Carley Baird: Loving the land
STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK
Carley Baird’s six sons were the best dressed at the high school prom, the “tuxes” she made for them sparkling with sequins. And when Sonny and Cher were all the rage, she made each a furry vest.
But she didn’t stop there. She made formals for many of the girls and Barbie doll dresses and squaw dresses, too.
“No one else had jackets like Carley’s sons,” recalled Laurie Fiscus. “She has so many talents—sewing, gardening, singing. And she’s always ready to share those talents with the community—I don’t know how many funerals she’s sang at.”
That community mindedness is one of the reasons the Blaine County Fair Board nominated Baird to the Blaine County Historical Museum Heritage Court. Baird will be crowned during a ceremony open to the public at 3 p.m. today, June 14, at the Liberty Theatre in Hailey.
The ceremony will include entertainment and refreshments.
Carley, 86, has been married to Ray Baird for 67 years. She was just out of high school when she met Ray. He had just returned from serving in World War II when he caught a glimpse of her singing with the Legion Loonies. The two immediately became an item, attending baseball games and dancing to the bands that came Carey in the days when Carey sported a couple grocery stores, four bars, a drug store and three gas stations.
Carley adapted well to farm life with Ray, having grown up in Richfield where her father was a farmer. And the two raised six boys—Dave, Rick, Gary, Jack, Brock and Kim.
“She should qualify for sainthood, just on the basis of raising six boys!” quipped Rick.
The family worked together, the boys docking lamb tails and branding and castrating the family sheep while Carley cooked steaks and other hearty food for the workers.
And they played hard, too. The boys were involve in every sport, following the example of their Dad, an outstanding football player and track star, whose records were only recently broke.
In winter they would ski at tiny ski areas powered by rope tows at Picabo Hill, Fish Creek and Blizzard Mountain.
“I got my first broken leg on Blizzard Mountain,” Carley noted.
When the sheep business went bust, Ray began supplementing the family income by working as a welder at the Idaho National Laboratory, a job he held for 30 years. Carley picked up the slack at home, milking the cows and irrigating the fields. She also tended the garden, which still covers a half-acre of ground, even though it’s been downsized in recent years.
Four of the boys served in the military. Two still live in Carey.
Brock, a welder like his father, helps with the cattle and hay on the Baird ranch.
Rick returned to Carey after 20 years in the Army, having been shot down while a helicopter waist gunner in Vietnam. He served as Mayor of Carey and shepherded Friedman Memorial Airport through its recent construction project after the recession and concerns about sage grouse K.O.d a proposed replacement airport.
“He’s always been a leader. Ray taught him to give 150 percent to every job he’s done,” Carley said.
With the boys grown, Carley has time to play more piano, crooning Patsy Cline, Alan Jackson, George Strait and Willie Nelson tunes.
She and a friend also took painting lessons at Michael’s in Twin Falls. And she continues to paint landscapes of Mormon Hill where the family used to go camping, the family sheep camp at Copper Basin and other landscapes inspired by the Little Wood River, Fish Creek and the Pioneer Mountains on the family table that holds 20 people.
One of Carley and Ray’s proudest achievements is working with conservation organizations to preserve the land that Ray’s father homesteaded after the Baird family came to the valley from Utah in 1898.
The conservation agreements preserves the land for pronghorn antelope, sage grouse and other wildlife—and for the Bairds, who still ride horses there. The couple were also instrumental in forming the Pioneers Alliance to conserve the Pioneer Mountains “Ray’s father would take him by horseback to view the sheep across that land,” Carley said. “In fact, the first thing Ray said was ‘Way over there.’ With six boys we had to be frugal. But the land enabled us to hunt deer and elk, fish, raise cows. We worked hard, but I can’t remember a time I didn’t enjoy.”
“I’ve always been married to a princess,” replied Ray Baird when Betty Murphy asked him how it felt to be married to a princess. Carley Baird, right, looks on as Ruth Lieder introduces herself at the Heritage Court Tea hosted recently by The Community Library and Sun Valley Museum of History. “It’s inspiring to be surrounded by so many of you who have contributed so much to the Wood River Valley and Little Wood River area,” The Community Library’s Executive Director Jenny Emery Davidson told members of the Heritage Court as Denise Thomas, Virginia Reed, Jeanne Flowers and Lois Heagle look on. Hailey resident Dorothy Outzs was inducted into the Heritage Court in 2014.
Laurie Fiscus and Carley Baird visit with Lady Ora Lee Disbennett, who was inducted into the Heritage Court in 2007.
By Lisa Carton For the Express Idaho Mountain Express
Carley Baird of Carey was named to the court by the Blaine County Fair Board.
“It was such a surprise,” she said. “I’m really honored to be nominated and chosen, and I’m looking forward to riding in the parades.”
For more than 60 years, Baird has been a part of the Carey community. Extensive gardening, master sewing, singing and painting are some of the talents this spirited 86-year-old has shared so generously with her community, friends and family.
“I raise a large garden, do it even now. It’s a half acre. I grow spuds, corn, lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, lots of greens.”
Carley and Ray Baird’s home is decorated with her paintings of her family riding horses in the Idaho backcountry and of beautiful mountain lakes framed by spring wildflowers.
“I’ve always liked to delve in art, and have sold some.”
The Baird family heritage in the Carey Valley dates back to 1898. Carley and Ray met in Hailey when she was just out of high school.
“We met while I was singing as part of the Legion Loonies. From that night on, we were an item.”
Fast forward a few years, and after the “I Do’s,” the Bairds raised a family of six boys who all chipped in and helped ranch and farm.
“Ray worked for over 30 years at the Idaho National Lab as a welder, commuting by carpool to Arco every day, so while he went to work, I did a lot of the farming, including milking the cows and irrigating during the day,” she said. “I did whatever needed to be done.”
Baird and her husband have dedicated their lives to caring for a remote part of the Pioneer Mountains that Ray’s father homesteaded a century ago. Baird said they could have sold the land long ago, but because of their dedication and deep connection to the Pioneers and its wildlife, the couple formed the Pioneers Alliance in 2012, an organization that allows others to conserve and connect with an even larger landscape, and signed a conservation easement to prevent its further development.
“I think Idaho is sometimes looked down on because it isn’t that developed. But that’s its beauty—it has the most wonderful scenery.”
Ruth Mayher: “With you, young lady, nothing’s impossible”
STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK
Rusty water dripped from the faucets in the Sun Valley Lodge when Ruth Lieder was assigned the task of marketing the resort to the world. And Elkhorn?
The tennis courts she was supposed to tout for Elkhorn’s first summer didn’t open until Aug. 15. The swimming pool didn’t open until Labor Day. And the golf course didn’t open until three years later.
But Lieder stuck with it and went on to become Sun Valley Mayor for 14 years and a consummate volunteer with the valley’s non-profits. Among them: the Wood River Women’s Foundation, which nominated her for the 2015 Blaine County Historical Museum Heritage Court.
Lieder will be honored for her contributions to the valley in a ceremony open to the public at 3 p.m. Sunday, June 14, at the Liberty Theatre in Hailey. Crowned alongside her will be Denise Thomas, Virginia Reed and Carley Baird.
“She’s an inspiration,” said Joanne Wetherell, a member of the Wood River Women’s Foundation. “She’s even spoken at our gatherings, telling why she likes the effect collective giving makes in the community.”
Lieder grew up in New Jersey where she attended private schools and spent her spare time riding horses and playing with her golden retriever—one of just six golden retrievers in the United States in 1936. Her father was an electrical engineer who found out after World War II that his skills had unknowingly contributed to the building of the atomic bomb.
“He used to tell me, ‘With you, young lady, nothing’s impossible. You can do anything,’ ” Lieder recounted. “I even started a business called ‘Nothing’s Impossible.’ I did things like get bleu cheese from New Zealand for a woman when the Danish lobby wouldn’t allow any bleu cheese that wasn’t Danish into the United States.”
Following graduation from Smith College in 1953, Lieder took a job as an office girl, sharpening pencils and delivering mail, at Time-Life. But her secretarial skills were lacking and so she was transferred to the “Sports Illustrated” marketing department as marketing assistant. She soon found herself headed west where the Olympics was about to take place at Squaw Valley.
She followed that up with a trip to the Olympics in Rome and then to Hong Kong where she helped start a Sunday magazine newspaper insert.
“I’m a godmother of a Filipino man and I was in an Indian wedding,” she recalled. “Hong Kong was boring under the British–you could drive 29 miles to look at Communists across the border. But Japan was fascinating—it had a culture of its own.”
Lieder was in charge of recommending men’s fashions for “Sports Illustrated” when she came to Sun Valley to direct a four-page magazine spread that featured Shoshone Indians in full regalia and a trap shoot. She met Bill Janss and Jack and Margaux Hemingway. And, when Dorice Taylor retired shortly thereafter, she moved here in 1971 to become Sun Valley’s advertising and public relations director.
As Sun Valley’s marketing director, Lieder worked until 9 at night answered such questions as, “I’m coming to Sun Valley with my grandson. What can we do?”
“I had to fight to get people here for the summer—we just had tennis, golf and hiking—there was no biking,” she recalled.
She assisted with the creation of the Sun Valley Center for the Arts, which held needlework classes on the boardwalk outside the Ram and creative writing class in the Sun Valley Inn. She helped start a bus system with a fund-a-bus party. And, when she heard Walt Wagner play piano at the Creekside, she hired him to play for a night club she had created in the Limelight Room.
The phone rang off the hook when Bill Janss’ wife Anne was killed in an avalanche.
“We didn’t know much about her because she was so private,” Lieder recall.
Her job introduced her to a plethora of celebrities, including Clint Eastwood, who “was always very quiet—not shy quiet but ‘I don’t want to talk’ quiet.” Also, Gregory Peck, “who was always very modest,” and Joan Kennedy, “who was lovely.”
“I wanted a picture of the Kennedys and Jackie wanted nothing to do with it, but Joan was very sweet,” Lieder recalled. “The Kennedys would rent skis and boots and then they’d take them back to Washington with them.”
At that time, Sun Valley was a destination for those seeking divorces, including Lucille Ball who came here while breaking up with Desi Arnez. You could get one in six weeks and have a wonderful time while waiting for it, noted Lieder.
It was Lieder’s job to fend off tabloids, which she was easily able to do since celebrities were always instructed to register in the hotel under fictitious names. Still, “Women’s Regalia” persisted in following up on a report that a wealthy socialite who had just gotten divorced was taking up with Teddy Kennedy.
They finally found the woman boating at Redfish Lake, and she was with a Teddy but it was a different Teddy, Lieder said.
Lieder started attending city council meetings to give herself something to do in addition to skiing and golfing. And in 1980 Sun Valley’s 250 voters elected her to city council. She was appointed mayor one year later—a job she held until 1994—after Dick Heckman resigned.
During her tenure—heralded by her “Mayher” license plate—she built the bike path that winds through Sun Valley and she butted heads with Sun Valley Owner Earl Holding over whether or not he should pay local option tax.
She also helped Sun Valley’s St. Moritz hospital consolidate with the Hailey hospital when she learned they could get double the federal funds by becoming one “urban” hospital.
Lieder volunteered with the women’s auxiliary although, she said, all members did was talk long enough to go to lunch since the hospital’s three doctors never gave them anything to do. She helped veterinarian Bob Beede start the Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley in 1974 before serving as its president for two years.
She’s also handed out food for The Hunger Coalition’s mobile food bank, sung with Caritas Chorale, gone to the scene of accidents for Hospice, helped raise funds to build the YMCA and volunteered at the Gold Mine, Sun Valley Writers Conference, St. Thomas Playhouse and St. Thomas choir.
One of her favorite causes is the Wood River Women’s Foundation—one she joined just a couple years ago.
“I was shocked to learn about all the non-profits we have here,” she said.
Today Lieder lives in a condo overlooking the Bigwood Golf Course with her seventh golden retriever—a rescue dog named Jessie.
“I’ve worked like a dog after coming to Sun Valley, but I loved it,” she said. “I’ve had a fabulous life.”
By Amy Busek For the Express Idaho Mountain Express
Ruth Lieder has been a journalist, real estate agent, city council member, mayor—the 84-year-old Ketchum woman is a woman of many talents. It’s only fitting that she take on a new responsibility: Heritage Court member. Lieder was nominated by the Wood River Women’s Foundation.
“Being nominated by the foundation is totally flattering,” she said. “I look forward to it. I’m going to have fun all summer long.”
Lieder was Sun Valley’s mayor for three consecutive terms from 1981 to 1994. Lieder had been a councilwoman from 1979 to 1981.
“We did very positive things,” she said, citing her greatest accomplishments as the Sun Valley bike path construction and the merging of the Sun Valley hospital with the county hospital. “It was a good time to be in politics.”
She said the national political scene has since turned sour, and that sentiment has seeped into small-town politics as well.
“Total competition, there’s a hell of a lot of jealousy, there’s very little compromise,” she said.
Lieder said her gender played an important role in politics, especially since she never presided over a female council person.
“I always wore a dress to meetings,” she said. “I wanted them to remember I was a woman. I was not a women’s libber, as such, but I really did believe in women. Time, Inc., where I’d been, is fabulous to women. And I grew up in a business environment where women were respected.”
As a mayor, she officiated over 200 weddings in Sun Valley. One memorable night, she responded to a knock at her door requesting a shotgun ceremony.
“These two people, I knew both of them, they were drunk as skunks and they had just met at a cocktail party and wanted to get married,” she said. “So I said, ‘Come on in.’ I got out the wine. I said, ‘I just want you to think about this and if you come back tomorrow and want to get married, we’ll talk about it.’”
Needless to say, the couple heeded her advice and opted not to tie the knot.
Lieder is still asked to come to Sun Valley meetings occasionally, she said, for historic reference.
Besides having an illustrious history in local politics, Lieder also traveled the world. She worked as the marketing manager for “The Asia Magazine” in Hong Kong in the 1960s and covered the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome for Sports Illustrated. She was appointed by President George H.W. Bush to serve a three-year term in the early 1990s on the Defense Advisory Commission on Women in the Services.
Lieder has never been married nor had children, but is close to her nieces and nephews.
“I’ve had three wonderful guys in my life,” she said. “And I’ve always been a career woman. I love working. That’s why I’m still so involved. I like being with people.”
Seven and a half decades of ski racing
STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK
Last winter’s snows have yet to melt off the mountains to the north. But Virginia “Ginny” Reed is already calculating how early she’s going to have to get up next winter to beat the traffic to the ski hill.
Reed is nursing a bad back, and it takes her 1.5 hours every day to do the three pages of exercises her physical therapist has given her.
“I already get up between 4 and 5 every day. I’m going to have to get up even earlier if I want to be out the door by 6:30 a.m.”
Not ski racing is not an option, even though she will turn 85 on Aug. 2, said Reed, who has won a treasure lode of Masters championship races in the United States, Canada and Sweden.
Her wins keep her in the Spyder “Nationals” jackets given to winners, even though some years the jackets dwarf her 5-foot-1, 104 pound frame.
“And younger people look at me at 85 and say, ‘If she can do it, we can do it.’ I don’t want to quit because I don’t want to discourage the kids,” added Reed, who has been clocked racing 70 miles per hour in a downhill at Mammoth Mountain.
Reed’s legendary ski racing is one of the reasons the Bellevue Library staff nominated her to the Blaine County Historical Museum Heritage Court. Reed will be inducted into the court in a public ceremony at 3 p.m. Sunday, June 14, along with Ruth Lieder, Denise Thomas and Carley Baird.
“She’s an amazing ski racer,” said Kristin Gearhart of the Bellevue Library. “She was here for Sun Valley’s racing heyday, and she knew all the movie stars. She even danced with Fred Astaire, although she said she’d rather ski.”
Reed grew up in the Los Angeles suburb of Brentwood where her father was an AAA executive, and she attended private schools at Chadwick and West Lake.
Red Skelton and Peter Lawford lived a block away. She and Robert Wagner grew up together, and he introduced her to other celebrities, including Hugh O’Brien—a meeting memorialized in one of many photographs hanging on her walls.
Reed used to ride her horse up Sunset Boulevard to horse shows at the Riviera Country Club.
“There was no traffic then. Now it’s bumper to bumper,” said Reed who keeps up with the neighborhood gossip through weekly phone calls with the girl next door.
Reed was 10 when her family took her skiing at Badger Pass in Yosemite National Park. She immediately turned her focus from ice skating–she had made a movie with Sonja Henie in 1939. And when she was crowned California Ski Queen in 1950, winning a grand tour of Western ski resorts, she came to Sun Valley.
“Sun Valley was gorgeous—there was the lodge and the inn and that was it,” said Reed, who began returning every year thereafter. “The skiing was interesting because there was nothing on the Warm Springs side of the mountain. There was an old single lift with blankets covering you on the other.”
Reed made friends with all the skiers of the day, including filmmaker Warren Miller, who was living in a trailer in the Sun Valley parking lot at the time.
“He said he’d give me a ride back to California if I’d cook along the way. I introduced the intermission for a couple of his movie, puffing on a cigarette. In those days, he would stand on stage and narrate the movie as it showed.”
When Bill Janss bought Sun Valley from Union Pacific, Reed and her husband were among the first to buy a condo looking over Trail Creek. Janss was a good friend of hers—his father had developed the area where she grew up and Bill and Virginia had raced together.
Upon moving to Sun Valley, Reed taught skiing for 17 years until 1988 when she quit to concentrate on ski racing.
“I started under Sigi Engl and Sepp Froelich. Sigi thought all female instructors should be on Dollar Mountain, but I taught mostly private lessons so I was on Baldy most of the time.”
In 1970 Reed decided Sun Valley had gotten too crowded and so she bought a 125-acre farm in the Bellevue Triangle. At one time, she had as many as seven horses, ensuring there were enough for son Chris Martin and his family.
Today she lives there with a Pyrenees dog she named Lucky after she found it and one surviving puppy in the desert near Timmerman Hill.
“The sheepherders had run off and she was starving—so skinny she was almost dead. We called the sheep ranchers and nobody knew who’s it was,” she said. “She drives my son crazy because she’s a guard dog and so she barks all night and sleeps all day. But she’s so sweet”
The ranch dates to the late 1800s—guests still sleep in the original cabin warmed by a potbellied stove. Reed’s house features the original windows and an original door with raised decorative trim, as well as barn wood from old horse barn and the original floor, which Reed uncovered by taking off three layers of linoleum.
“It was so original it even had square nails,” she said.
The living room sports wooden skis standing next to a fireplace Reed built with rock and beam from Galena. The kitchen counter boasts a plethora of ski medals so heavy they could keep the house anchored in a tornado. On the wall is another of Reed’s pride and joys—a wooden Gannett Country Club sign.
Reed had it made for $10 to commemorate the café that fisherman used to stop in for “the best hamburgers in town” enroute to Silver Creek.
“They called it ‘the country club’ and pretty soon their wives started saying, ‘We want to go to the country club,’ ” Reed said. “I had to pay $250 at an auction to get this sign back when the country club closed. But it was such an important part of history.”
Reed added a bathroom to her home—the original had an outhouse. And she added a spacious bedroom which doubles and triples as her office, exercise room and living room.
“This is my ‘everything room.’ I do everything in here and, as you can see, Cat rules the home,” she said, gesturing towards a yellow tabby that she named after the cat in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” after it showed up on her doorstep one day.
Her “everything room” has a view of Baldy to the north. If she sees lights on the mountain in morning, she knows it’s a clear day. If she can’t, she knows it’s snowy.
“That’s my weather report every day.”
There were no traffic signals on the highway when Reed bought her house.
“Today with the signals I leave by 6:30 a.m. to miss the traffic,” she said. “I pick up a coffee—black– at the Main Street Market and take it to the Warm Springs side of the mountain. I quit skiing at noon so I miss the traffic coming home.”
The camaraderie fuels Reed’s enthusiasm for ski racing. She used her ski poles for crutches to attend the final banquet of the 2011 USSA National Championships despite suffering a nasty fall earlier that day. When she arrived home after two days of driving, doctors discovered she had broken her femur and her pelvis in several places. She underwent surgery and physical therapy and went on to race the following year.
“I’m going to be the youngest in my age category this winter,” she said. “All I’ll have to do to win is be sure I’m standing when I cross the finish line.”
By Terry Smith For the Express Idaho Mountain Express
Virginia Reed, Bellevue Public Library’s selection for the 2015 Heritage Court, is a woman who doesn’t let time slow her down.
At 84, Reed, who most people know as “Ginnie,” continues to compete in Alpine skiing events, having raced in downhill, slalom, giant slalom and super G. In March of this year, she raced in the Alpine Maters National Championships on Bald Mountain.
Reed, a longtime Wood River Valley resident, brings a not atypical background to the Sun Valley area. In addition to being a competitive skier, Reed is an ice skater, a competition tennis player, a ski instructor, a ranch owner and a California native. She even did a stint in Hollywood, appearing with Sonja Henie in an ice skating movie a few years prior to Henie’s 1939 classic Sun Valley Serenade.
Reed also likes to golf, hike and trap-shoot.
But for the most part, she has devoted her talents to competitive skiing, a sport she picked up at age 10. Since then, Reed has been a successful racer for seven decades.
She has more trophies and awards than she can count, telling the Idaho Mountain Express in an interview in 2012 that she keeps many of them in one of the barns on her 120-acre ranch in the Bellevue Triangle.
“I don’t even know how many I’ve won,” she said.
Her victories include championships in masters events in Sweden and Canada.
In 2011, she suffered injuries in a skiing accident that would have permanently sidelined many younger skiers, when she broke her pelvis in several places and injured a femur at the USSA Snowboard and Freeski National Championships. She told the Express in the 2012 interview that she put off treatment for two days, attending the end-of-event party using her ski poles as crutches. She then had a two-day drive home before her son took her to St. Luke’s Wood River hospital for a diagnosis.
The injuries ended up requiring surgery, but by 2012 Reed was racing again, in both Park City, Utah, and at Mammoth Mountain, Calif.
“I came back to win everything,” she said.
Former Idaho Mountain Express writer Kate Wutz referred to Reed in a 2012 Express story as the “woman of steel.” It would appear the honorific was well earned.
STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK
Denise Thomas has spent plenty of time in the saddle.
But she may be best known among the Wood River Valley’s horse riders for the floral garlands she’s made for parade horses and the hat bands she’s made for rodeo queens.
“She’s always there to put together anything the Sawtooth Rangers riding club needs,” says Mary Ann Knight. “She opened the flower department at Atkinsons’ in Hailey in 2007, back when there was only one another floral company in the south valley. And what makes people feel better than flowers?!”
Thomas can count on getting a bouquet herself as one of four women selected to join the Blaine County Historical Museum Heritage Court this year. She and Ruth Lieder, Carley Baird and Virginia Reed will be honored in a coronation ceremony open to the public at 3 p.m. Sunday, June 14, at the Liberty Theatre in Hailey.
Thomas grew up in Laguna Beach where, she says, she was a little surfer girl who loved to ride her horse through Newport Harbor’s back bay.
She was a restaurant trainer when her boss Jim Terra gave her the keys to his house in Ketchum and a six-month leave of absence so she could satisfy her yen to ski.
“I came over Timmerman Hill in late September and saw the colors of the trees. It was the first time I’d ever seen trees turn orange and yellow,” she recalls.
Thomas set up house at what would later be known as “the frat house” during the winter of 1972-73. She served cocktails in the Duchin Room at night so she could ski all day.
“I knew how to snowplow when I got here, but I didn’t know about Dollar Mountain. Skiing College on Baldy was fine, but I got myself in a pickle trying to ski the rest of the mountain. All the ski instructors were checking me out, though, since I was the new girl.”
Terra’s one stipulation was that Thomas return after her sojourn in the mountains, but she couldn’t stay away.
“I was infatuated with the mountains,” she says. “I’d go to the top of Baldy and say, ‘Ohmigosh, what’s that mountain and that mountain?’ ”
When an acquaintance gave her the use of her house in Hailey rent-free, Thomas returned, working one night at week at Sun Valley’s ice show to pay the utilities.
And she fell in love with Sun Valley’s summers as she rode mountain trails with Alice Schernthanner, Marge Heiss and others in the Ketchum/Warm Springs Riding Club.
“We’d ride Wednesday nights in Adams Gulch. There were no mountain bikers then, and you hardly ever saw any hikers.”
Thomas rode with the group every year in the Big Hitch Parade just ahead of the ore wagons. She did a couple overnighters every summer, looping around Grandjean, Redfish Lake, Iron Creek and Stanley Lake.
And she competed in 25- and 50-mile endurance rides that went from Dollar Mountain up Independence Creek into Triumph before Elkhorn filled up with homes.
“Riding on a beach was fun, but this was going somewhere!” she says.
A dozen years after moving to the valley, Denise married Morgan Thomas, a fellow horseman who she recalls was famous for his letter to the editor “picking on lawyers, realtors and child molesters.”
The couple had two boys—Chris, now a firefighter in Colorado Springs, and Ryan, now a cow horse trainer in Glenns Ferry.
The men in the family filled the house with elk and deer trophies.
“They’d hunt them and I’d cook them,” Thomas says. “My claim to fame is my jerky.”
Thomas also became a Cub Scout leader, helping with the Scouts 4th of July pancake breakfast. And when she and Morgan bought property near Clayton, they took Boy Scouts there on campouts, teaching them to cast fly-fishing lines across the lawn.
Denise took students at Mrs. Sue’s preschool and Hailey Elementary School on pony rides up and down the alleyways. She loaned her horses out to 4-H youngsters to ride and show. And she helped with the therapeutic riding program at Sagebrush Arena.
“I got a lot of personal satisfaction seeing kids with disabilities laugh and learn the horses’ names. They would be so excited to ride,” she says. “I always subscribed to the belief: Teach a child to love a horse and they’ll never have enough money for drugs. Being responsible for an animal can be a great thing for a child.”
By Tony Evans For the Express Idaho Mountain Express
Hailey resident Denise Thomas, 72, is the 2015 Heritage Court choice of the Sawtooth Rangers.
Thomas drove to town from Laguna Beach in December 1972 in a Volkswagen bus with her dog, Polo, to take a job in Sun Valley. Back in California she had ridden her horse on the beach between Laguna and Newport. In Idaho she had plans to ski.
“I didn’t even know where Idaho was,” Thomas said. “When I looked at a map I saw that it was not too far away.”
Thomas spent her first night in Idaho holed up in Twin Falls in a snow storm.
“The snow was falling sideways. There is not a lot of traction and not a lot of heat in a VW bus,” she said.
Thomas started working for Sun Valley Co. at the Duchin Room.
“I finagled my way into working at the bar because I wanted to work nights,” Thomas said. “That was back when Joe Macarillo played in the Duchin Room. We knew all the ski instructors, like Jerry Edwards, Clark Monk. Jimmy Limes taught skiing during the day and played trumpet with the Joe Macarillo trio at night.”
During the summer, Thomas once again took an interest in riding horses.
“I bought a horse and trailer and a van to pull it and started making friends in the riding community,” she said.
Thomas rode with Marjorie Heiss and Alice Schernthanner in the Ketchum/Warm Springs Riding Club. The group took Wednesday-night rides in Adams Gulch.
“Once a month we rode in the Sawtooths from Redfish Lake or Stanley Lake over to Grandjean and back,” Thomas said.
About 30 years ago, Denise married Morgan Thomas, who came to Sun Valley from Seattle to work on the ski patrol and coach the junior race team, later working for Scott USA. Their romance began with a vacation adventure.
“When he asked me to go fishing with him in Mexico one winter, I said sure,” Thomas said.
The Thomases got involved in 4-H after taking their two boys on a ride in the Bob Marshal Wilderness in Montana. Chris Thomas, now 29, is a firefighter in Colorado Springs. Ryan, age 27, trains reined cow horses in Glenn’s Ferry.
“They were only 8 and 10 back then,” she said. “When we got finished with the packing trip, Morgan bought the two horses they were on.”
The horses were later loaned to several other 4-H kids who had none of their own, including Carmen and Giovanna Leslie. Thomas taught the girls how to use a horse trailer, at a time when she had become a primary caregiver for her husband, who had been diagnosed with ALS.
“They took them in the fair for 4-H. There is a lot of work involved, but you have a best friend in the world in your horse,” said Thomas, who has been an active member of the Rangers for 15 years, helping with the Fourth of July rodeo and many other activities. “They are a wonderful group of horse people. Some of them are not around anymore, but they are a good, solid group, especially including the Bobbits. I haven’t ridden in 10 years, but I still like the people.”
Thomas began volunteering with disabled riders at the Sagebrush Arena several years ago.
“The hospice ladies would stay with my husband for a couple of hours, so I would go up and volunteer at Sagebrush. I would lead the horses for the kids. It is a priceless experience for them, knowing the horse’s name and riding them again and again. To see it is pretty incredible,” she said.
Thomas works part time at the floral department at Atkinsons’ Market in Hailey, where she has been an employee for 17 years. Though Morgan Thomas passed away in 2010, she said her life in the Wood River Valley has been wonderful.
“I have been very fortunate to have two fine young men as sons. Unfortunately, my husband is no longer with me, but we had 25 years that were pretty fun,” she said.