Issue of: May 13, 1998  


Joe Garechana marks 40 years at Sun Valley

Senior head dishwasher, 66, has never been late for work

By Jeff Cordes
Express Staff Writer

Dependable, forthright and honest as the day is long, Joe Garechana has been a special worker at the Sun Valley resort for 40 years dating back to the Union Pacific days.

"I’ve never been late in 40 years," said Garechana in late April, just days after fellow employees in the Sun Valley Inn’s kitchen gathered around the duck pond and gave Joe Garechana a big round of applause.

He started on the job April 28, 1958 and has risen to the position of—well, let Joe tell it. "They call me Senior Head Dishwasher. It should be Kitchen Help, I guess. I run the dishwasher, clean bathrooms, sweep the floors—do anything the chef wants me to do," said Garechana.

Does it well, too. The son of a Basque sheepherder, Joe Garechana has worked for Sun Valley for 40 years and has lived in the dorms for 40 years. He’s such a good and reliable worker that they almost have to kick him out the door to take a three-week vacation during slack.

Garechana "vacations" in sunny Shoshone, where he boards with Joe and Mary Oneida and does whatever chores they need done. Joe Oneida is 87, and Mary is 77, so Joe Garechana at the energetic age of 66 is a big help to the Oneidas. "Joe and Mary almost raised me from the time I was 12," said Joe Garechana.

Understandably Joe isn’t as energetic as he used to be. He’ll be 67 on Dec. 20, which makes him exactly five years older than the Sun Valley resort itself. "I didn’t have any problems until after 60, then after that it seems like I’ve had problems with everything," said Garechana. "I say every year I’m going to retire, and every year I end up working."

The chief problem is his cranky left knee. He suffered a small cartilage tear that prevents him from doing the one recreational activity he loves. That’s bowling. He hasn’t bowled in three years because Joe Garechana is a very good bowler who sets high standards for himself.

"I used to average 175 to 180, then I got down to 150 and thought it was about time to give it up," he said. "When I retire, if I ever retire, I might get into a senior league where average doesn’t mean anything. Then, I might start bowling again!"

The son of sheepherder Cruz Garechana and mother Frances Garechana has bowled since he was nine years old, in fourth grade. As a teenager, he and the other boys worked setting the pins at the Shoshone bowling alley. They found time for play, too. "We set pins for each other and that’s the way we got to bowl," said Garechana.

Garechana developed a reputation for throwing the ball extremely hard. Admiringly, they called Joe "Fireball," or "Powerball." He said, "When I threw it, it took one hop in the middle of the alley, halfway down, and never touched the alley again until it hit the pins.

"I’d knock the pins from one alley and get a strike for someone else on another alley. Those wooden pins, I had no trouble breaking. I’d split them and knock the tops off. Once, I hit the pin boy. I didn’t MEAN to hit him. I had a three-pin spare to make, and told him the ball was coming, but one of the pins hit his leg and they carried him off."

Garechana would get robbed out of strikes because he threw the ball so hard. Once, he rolled a 299 in open bowling at the Sun Valley alleys—his best game ever. He said, "That last hit was the best of the bunch. But the 10-pin didn’t wiggle. It stood there, solid."

Joe Garechana is a rock-solid citizen, himself.

He graduated from Shoshone High School in 1951, worked in the bowling alley, milked cows for a year or two, then went into the U.S. Army and served 15 months in Korea during the Korean War. He came back and worked for the highway department in Shoshone.

"Then they laid me off at the highway department," he said. "One of my Basque friends was working at Sun Valley. In fact, four or five of the retired sheepherders had gone to work for Sun Valley back then as bakers, pantry help and dishwashers.

"I came up in April 1958. Came for the summer and never did leave. Stayed in the dorms all 40 years. I couldn’t pay the high price of living in Ketchum, even back then."

Garechana started working for Union Pacific as day potwasher, from eight-to-four. He did that from April through November 1958.

His work ethic came to the attention of the famous Ketchum raconteur Ned Bell, who was running convention set-up and special projects for Union Pacific out of the old "Holiday Hut" employees’ cafeteria--the quonset hut where Sun Valley’s laundry is now located.

For the next six years, Garechana was out of the kitchen and in the service of Ned Bell.

"I’d keep it clean and stocked up for Ned Bell. Every night, I’d put together 100 to 150 pizzas for the girls to sell—and it got up to 300 pizzas on special occasions," said Garechana. "In the summer, they used the Holiday Hut for convention set-ups, parties and dances.

"Union Pacific sold Sun Valley to the Janss Corporation in Dec. 1964, and Janss eliminated all that. I got out of the convention set-up business and got back to dishwashing. From 1974 to 1977 I worked in the Duchin Room where Gretchen’s now is. Just before Mr. Holding took over in 1977, I came back to the Inn kitchen and I’ve been here since."

Garechana is quick to say that his employment with Union Pacific and with Earl Holding’s Sun Valley ownership has been good to him. And he certainly appreciated the tribute his fellow employees gave to him on the occasion of his 40th anniversary with the Sun Valley resort April 28.

He planned to spend his spring vacation working for the Oneidas and visiting relatives, including half-brother Phil Cobeaga, 62, retired Air Force who works as maintenance supervisor for the Filer School District; and half-sister Wanda Coates of Filer. Joe also has a sister, Ruby Coates of Hansen; a brother, Forest Service employee Ben Garechana of Salmon; as well as cousins in Utah.

Joe will be back to work May 20.


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