The evergreens that Sally Donart planted outside her cabin retreat-like home north of Ketchum four decades ago now stretch 40 and 50 feet into the blue Sun Valley sky.
The other seeds she planted have grown just as much.
A bill she championed in the 1960s paved the way for mental health services in communities across Idaho. The Crisis Hotline she helped start has grown to be a vital part of the Wood River Valley. And the smart land use practices she championed as editor of the Ketchum Tomorrow newspaper have helped maintain the quality of life in the Sun Valley area, even as growth as taken Ketchum beyond the two paved roads that were here when Donart first came for a visit.
That work was a large part of the reason Donart was inducted into the 2010 Blaine County Heritage Court this month. The Court honors longtime residents for their contributions to the valley.
Donart first began coming to Sun Valley in 1949. She, her attorney husband James and their three children—Gretchen, George and Sara (Gorham)—would throw a casserole in the car and drive up from Weiser, staying at a Quonset hut that had been turned into a Ketchum hotel.
On Sunday mornings they’d join six or seven other skiers packing down snow with their skis on Upper Canyon or Exhibition. And, in return, Ski Patrol Director Nelson Bennett would give them a turkey and gravy lunch and a free pass to ski the rest of the afternoon.
In 1972 they moved into a home that James built on the site of a former hay farm in the Lake Creek area.
“We came for the skiing and stayed for the people,” says Donart, a shock of white hair falling in her eyes. “One time when it was a poor snow year I asked people at the lifts why they’d come, knowing the snow wasn’t good. They told me: You have the best restaurants in the country and the nicest people.
“Pappy Rogers—Sun Valley’s first general manager–set the tone for Sun Valley in those years,” she adds. “He’d go out and greet guests with such graciousness. Then he’d go into the kitchen and talk to the help with the same degree of respect.”
It was while her husband was serving as state senator that Donart began lobbying the legislature to establish community mental health centers so people could get help before they needed institutionalization.
After moving to Ketchum, she helped start the local Crisis Hotline and served as its executive director. She took her turn as president of the Idaho Mental Health Association and as vice-president of the National Association for Mental Health. And she lobbied legislature on the behalf of the Idaho Nurses Association.
Donart also took on the editorship of the weekly newspaper Ketchum Tomorrow for two years, using the newspaper to fight for land-use planning to maintain the quality of the valley.
She prides herself that she was such a stickler for accuracy that the county commissioners once used her article for the official minutes when they failed to take minutes one time. And she also started the practice of giving out newspapers for free to ensure that the ads got into the hands of the people who needed to see them.
“Our focus was ‘government is us,’ ” she says. “It was important to me to let people know what was happening so they could get involved.”
Donart took a job as head librarian at The Community Library when she decided it’d be nice not to worry about deadlines.
And at the age of 58 she returned to school at J.F. Kennedy University in Orinda, Calif., where she got a clinical psychology degree specializing in relationships, grief and post traumatic stress.
At 83, Donart has been forced to rein in her activities because of a knee replacement that’s outlived its warranty and an auto-immune disease she believes stemmed in large part from her busyness.
“I was trying to save the world by myself yesterday,” she says.
But she still mans the phones for the Blaine County Democrats, whom she chaired four years, even though she longs for the slower, more thoughtful pace that preceded the modern-day incivility that she says has resulted from the 24-hour news cycles and battling commentators.
She’s continued to follow conservation issues, donating three acres of land that include the Lake Creek beaver ponds and another 13 acres of nearby hillside to the Wood River Land Trust.
And she still works as psychotherapist, often while her black cats named Lena Horne and Licorice look on.
“My clients won’t let me retire,” she says. “And counseling has been one of most interesting parts of my life. I’ve learned so much about human nature. I admire the indomitable spirit of people who’ve been devastated but want to be whole again. The best advice I’ve been able to give them is to stay in the moment. The moment’s what’s here now.”
Got tresses? Phyllis Stelma has probably permed them, cut them or combed them out.
Stelma has done the hair of both the rich and famous in Sun Valley and the miner’s wives in Bellevue for 63 years.
Even at 81, she still takes up her hair scissors on occasion.
“I did Mrs. Harrah’s hair—she wanted to take me back to Reno with her. I did Janet Leigh and Mary Hemingway’s—they would order lunch from Sun Valley while they sat under the driers. And when I opened my own shop in Bellevue, Jeanne Moritz—Dr. Moritz’s wife—would come all the way down to get her hair done,” recalls Phyllis, who charged $1.50 for a cut and $3.50 for a perm during the 1950s.
All that snipping and shampooing must’ve made an impression. On June 13, Phyllis will be inducted into the Blaine County Heritage Court, which honors longtime residents who have made their mark on the Wood River Valley.
Phyllis moved to Bellevue when she was 2 when her father–a native of Shoshone–left the mines in Park City to drive the ore car at the Triumph Mine.
Growing up on Broadford Road, she played with the carbines dumped out of miner’s lamps in mine tailings below the Minnie Moore Mine—something that EPA would be aghast at today, she notes. She and her cousins would also retrieve marshmallows picnickers dropped on the Broadford picnic grounds, wash them off and eat them.
Phyllis attended school in the two-story 12-grade schoolhouse that once occupied the Bellevue City Park. She tap danced in the Sun Valley Opera House, played Faith in the play “Faith, Hope and Flairity,” shopped at a department store where Mahoney’s Bar and Grill now sits and watched movies in Bellevue’s opera house.
In 1947, after working as a maid at Sun Valley, Phyllis became the first student to enroll at a new beauty school in Hailey. She worked at Sun Valley and a salon housed in the Silver Dollar building until her husband built a salon in their home. She learned the latest stylings from Sun Valley’s guests and took second place in a beauty styling contest held at Sun Valley
“Her beauty shop was like a lady’s club,” recalls grandson Colin Stelma, who used to peak at the women. “They’d drink a few bears, hang out. It was the social scene on Friday afternoons when the ladies were getting their hair done for the weekend.”
Stelma married her husband Glenn, a Buhl farmboy, 60 years ago March 19 and they lived at what is now Cove Springs Ranch.
Glenn, who passed away four months ago, worked briefly at the Atomic Energy Plant near Arco during the 1950s. But Phyllis couldn’t stand the wind in Arco and so he readily accepted a job working with Phyllis’ uncle Mike Ivie.
“Bellevue was all dirt roads until my uncle Mike went into the rock crushing business,” Phyllis recalls. “He’d collect rocks from the Big Wood River and crush them down on Glendale Road. He also paved Mountain Home Air Force Base, worked on the Sun Valley Mall put in the Christmas chairlift and the first chairlift on the Warm Springs side of Baldy. He lost a worker who was killed when a tree dropped on him while they were building the Christmas lift and that always haunted him.”
Glenn served in a number of organizations, including the American Legion, Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation and Bellevue City Council. And Phyllis followed behind him, helping out as she could, by staffing the warming hut at Rotorun Ski Hill and helping with the free Bellevue Labor Day Barbeque that fed 2,000 people with lamb that had been seasoned, wrapped in muslin and cooked with coals in the ground for two days.
Avid campers, the Stelmas frequently took their four young’uns—Glenda, Phil, Donnie and Danny—camping at Redfish Lake and the Wood River campground north of Ketchum.
They did the same with their grandchildren, letting them fish for chipmunks with marshmallows grandmother tied on the end of willow sticks.
But one of Phyllis’ most vivid memories is that of the 1983 Borah Earthquake.
Colin, a third-grader then, was washing the breakfast plates when a high-pitch ringing emanated from the faucets.
“Grandma ran out of the bathroom screaming because she thought I’d broken the faucet,” Colin recalls. “Just then, the whole world started shaking and we watched the road go up and down like a rollercoaster.
“We found out you could hear it coming before you felt it,” Phyllis adds.
Jean Pyrah didn’t sew her first quilt stitch until she was 70. Now—20 years later—she’s made more than a hundred.
The 90-year-old has made queen-sized quilts for each of her seven children and her 25 grandchildren and baby-sized quilts for each of her 60 great-grandchildren.
“I can name all of the grandchildren and great-grandchildren, too,” she said. “But I don’t know how. I can’t remember where I put my glasses six minutes ago.”
Everyone, it seems, knows Jean Pyrah’s name around Carey. After all, she’s lived there for 75 years—ever since she moved there from Arco during high school.
And on Sunday the people of Carey will celebrate her life there with her induction into the Blaine County Heritage Court.
“She’s a real homemaker, a fantastic sewer and cook and all-around talented lady,” said Bonnie Justesen, who was inducted into the court a couple years ago.
The daughter of a farmer and the granddaughter of a lumberman who had a sawmill on the Big Lost River, Pyrah moved several times as a youth—from Arco to Ashton, Caldwell and even Fish Creek, a community of 10 families near Carey.
There, with the Great Depression getting under way, the family made do with root crops like potatoes and rutabagas that they stored in their cellar and cream they sold at a nearby cream station .
Carey was bigger but still a small town.
“I don’t even remember how groceries came in,” Pyrah said. “We grew our own vegetables, baked our own bread, bought milk from the neighbor.”
She paused. “Things haven’t changed much. I still make my own bread—whole wheat bread’s my specialty. And the kids are always wanting one of grandma’s chocolate chip or raisin oatmeal cookies.”
In 1938 Pyrah married Al, a Carey native who was working for the highway department.
“He was a brilliant musician,” she said, recalling how her husband played piano, organ, saxophone and clarinet at local concerts. “He had a lovely singing voice, too. When we had his funeral in 1980 we had a whole box of funeral programs he’d performed.”
The couple had seven children—Helen, Kurtis, Robb, Amy, Marcia, John and Debbie.
Each took their turn with family chores that came with raising hay, grain and beef cattle. When chores were done, the Pyrahs hitched a wagon to the back of their tractor, picnicking on the nearby lava fields right outside their backdoor.
Pyrah remains bemused by the visitors from around the world who come to see the Craters of the Moon National Monument.
“I know people think it’s a big deal. I say it’s no big deal. It’s just my backyard,” said Pyrah, who has ventured into the heart of the lava fields only a few times.
Jean sewed her children’s clothes when they were younger and has continued to employ her sewing skills since by making wedding dresses for her brood, including one granddaughter who emphatically stated she couldn’t get married without one of grandma’s dresses.
Quilting is a hobby—something she took up after the kids had grown and she finally had time on her hands.
She chooses her patterns from a tall stack of books depicting lover’s knots, log cabins, trips around the world and Irish chains.
If it had been up to Fern Stephenson, she might never have made her home in the Wood River Valley—not with the temperature dipping to 34 degrees the night she attended the Fourth of July rodeo.
But her husband Frank was smitten by the hunting and fishing opportunities the Sun Valley area offered during the family’s vacation trip through the area. And, so, in 1966 the Stephensons said goodbye to the triple-digit heat of Phoenix and headed north to Hailey.
“I couldn’t understand how people could live in the snow with their hands getting cold and all,” said Fern, who was inducted on Sunday into the Blaine County Heritage Court. “But Frank said: ‘You can always put on more clothes to keep warm, but you can’t do much to keep cool.’
“ And I don’t think there’s any place nicer than Sun Valley in the summertime.”
Frank, a carpenter by trade, put his shoulder to the plow upon his arrival in the Wood River Valley, raising hay and cattle on a hundred acres that he purchased on Baseline Road south of Bellevue.
Hailey was a town of 1,400 people then and Bellevue a town of 500, said Fern.
“Sun Valley wasn’t nearly as busy then. There were not that many tourists,” she added. “And you learned quickly you didn’t talk about anyone because they could be somebody’s sister, brother-in-law, aunt or grandparent.”
Fern helped with the farm work, although she wasn’t keen about getting her feet knocked out from under her by an ornery sheep. But she spent much of her time ferrying her daughters—now Karen Morrison and Susan Nutrell—between volleyball and 4-H activities.
“We had a loving home with lots of horses and other animals, motorcycles and snow machines,” said Karen Morrison. “And mother made excellent peach pies with good old flaky crusts.”
Stephenson taught Sunday School and helped with the Missionettes, a church version of the Girl Scouts. She also served as president of Aglow international, a Christian women’s group that met at the long-gone Hiawatha hotel in Hailey, and volunteered with the Blaine Senior Center, eventually serving on the board for five years.
In 1983 she jointed an army of housekeepers to keep things tidy for Allen and Company, a then-new conference started by investment banker Herbert Allen to bring movers and shakers like Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey together at Sun Valley.
“Mr. Allen was always real nice,” she said.
Stephensons’ community activities took a back seat a few years ago when her husband Frank became ill. But she has been able to resume some of her rounds since a spot for Frank became available at Blaine Manor.
She’s jazzed about the new soda fountain at the Senior Connection.
“Frank used to play pool there for years—they even had a tournament with other senior centers in Jerome one year. I really like the exercise class there, too,” she said.
Ted Angle, a member of the Masonic Lodge that nominated Stephenson to the Heritage Court, said Fern has always been available to anyone needing a hand.
“You can always depend on Mom to help out,” echoed Morrison. “She may not have had a lot of titles, but she’s always been good at volunteering. It’s those people who make a community.”
Editor’s note: Fern Stephenson was crowned as part of the 2010 Blaine County Heritage Court on Sunday, along with Sally Donart, Phyllis Stelma and Jean Pyrah.