For the week of July 21, 1999 thru July 27, 1999
The life and good times of Dora Schlunegger
Enjoy some bear stew with Beaver Creek Stores proprietor
By JEFF CORDES
Dora Schlunegger, 92 years young, has lived a long life because of her hard work ethic, sense of humorand a little luck! Express photo by Willy Cook
The celebration of Ernest Hemingways 100th birthday comes to its climax today in Ketchum, with retrospectives, salutes, toasts and all sorts of hullabaloo.
Quite fitting, indeed. He wrote brilliantly, lived with the volume turned high and inspired generations of wordsmiths at the writing trade.
Turn away from Hemingways long shadow for a spell and enjoy some counter programming.
Escape with us.
In the full bloom of summer, were going to make a visit to Beaver Creek Store in the Stanley Basin and enjoy some delicious bear stew with Dora Schlunegger.
Were going to be so bold as to make some comparisons between the man they called "Papa" and the woman they still call "Dirty Dora."
For Papas birthday on July 21, theyre pulling out all the stops and the city lights are burning bright.
For years, the girls in Ketchum like Glenda Nicol celebrated Doras Schluneggers May 27 birthday more simply, sending a pizza from sophisticated Ketchum over the summit to Doras more isolated Beaver Creek Store.
Papas will be 100 today, his memory at least, but Dora is still with us at the young age of 92. Not much difference in age, really. As Dora would say, putting her thumb and forefinger about an inch apart"a little tiny" difference.
Dora came from Switzerland, Papa from Illinois. They roamed the world and ended up in Ketchum.
In this family photo taken 80 years ago in 1919, the Fluckiger family poses in its native Switzerland. There were five daughters and one son in the family. Front, from left, daughter Alice, mother Rosina, daughter Trudy "Gertrud," youngest daughter Olga, father Johann Ulrich Fluckiger-Beyeler, who died in 1948, and son Willy. Back, from left, 12-year-old Dora Fluckigeralready showing the determination shed need to take on the American Westand her sister Hedy. Dora was the second oldest daughter. Willy eventually came to America and is still living in the south central Idaho farm country. Photo courtesy of Trudy Swaner, Doras daughter who lives in Bellevue with her husband Joe.
Papa was known for his machismo. Lets face it. He took the whole male thing pretty seriously.
Likewise, "Dirty Dora" has always been a big fan of machismo.
With a smile.
From the stage of her Beaver Creek Store along the lonely road in the Sawtooth Valley, Dora elevated machismo to high art using ribald props and a sharp sense of humor.
For the price of a beer, she showed you her collection of peters. Big ones, little ones, crooked ones, fat onesfigurines of the male organ.
A collection of peter paraphernalia. Boyfriends brought in girlfriends to see the peters. They came from as far away as Utah to see the wooden "Peter Men," natures naughty leftovers outside the store.
Once upon a time they held a bachelors party at Beaver Creek Store, complete with full peter regalia, Doras narration and a nightful of hilarity. I know because I was there.
Nowadays, the peters are segregated in the X-rated room at Beaver Creek Store, dusty but still ready to rise. When Dora reigned supreme, the peter paraphernalia was within easy reaching distance, behind the counter, a dollar bill and an aromatic sniff away from the bear stew in the kitchen.
In the days before crude language became commonplace, before movies and television made big bucks out of mainstream indecent humor, "Dirty Dora" was way, way ahead of the curve.
Always with good nature.
"She loves people. Anything that gives you a thrill, tickles her," said her son Bill Schlunegger, 51.
Dora Schlunegger has always made men laugh at themselves. Good medicine.
Shes a trickster. She likes to play jokes. Her son Bill said, "She loves to give people a hard time."
Rarely ill during her long life, Dora Schlunegger suffered some health setbacks in recent years and reluctantly visited a doctor. The doctor leaned towards Dora and asked, "How do you feel?" Dora peered and looked him straight in the eye and said, "With my fingers."
Shes had some memory loss. Who hasnt! Nevertheless her wit remains as lively as the Stanley Stomp on a warm July weekend.
Dora Schlunegger takes a little walk in the back yard of son Bill Schluneggers Hailey home, and stops for a photograph by some lilacs. Dora likened the smell of the lilacs to some barnyard fragrance, and Bill got a big laugh out of it. Express photo by Willy Cook
Recently, we sat with Dora and Bill in the living room of Bills house in Hailey, with conversations veering in various directions, and Dora, 92, piped up with no prompting and said, "You know my mothers still alive because I havent heard from her."
They talked about the old days.
Bill asked his mother, "Did you ever find any gold?"
"Im not telling you," she barked back.
Jokes aside, lets cut to the chase.
After you wade through all the myths and truths of Ketchums mining and sheep herding and skiing history, it all boils down to people.
People in two different camps, dependent on each other. There are those who "come and go." And those who "stay and survive."
Hemingway came and went. Dora Schlunegger stayed and survived and nurtured a terrific sense of humor.
"Shes a wonderful person, so good-hearted, and a very hard worker," said Doras daughter Trudy Swaner of Bellevue. "Shes definitely the kind of person who always lives in the present.
"My mother and father were interested in money. They didnt collect it, though. They needed it to survive."
An independent woman
A young bride, barely 21, Dora came to America after the first wave of immigrants and headed west.
Dora Gertrud Fluckiger was born May 27, 1907 in Rohrbach, Switz., the second oldest child in a family of five girls and one boy. Her mother Rosina was a seamstress. Father Johann Ulrich Fluckiger-Beyeler was a knife sharpener.
Trudy Swaner said, "My mother only went through the tenth grade, but she was probably more educated than some of the kids today. She had language skills. She spoke Swiss, French and Spanish even better than she spoke English."
She was restlessand in love.
At a Swiss ski resort, Dora met a skiing and skating instructor named Conrad Franz Schlunegger. They were married March 2, 1928 in Rohrbach and left immediately for a honeymoon in Canada.
For the next 10 or 11 years, the Schluneggers led a nomadic life in North America. "My mother has been all over," said Bill Schlunegger.
Doras new brother-in-law, Alfred Schlunegger, was a foreman on a farm in Saskatchewan. He wanted Conrad to help him farm. And thats what Conrad did for a while. Then the couple left for New York where Dora worked as a dental receptionist and Conrad a chauffeur.
The Roaring Twenties city life didnt have lasting appeal to two young Europeans who came from the Swiss mountains. Within a few months they moved to Ohio and bought some property. They sold that and headed out to Arizona.
Dora has always been particularly fond of her time in Arizona, and not only because her first child, Bellevue resident Meita Wilson, was born in Chandler, Az.
Daughter Trudy Swaner said, "My mother liked the people in Arizona and was friendly with the Indians."
They tried gold mining and some farming in Arizona.
Within a couple of years, they moved north to Albion, Idaho, near Burley and Declo, where Conrad started working for J.R. Simplot.
Over the next four years Dora had three more childrenConrad and Alfred, and Trudy.
Hearing of the beauty of Idahos mountains, Dora and Conrad made an effort to visit the Wood River Valley. They fell in love with the Ketchum area because it reminded them of "the old country."
They arrived in Ketchum in 1938, two years after the Sun Valley resort was born and about the same time Hemingway first came to Ketchum.
Dora worked as a maid at the St. George Hotel near the current site of the Western Café in Ketchum.
And Conrad found a job teaching skating and skiing at Sun Valley. He worked in many movies, including Sun Valley Serenade in which he doubled for skater Sonja Henie.
Eventually they purchased the upper Lake Creek Ranch north of Ketchum and later the lower part of the same ranch. On their 120 acres, probably worth millions now, Conrad farmed and raised livestock and kept horses for dude riding. They raised alfalfa.
They were good, productive years for the Schluneggers.
The whole family, kids and all, worked the ranch. "We had one of the first custom balers around," said Trudy Swaner. "We baled for many people. My parents needed the money to survive."
Conrad Schlunegger had a wild streak, however.
He was a gambler. Its not hard to imagine him in one of Ketchums gambling dens during the 1940s, playing the games of chance alongside Hollywood celebrities and wealthy folks and possibly even Ernest Hemingway.
The marriage fell apart.
Shortly after their fifth and youngest child Bill Schlunegger was born in 1948 in Hailey, Dora filed for divorce from Conrad. At that time Dora and the children lived in Hailey, in a Main St. house that is now a vacant lot just south of the Bank of America. Conrad built the current KSKI building north of Ketchum and raised chickens there.
Dora went to work supporting the family. She cleaned private homes in Hailey, scrubbing floors and polishing silverware.
She will joke about it now. Shell sit there in the living room of Bills house, and, when asked how she ended up in the valley, shell say, "I dont know why I came to Ketchum. Washing floors and taking care a bunch of knucklehead kids."
Bill will laugh.
Things were never easy.
But Dora, daughter of a seamstress, kept her hands busy.
She knitted homemade sweaters, mittens, hats, afghans and blankets for the entire family and, eventually, for her grandchildren. She made Rams head sweaters for Sun Valley people, trying to make ends meet.
Bill said, "She knitted until her shoulders and hands gave out."
And Bills words, of course, always draw a reaction from Dora these days. Shell point to her fingers and say, "All these things are not there. I should cut them off and throw them away."
In 1954, she obtained her certificate of naturalization and officially became a U.S. citizen.
Beaver Creek Store
The rest of Doras life started in 1958 when she acquired the Beaver Creek Store and its 10 acres of property located 37 miles and about 50 minutes north of Ketchum.
It is hard, cold country. She and Bill lived there year-round, and Bill went to school in Stanley.
They loved it.
"After you got up there, it was hard to come back down," she said.
Bill said, "It seems like I spent a thousand winters over there. Ive seen it 50 below. Sometimes you couldnt start a car for two or three days."
"I cooked a lot of potatoes," said Dora.
"And a lot of elk and deer," said Bill. "We never really knew what was cooking, probably something illegal. Thats why we called it bear stew."
"Hey Bill," said Dora after a pause, trying to remember. "Were you there when they had a lot of salmon?"
Bill said, "There always was salmon. You could fly it with a plane and look down and see the fish. And there was always whitefish. I think the limit was 75. We smoked them."
"The kids had a good time," said Dora, quietly. "We went on snowmobiles all over.
"You sawed a lot of wood for a pretty cheap price," she added.
Bill said, "I remember we sawed 50 cords for Redfish Lodge, for $12.50 a cord. And we sold a lot of it for $22.50. We thought that was pretty good."
At the store, Dora sold groceries and other merchandise like the kind you find at convenience stores. She started collecting her peter paraphernalia and, like any enterprising businessperson, noticed that more people came into the store because they wanted to see peters.
She started acquiring the reputation of "Dirty Dora."
Bill, who graduated from Hailey High School in 1965, admits that he was a little sensitive when the other kids made remarks about his mothers propensity for ribald jokes. But there was nothing, really, he could do about it, so he let it go.
"Everybody knew her as Dirty Dora," he said. "I realized it was a merchandising tool, that the price was a beer or two to see something."
Over the years, the Dirty Dora reputation became a kind of persona, one Dora was willing to shed for a more normal existence.
Most of Doras winters over the last 15 to 20 years have been spent in northern Idaho, at a house she bought in Hope near Sandpoint.
One year, Bills wife Peg Schlunegger made the long drive with Dora up to Hope. About Challis, she noticed a change in Dora, one that grew more pronounced as they went through Salmon and headed farther north.
Dora became more conservative, concerned about what people in Hope thought of her, and how she dressed, and how she was regarded, Peg said. In essence, she became the antithesis of "Dirty Dora."
She doesnt spend much time at Beaver Creek Store these days. But Dora is there during the summer, thanks to her children.
Bill, an independent electrician, devotes most of his time these days to caring for his mother.
"My job is my mother," he said. "She keeps my head going. Questions me a lot.
"She gets real antsy. She wants to walk. She wants to work. She wants to help me get wood. Shell help me in one of the cabins we have behind the store. Shes a worker, and its hard for her not to do that."
Bill said Dora wanted to fly for the first time in an ultralight plane.
"Im old enough. Might as well try," she said.
"We didnt make it for her birthday," Bill laughed. "Maybe well do it for one of the fly-ins at Sluders. Shes a little worried about crashing."
Tuned in to the conversation, Dora said, "When the son-of-a-#@% goes poof, you know you aint."
Over her single bed in Bills Hailey home is a drawing of sad-faced clown Emmett Kelly.
And this year, her friend Glenda Nicol sent her a birthday card with Mr. Bean on the front.
The refrigerator has photos of Dora helping stack wood in the summer of 1998; of Dora sitting in a hot tub; and of Dora with a child on her lap at Beaver Creek Store.
"She loves any child," said Bill.
As we left Bills house, Dora said, "Well, maybe Ill see you again, if I live that long."
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