. Now I go down and zip out. I don’t know many of the people there there’s so many new people in town,” she says.
It’s difficult to get Harper to reflect upon momentous occasions in her lifetime.
“I’ve got a lot of years to cover. And they were just the old days, anyway,” she says.
But she is clearly reveling in the attention that turning 100 brings—from serving as grand marshal in Bellevue’s Labor Day Parade to being named to the Blaine County Museum’s Heritage Court, which brings with it a flurry of other parade engagements.
“Oooh, I love it,” she said. “Last year I waved at the people along the parade route like this,” she said, demonstrating how she lifted first one arm, then the other arm up to give a big hearty wave to bystanders along the parade route.
“Now this year they told us to give just a little wave,” she added, demonstrating a tiny motion of the hand akin to the classic rodeo queen wave. “But, at 100, I can probably wave any way I please.”
Merline Farnworth’s roots stretch deep into the reddish brown soil of Carey.
Her great uncle Archie Billingsley was among the first white settlers to enter the valley, arriving with a large herd of cattle in 1879 shortly after the Bannock Indian War.
And her great aunt Jane Billingsley offered her home as the area’s first schoolhouse until a log schoolhouse with a dirt roof opened the following year.
All great fodder for a 77-year-old geneaological buff whose identity is wrapped up as much in her ancestors as her own children.
“I feel a closeness to my ancestors. They homesteaded. They raised their children here. They cultivated the ground,” she says.
Farnworth’s memoirs, which she is currently writing, start with the Billingsleys who returned to Hagerman that first winter but filed a homestead in the Carey Valley the following year and in 1883 built a permanent home there.
“The church sent a lot of them out to open the area up for settlement,” said Farnworth, noting Carey’s large population of Mormons.
Jane Billingsley came to America from England at 7, crossed the plains in a covered wagon before moving marrying Archie. She had to flee Indians once while living near Hagerman. And the Indians living in the Carey Valley hid her when another tribe attacked theirs. On another occasion, Farnworth said, the Indians helped Aunt Jane deliver one of her babies.
Archie Billingsley—for whom the new Billingsley State Park is named– proved himself an able leader in his new community, leading a posse that chased down an escaped murderer and thief who had escaped from the Idaho Territorial Prison and gone to look for money he’d stashed in the lava flows east of Carey.
“Carey was on the outlaw trail, then—a stop for outlaws to change horses as they headed for their hideouts in the Black Hills,” Farnworth said.
Farnworth’s father came a few years after the Billingsleys, walking alongside his parents’ wagon as it made its way from Malad even though he was only 2.
“He said there were no fences here then and the grass was as high as a horse’s belly,” Farnworth recalled.
Farnsworth’s grandparents on her mother’s side came in 1907, settling along Fish Creek northeast of present-day Carey. Her grandfather, Tom Davis, earned his living carrying the mail from Fish Creek to Muldoon to Bellevue and back.
“It took three days, I think,” Farnworth said. “People got one mail delivery a week, maybe two, in those days.”
Farnworth is the youngest of five children born to George Sparks and Vivian Davis Sparks.
“Mother said she read my name in a book somewhere. My father could barely write his name but mother was a fantastic reader. In the evening, she would read ranch magazines to us,” Farnworth recalls. “They had good clean stories in the magazines in those days.”
During the day Farnworth’s father worked for a cattleman, herding cattle on the nearby Camas Prairie until his employer lost his cattle in the Depression.
“There was no money during the Depression,” says Farnworth, who was a youngster at the time. “You pumped your water from the ground, you raised all the food you ate and you supplemented it with deer and elk and some antelope. And we survived.”
The cattle gone, Farnworth’s father became a sheepherder, herding the sheep on the desert in the spring and at the head of the Little Wood River during summer.
Farnworth and her mother would join him every once in awhile, driving the family’s 1936 Chevy up the road as far as they could before switching to horses her father brought them.
Sometimes they camped in the sheep wagon. Other times they wrapped up in blankets under the stars, making a mattress of pine boughs.
“My father was a wonderful cook, making sourdough bread, stew and beans. And he always had the best lambs in the valley—good fat lambs,” Farnworth recalls.
With her father gone much of the time, Farnworth had to milk the cows and feed the lambs before she went to school. She carded the remnants of wool her father brought home. And, when the family moved to Fish Creek during the summer, she helped cook for 25 to 30 threshers at harvest.
“In those days the work had to be done so we did it,” she says with a shrug. “I could take water out to the men, but my dad wouldn’t let me stay out there. They were rough, their language was bad—girls just didn’t hang around men like that in those days.”
After graduating as valedictorian in her class of 12, Farnworth married DeWayne Farnworth, whom she’d known since she was a toddler, when she was 18. She worked as an accountant while he worked days at Carey’s Kraft factory and evenings on his ranch.
The couple had three children—Marty, who now lives in Phoenix; Cheryl, who lives in Carey, and Tom, who lives in Richfield.
“Carey was a good place to raise kids,” Farnworth said. “The children had their own crowd and most had the same principles and morals they did.”
As adults Merline and DeWayne rode in the Carey Riding Club, which performed drills in places like Winnemucca, Blackfoot, Billings, Idaho Falls and Twin Falls.
“We were raised on horses so it was second-nature,” she says. “And Carey always took first place in everything.”
Merline spends much of her time at the senior center, trying to recruit more participants to add to the two dozen who meet there.
When that work’s done, she and DeWayne put up their feet and sit back in their front porch swing, which looks across their broad expanse of pasture.
“I feel a closeness to the hills that surround Carey. I’ve always considered the hills home and the people who settled them,” she says. “I could never live anyplace else.”
Bebe Haemmerle can vouch for the benefits of being bilingual.
“Florian told me, ‘You can ask: How much further? three times and that’s all,’ ” Bebe recalled. “So I just hung in there.”