BY KAREN BOSSICK
The Wood River Journal~Bellevue
Mary Eskridge retains a vivid picture of her mother hunched over the sewing machine sewing the outline of a Bellevue Bulldog on a skirt for a school cheerleader.
“All of a sudden the needle went right in my mother’s finger. It was in there so good she had to tear it out with a pair of pliers,” Eskridge recalls. “But it wasn’t a problem in her mind. She put another needle in and finished the rest of the skirts.”
Anna Faye O’Donnell took the same hard-nosed tack in whatever she did, whether it was planning banquets for her two sons’ football and basketball teams or staying up all night to type up the minutes from a Bellevue City Council meeting.
It’s a tenacity that got her a park named after her when she retired as city clerk of Bellevue after 28 years. It’s the kind of spirit that earned her a berth in this year’s Blaine County Heritage Court, which honors longtime residents who have made contributions to the way of life in the Wood River Valley.
“She’s just always had a real strength of character and a hardiness—and I think that’s part of the reason she’s still healthy and a go-getter even at 87,” says Eskridge.
O’Donnell, a quiet, gentle woman whose white hair cascades in waves to her shoulders, was born a few miles southeast of Jerome where her father raised corn and wheat and gathered up 60 dozen eggs a day that he sold to the schools.
When the bank foreclosed on the farm in 1937 during the Depression, James and Martha Rooker moved their family to Bellevue, moving the chickens under cover of darkness after they’d gone to roost so they wouldn’t miss a day of laying.
The family farmhouse is still there—just across the Big Wood River where Broadford Road swings to the right.
It was there that O’Donnell caught the first glimpse of the young man who would become her husband when she turned 18.
“John—Jack, we called him—was three years older than I,” recalls O’Donnell. “He lived a quarter mile down the road and I’d see him walking by. He was so handsome. We built our house during the war when there was a shortage of nails so other people had to buy nails for us.”
The Costco run of the ‘50s
Jack O’Donnell worked in the Triumph Mine out East Fork Road and in the Queen Mine above the hills of Bellevue. Until a freak accident caused dynamite to go off early, that is. The subsequent cave-in crushed Jack’s leg so badly that it was years before he could walk normally again.
His tenure in the mines cut short, Jack bought part-ownership in the Silver Dollar Saloon, paying homage to its name by inserting silver dollars into the bar. He switched to poker chips a few years later after burglers pried the silver dollars out of the counter
O’Donnell, meanwhile, served as a housekeeper for I.E. Rockwell, a prominent businessman and state senator who was instrumental in the development of American Falls Dam. The Rockwells’ home became the Bellevue Bible Camp after Rockwell’s death in 1952.
Though she moved to the Wood River Valley just a few months after Sun Valley Resort opened in the winter of 1936-37, O’Donnell never learned to ski. She did, however, accompany her husband to many trapshooting events, recalls her son John Russell O’Donnell.
And she was behind Jack when he took flying lessons at a dirt airstrip just south of Hailey and then helped build the first small hanger at what is now Friedman Memorial Airport.
O’Donnell and her friends would pile into a single car for a shopping excursion to Twin Falls when one of them had a need for something they couldn’t get in the valley. They timed their excursion, meant to save gas, by arriving in the larger city when the stores opened and they stayed until they closed. They usually made the trip on Friday, Eskridge recalls, when Sears and Penney’s stayed open late.
“There had to be a reason—Christmas shopping or someone’s birthday—they didn’t go just to go,” she adds.
But O’Donnell’s focus was on the community—that and raising three children. John Russell graduated from West Point Academy, and went on to serve in the Army before retiring in Massachusetts. James worked with Intel Corporation in Singapore before retiring to Arizona. Mary Eskridge works at a car dealership in Twin Falls.
Making chocolate into a vegetable
The O’Donnells could always be counted on to help with whatever the kids were involved in—from 4-H to the Senior Prom. And it didn’t have to involve their own kids.
Year after year, they bought 30 tickets at a time and arranged for a school bus to take kids to the Shriners Circus in Twin Falls. They even installed a slide and swing set and a cement slab for a basketball hoop in the front yard of their house at 302 N. Main Street to ensure the town kids had a place to play.
“I remember one kid knocking at the door and asking if he could shovel off the court to play,” Eskridge recalls. “Mom told him ‘Fine, as long as your friends help you.’ ”
In those days, before Ketchum’s Wagon Days rose to prominence, the Bellevue Labor Day Celebration was always a major event with a free barbecue, dance, street sports and talent program, John Russell O’Donnell recalls.
Jack would collect donations from businesses so everything could be provided free of charge. Then he’d heat up a hole in the park with coals for the beef and lamb the local ranchers donated.
They even had a trial run a few months before Labor Day, which they called the Fishermen’s Picnic. O’Donnell and her friends filled boiling pots with corn on the cob and cooked a hundred pounds of potatoes, which they then mixed into potato salad in metal wash tubs in the O’Donnell kitchen.
“I was so used to seeing Mom up to her elbows mixing the potatoes that I didn’t realize you were supposed to use a spoon until I tried to make a bowl of potato salad for a 4-H project,” Eskridge recalls. “I started to put my hands into mix it and the instructor said, ‘What are you doing?’ ”
As the kids got older, O’Donnell put her talent for cooking for large groups to use working in the school cafeteria—a career she pursued for the next 20 years in addition to her work as city clerk.
She ordered the food for schools in Carey, Bellevue, Hailey and Ketchum, decided what the school needed to charge and then plunged in up to her elbows making cinnamon rolls and Beatnik Cake—a chocolate cake made with beets so the cake could be counted as a vegetable.
“We cooked everything from scratch then. There wasn’t any trick to it—it’s just what everybody did. It was just good plain food,” she recalls.
John died at the age of 57. After 33 years of living alone, Anna Faye O’Donnell moved this past February into an assistive living facility in Twin Falls. But her heart remains in the Wood River Valley.
“I’ve just spent my life as a common ordinary wife. But it’s been a good life,” she says. “I’ve seen the town grow from a quiet little place to a busy place. But I do miss it.”
Margaret Murdock is a woman of note in Carey.
Not only does she still play organ for her church at the age of 88 but she taught hundreds of Carey youth how to play piano on the Wurlitzer piano she brought from Heber City, Utah, 60 years ago.
“I had 47 students at one time—before school, after school, on Saturdays. And we’d have recitals every year at Christmas and in spring. At one time I had eight students play together at the same time,” she recounts proudly.
Murdock’s attention to the kids is among the things that prompted members of Carey’s Senior Center to nominate her for the Fifth Annual Blaine County Heritage Court. The court honors longtime valley residents who have made a contribution to the valley’s way of life.
Murdock grew up in a log home that her family moved to in 1918. Her father, a farmer from Mt. Pleasant, Utah, had sought to move the family to Canada but had been rebuffed by a bitterly cold winter that wiped out much of the family cattle.
Carey’s lush grasslands were perfect for his 2,000 sheep, he said, along with the family’s cattle, pigs, turkeys and geese.
“We didn’t even know there was a Depression because we had our own eggs, butter and milk,” recalls Murdock.
Though a girl, Murdock took her turn with farm chores, driving a team of horses dragging a wheel-less flatbed across the ground to gather hay.
The family farm sat within spitting distance of the lava fields. But Murdock and her three brothers and three sisters rarely ventured into the lava because they were afraid of snakes.
They rode sleds to school in winter. And when school was over, they took to “hookey bobbing,” riding a string of sleighs tied to the saddle horn of one of the farm horses.
In those days, Murdock said, Highway 20 wasn’t plowed and the traffic was so light they could sled down the highway at Picabo Hill.
Here she comes: Miss…
The musically inclined Murdock played accordion in a Western band that played songs like “The Old Grey Bonnet.”
And everyone, she says, went to the dances at the church social hall, where a local orchestra lulled dancers with “Mood Indigo.”
“You didn’t dance with the same fellow all night long,” Murdock recalls. “You’d dance with young men and old—they’d come up to you and say, ‘Can I have the third dance with you?’ and then they’d pencil you in on their card.”
Never above being mischievous, Murdock and her friends would raid neighbors’ chicken coops during summer, wringing the chickens’ necks and cooking them over an open fire. Come winter, they’d take cans of unpitted olives to the movie theater, eat the olives and throw the pits at theatergoers.
But Murdock was still deemed sweet enough that she was named Miss Blaine County in 1938, going on to compete in the Miss Idaho contest.
“I remember I had to borrow a swimsuit–I never did learn to swim,” she says. “We’d swim in the canals around Carey but we touched the bottom with our hands, pulling ourselves along.”
In 1943 Murdock married Verd Murdock, whom she met during a musical mission for the Mormon Church in Philadelphia and New York. The newlyweds settled in Heber City, Utah, where Verd worked in the lead and silver mines near Park City until a friend died in a mining accident.
“Those mines scared me to death,” Murdock says. “I cried every day when he left for work. I finally talked him out of it.”
The years following World War II were tough for a young married couple. They couldn’t buy a refrigerator because refrigerator manufacturing had been scrapped temporarily for the war effort. So they made a refrigerator with a wooden orange crate to which they hung a burlap over a pan of water. The water cooled the food as it seeped up the sack.
“It was a year before we got a refrigerator,” Murdock says.
Murdock had become enamored with the piano when a peddler left one for her family to try when she was 7.
“I just plunked tunes by ear, but after a week I wanted the piano so badly I cried and cried until my folks got it,” she said.
Murdock went on to major in music education at Brigham Young University, eventually returning to play at countless weddings and funerals in her hometown. She taught first grade for 14 years and second for five.
And as her own children got older, she started passing on her love of music to the town kids, teaching them such songs as “Hickory Dickory,” “Poppo the Porpoise,” “Popcorn Man,” “Liebestraume,” “The Entertainer” and “Hungarian Rhapsody.”
“She plays the piano beautifully,” says her grandson Daniel Parke, a chiropractor. “We kids loved to go for her house for dinner—she made the best gravy in the world. And I remember one winter night when the lights went out for about an hour and grandma sat there at the piano, fielding requests and entertaining us until the electricity came back on.”
At 88, Murdock still teaches piano to her great-grandchildren. And, she says proudly, one of her great grandsons, Trent Parke, seems to be following in her footsteps, having just won $6,500 in piano scholarships.
“I never get tired of hearing the musical scale,” she says. “It makes me feel so good to see my students progress. Music is a joy to people.”
BY KAREN BOSSICK
The Wood River Journal~Sun Valley
Mary Lou Mickelson and her former husband Bob loved skiing so much that they built Alpental Ski Resort on Snoqualmie Pass.
The area is considered to have some of the most challenging and beautiful skiing in Washington. But when the two got their chance they split for Sun Valley and Bald Mountain—what they call the best ski turf in the world.
Here they helped build—and sell–Sun Valley. And they enjoyed the company of those who figure prominently in the annals of Sun Valley history.
Now Mary Lou Mickelson is one of four women who have been named to the 2008 Blaine County Heritage Court for her part in the Wood River Valley’s heritage.
Mary Lou Mickelson, now 80, was a Spokane girl studying business at Simmons College in Boston when she met Bob, who was attending Harvard Business College. The couple came to Sun Valley on their honeymoon in 1951 and were smitten.
“We did everything you could do—the sleigh rides, the skiing, the skating, the dinners at the lodge, the dancing—all the things Sun Valley is famous for,” Mary Lou recalls. “Those are pretty wonderful things and they’re not things every area has.”
The couple settled in Tacoma where Mary Lou had a dress shop and Bob designed a line of ski clothing.
“Kalten Bruger came out with the first line of stretch pants, which he sold for $100 in 1950 and 1951. Willy Bogner started mass-producing them, cutting the price to $49.95. And then I came up with my line of Edelweiss stretch pants and jackets, which Mary Lou helped me with. I outfitted the entire Olympic team and all the officials,” recalls Bob, who remains on friendly terms with his former wife even though they separated years ago.
Skiwear was an easy fit for Mary Lou who had started skiing while at the University of Washington. “I had a patient boyfriend who thought we would marry some day so he worked real hard at making me into a good skier,” she recalls. “I loved the speed. I loved the snow. I loved the whole way of life, down to the Austrian dirndls.”
As their two children grew, the Mickelsons returned to Sun Valley every year on vacation, knowing that some day they would leave Washington’s rain clouds behind and move to Sun Valley.
Bob bought a lot a block from the Warm Springs lift for $10,000. And then he set about building some of Sun Valley’s first condominiums in the mid-60s, giving them the same name as his skiwear and the Edelweiss chairlift at Alpental.
“Bankers didn’t even understand what condos were. They thought condominium was a form of birth control,” Bob recalls.
He didn’t stop there. He also put up some of the valley’s first prefab or manufactured housing, building the Hailey Park Townhouses and what is now Pennay’s River Run, as well as the Pioneer Lodge and condos at Bogus Basin Ski Area near Boise.
“Back then prefab construction really made sense because the building season was so short,” he says. “Now they build all year long.”
Selling Sun Valley
Mary Lou, meanwhile, tried real estate and found it every bit as rewarding as clothes buying.
There were fewer than 200 real estate agents when she started and a big sale totaled $40,000. Now there are a thousand agents, she notes, and big sales—well, they’re in the millions.
“I loved meeting with new clients on vacation and matching them up with right property,” said Mary Lou, who also served on the grievance committee of the Board of Realtors.” “It was so very satisfying.”
When the Mickelsons moved to Sun Valley, it was the type of place where you waved at everyone as you drove down the street because you knew everyone.
Many of the “originals” still lived here, like Pete Lane, whose father owned Jack Lane’s Mercantile “mainly so sheepherders could sit around a potbelly stove and tell stories,” Bob says.
Pete ran a ski shop in the old Challenger Inn, even though he had no interest in skiing because he was too much a sheep man. But he was the best ski boot fitter in the world, Mickelson recalls, and he worked as a timer for the Olympics.
Another of their favorite characters was ski pole inventor Ed Scott, who drove into town one day and parked his open convertible in front of his ski shop where Smoky Mountain Pizza is today.
“It snowed and snowed but he never put his top up all winter. But that was Scotty,” Bob recalls. “We called him Ichabod Crane because he was 6-foot-6 and so gangly.”
Counting her blessings
Mary Lou got in on the beginning of modern-day cross-country skiing when there were no groomed trails. She played more sets of tennis than she can count and she was an avid member of the Sun Valley Ski Club.
She also served as an elder at the Presbyterian Church of the Big Wood when the church was going through its building program and on the board of directors of Young Life.
Assorted knee injuries have kept her off her skis, which are still straight, not shaped. But she hopes this is the year she can return to the slopes, which she sees every morning from her bedroom window in Elkhorn.
Meanwhile, she’s taken up more sedentary activities, like watching birds and trying out recipes in her “Cooking Light” magazines.
And she continually counts her blessings that she is fortunate enough to live in Sun Valley.
“So what if we don’t have every fashion show that comes along—who cares? Atkinsons can rival any market in a big city. And, while we’ve had changes it’s still a perfectly beautiful world here and the climate just amplifies that. The skiing is much more exciting now, thanks to the new lifts and faster equipment. And I think the area has met its growth as well as any area I’ve known,” she says.
Lois Heagle can still remember when her school class climbed the stairs of the second floor of the old Hailey Elementary School to watch the first passenger train go past, carrying the rich and famous to the new Sun Valley Ski Resort.
It sparked a sense of adventure in the young impressionable student. But it was an adventure she could never take part in herself.
“I had to give it up because I dislocated my hip when I was born,” recalls Heagle, now 81. “Dislocated hips were a common problem then but they didn’t check for it like they do now. They didn’t discover I had a problem and put it back in place until I was 2.
“My doctor said, ‘I know where you’re from and I know what they do up there, but I think if you go skiing, you’ll break your hip. And so I had to stop skiing just after I’d gotten to the point where I could get up on Dollar and go down the backside.”
Skiing or not, Heagle still found plenty to do in the small-town Hailey of the early 1900s.
Often accompanied by her sister Loma, who now lives in Twin Falls, Heagle learned to swim at the Hiawatha Hotel, which boasted warm water piped in from Croy Canyon’s Democrat Gulch. She ice skated in the winter and built snow forts from which to throw snowballs at passers-by. She made wallpaper clothes for her paper dolls and played on the steps of the new Masonic Lodge—a series of steps so high they were the talk of the town at the time.
She saw the movie, “A Message to Garcia,” about an American officer’s attempts to get a message to an ally during the Spanish-American War, and then rode her bike through Hailey’s dirt streets pretending she was going through the jungle delivering a message.
She painted her face red with lipstick, pretending she was an Indian, picnicked in Quigley Canyon in the snow and went dog sledding on Main Street, sitting on shovels pulled by the dogs. Even carrying the mail a half block from the post office to her father’s automobile dealership was an adventure. “I felt so important carrying all that mail,” Heagle recalls.
Look but don’t pester.
Heagle knew many of the earlier townsfolk as relatives. Her grandfather was the postmaster, Uncle John was the butcher; Uncle Leo, the banker; her aunt’s husband was the grocer.
“My mother’s grandfather came in 1881 and, from what I’ve been told, built the first log house in Hailey. My father came to Hailey when he was 5—he lived at Poverty Flats with two bachelor uncles,” she says.
Heagle’s father Lawrence started out as a pharmacist but then shifted gears, starting Sawtooth Auto Sales. He served as mayor of Hailey from 1970 to 1978, a stint that prompted townspeople to rename Della View Park in his honor.
He also served as state senator for 10 years in the 1940s, even though he was a Republican in a Democratic county.
“We never had a car of our own—we always had loaners from the car dealership,” recalls Heagle. “I remember one time during the war he had so many problems getting to Boise that he told a man that if he traded cars with him he’d give him the first car he got when the war was over. And he kept his word.
“Me—I just remember I always wanted a car so I could put a bumper sticker on it saying I’d been to Yellowstone. But I never got the chance.”
Old Hailey had its share of characters, Heagle recalls. Mrs. Friedman—the wife of grocer S.M. Friedman was the town busybody.
“She said, ‘I don’t like summertime because the trees have leaves and I can’t see what the neighbors are doing,” Heagle recalls. “And she was amazed that mother could get by with one chicken for our family of four. She said, ‘We have to have two for the three of us.”
Celebrities were a common sight when Heagle went to dinner at the Sun Valley Lodge or to watch ski jumping contests on Ruud Mountain.
“Very few people went up to speak to them,” she says. “We were taught you could look but you couldn’t ask for autographs.”
At home in the museum
Heagle graduated with 29 classmates from Hailey High School in the first and only all-county graduation held at the Sun Valley Opera House.
She studied business at the University of Oregon and University of Idaho. But she ended up a teacher when she happened to stop at the school office while getting her driver’s license next door.
“They had three openings and all they required was that you had a degree in anything,” says Heagle, who taught at the old Ketchum grade school where Giacobbi Square is before moving on to teach in Kellogg, Idaho, Spokane, Wash., and California.
Married twice, divorced once and widowed once, Heagle returned to Hailey permanently in 1993 to care for her aging parents. Her old high school had been converted to an elementary school. And homes had begun to fill in Northridge and Woodside, which was considered “way out in the country” when she was a youngster.
But she plunged right in, conducting Bingo games at Blaine Manor, helping school kids with their homework at The Study Place, and serving on the boards of the Emmanuel Episcopal Church, P.E.O and Souper Suppers.
“She’s served on the board of the Blaine County Historical Museum and been very generous,” says Teddie Daley. “She donated a 1925 Ford Roadster that belonged to her father to the museum and she even bought us our very first computer.”
Heagle says she feels right at home in the museum, which her mother helped start.
“I like to go down to the museum. I know where such-and-such came from and who used to wear a certain dress.”
Instead of making the rounds of her relatives, as she did when she was a youngster, Heagle now visits them at the Hailey Cemetery where she cares for 13 graves. And she slips up now and then—calling the bike path “the railroad tracks,” for instance.
But she’s content to be back in the town she grew up in.
“After living in Washington and California, I think Hailey is still the best place,” she says. “I like the size of the town, the people and the fact that the weather is not extreme. And I like the fact that some people still recognize that I’m my father’s daughter by my daddy’s 5B 1000 license plate on my car.”