Friday, June 10, 2005

Snowshoe gal was integral member of community

Valley courts heritage ladies

Express Staff Writer

Ernest Hemingway, left, poses with Anita and Win Gray in Sun Valley, circa 1960.

Series: A Legacy of Ladies

What makes a lady in these parts? For the Blaine County Historical Museum, it means contributing to the good of the community.

The Blaine County Historical Museum has chosen four valley women to represent their respective towns this summer at a number of events.

Nominated to represent Ketchum and Sun Valley in the Blaine County Heritage Court, Anita Gray, who is known by the "sporting" moniker of Neitz, meets the criteria for a Heritage Lady. Gray, 83, was a one of the founders of the Sun Valley Hospital's Auxiliary, now known as St. Luke's Wood River Auxiliary as well as the first and only private library in the valley, The Community Library in Ketchum.

Gray's introduction to Sun Valley was idyllic. She and her husband Win met in her hometown of Chicago when he was in the Navy stateside after three years overseas and she was with the Red Cross Motorcar.

They met at a cocktail party. "He was about as handsome as he could be in his uniform," she said. Married in 1946, they moved to his hometown of Buhl, and had two sons before migrating north to the Wood River Valley in 1949. It suited her perfectly. Gray hunted, fished, skied, played golf and hiked, often with either her sons in tow or her good friends.

Her two sons, Jed and Peter, still live in the valley as well as two out of her seven grandchildren.

"We were certainly an active group," she said. "It was just a heavenly place to live. It still is. Who could ask for anything more? I just love it here. I'm very much honored that they feel I should represent Ketchum and Sun Valley. The towns have been my main point of interest in all the years we've lived here."

Indeed, Gray has kept busy in her 56 years in the valley. They built a house next to the Sun Valley Lake. At that time there was a cabin next door and one other house across the street.

"Believe me, we were the only ones. It was nice."

There are more homes now and some condos that back up to her once private garden and yard. And Kathleen Harriman's cottage is a new addition next door. "She's one of my oldest friends. I could hardly mind."

Another Chicago transplant was Jeanne Lane, and, together with their friend Mary Ellen Moritz, they began the Sun Valley Community Hospital Auxiliary. "Dr. Moritz asked us to, Mostly, it was to (raise money for) service and supply equipment the hospital couldn't get otherwise. We bought the first mammogram machine." There have been numerous acquisitions made by the Auxiliary since then and their Christmas Ball became one of the highlights of the Holiday season, raising funds for any number of pieces of medical equipment and training.

Then in 1954, a group of 17 women that included Gray began what would be The Community Library. That was wonderful work, she said. "People donated books and clothes. It was really something the way people chipped in and helped. Look at it now, it's just heaven. Eddie Seagle (a Union Pacific Railway engineer) didn't ski, and didn't want to. He was a big booster and was the one husband who was a real support. The rest thought it would never happen."

Gray's husband Win was on the first Sun Valley City Council, along with Seagle, Sun Valley Lodge manager Win McCrea and attorney Phez Taylor. He also held the horse concession at Sun Valley for a time in the 1950s. Gray recalled that in order for the Union Pacific not to be liable, her husband had to have the business insured by Lloyds of London. They had 102 horses there at one time.

The women began the Gold Mine Thrift Shop to help support the fledgling library, which were both originally housed in an old miner's shack in Ketchum. Nowadays, the Gold Mine still operates on East Street in support of the modern Community Library located on Walnut Street.

"That was the only way we could support it," Gray said. "We had to learn how to start the coal stove, and we plugged holes in the walls with newspaper. It was pretty hardy work. Norma Shearer was a great help. She told everybody at the Lodge that she took her things to the Gold Mine.

"When I look at the hospital now (St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center) and the Library, those are wonderful sights to see, to look at and know you have been instrumental in it."

There were other pastimes besides working for the good of the community. Gray admits they had some fun times. She and Win were friends of Ernest and Mary Hemingway, for instance, and went shooting with them often.

"Papa taught me to shoot. We'd all make food and take it down to the gun club in Picabo, shoot, and then eat. We'd watch boxing on a little TV set. Papa was just darling. I was a new ear for his stories. He had great stories. I hate when people put him down, I never saw him drunk. We'd go for walks with the dogs, or the children, and he'd talk about the wildlife and animal tracks and trails.

"Of course, Papa was always interested in everything, except women's clothing, but no one expected him to be."

Gray was also a member of what was dubbed the Snowshoe Club.

"We met once a week at someone's house. It was very big. It was predicated on not making anyone do what they didn't want to do. It was very friendly. We'd snowshoe and have lunch. The members—it wasn't really a club, we just called it that—were the who's who of Sun Valley at the time: Gretchen Fraser, Margaret Struthers, Peggy Richards, Harriet Etchen, Elnora Seagle, Peggy Engl, Florence Froelich, Betty Roubicek, Jeanne Lane, Molly Lafleur, Mary Ellen Loritz, Patti Sheehan of course, me, Betty Innes—Bill's mother, Polly Beidabach, with the gardens, and Carol Siegel. We could bring a guest that we thought the others would love to know. It was a fun thing to do."

Gray continues to care deeply about her community, and despite two hip replacements continues to golf. Her love of the area has not diminished, and her legacy lives on along with all those women who made homes for themselves in the valley's small western towns.

Though Gray spends winters at a small villa they bought in 1972 in Rancho Mirage, Calif. "for a song," her heart still flies in Sun Valley.

"It's all been fascinating," she said.

Heritage Court Ladies

The Heritage Court Ladies—Anita Gray, of Ketchum/Sun Valley; Orpha Smith Mecham, of Carey; Lula Banker Shoemaker, of Bellevue, and Gladys McAtee, of Hailey—will be honored Sunday, June 26, by the Blaine County Historical Museum at a coronation and pageant at the Liberty Theatre in Hailey. The four ladies will ride in a vintage carriage in Hailey's Days of the Old West Fourth of July Parade, Carey's Pioneer Days Parade, Ketchum's Big Hitch Wagon Days Parade, and Bellevue's Labor Day Parade.

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