Series: Legacy of Ladies
By Express Staff Writers
Four distinguished women were bestowed the Ladies of the Heritage Court honor Sunday, June 26, at the Liberty Theatre in Hailey.
Each woman, honored with a tiara, sash and flowers, contributes her own legacy to Blaine County. The ladies, all longtime county residents, have enhanced life in the region with significant civic contributions.
For the second annual coronation, the court consists of Anita Gray, 83, representing Sun Valley and Ketchum; Orpha Smith Mecham, 91, of Carey; Lula Shoemaker, 87, of Bellevue; and Gladys McAtee, 91, of Hailey.
The Heritage Court presented by the Blaine County Historical Museum recognizes women who have participated in, contributed to and been a part of the history and heritage of the area.
The coronation ceremony and pageant for the Heritage Court recognized the women for their many years of contributions. Those in attendance, including the five ladies of the 2004 court, were treated to a program of entertainment that included young dancers performing with the Footlight Dance Company, directed by Hilarie Neely. Also, Cheryl Morrell sang with Bruce Innes on piano, the Company of Fools performed selections from their upcoming show "Quilters," and the Forever Plaid quartet, accompanied by pianist Dorinda Rendahl, brought the entertainment to a close singing some of their favorite songs.
Blaine County Museum board member Joan Davies announced the beginning of the museum's new capital campaign to raise money for reparation of the museum's south wall and its goal to purchase the neighboring State Farm Insurance building for eventual expansion.
The 90-minute program included the coronation ceremony, when Hailey City Council President Rick Davis, Carey Mayor Rick Baird, Bellevue Mayor Jon Anderson, Ketchum Mayor Ed Simon and Sun Valley Mayor John Thorson greeted the ladies as they received their flowers and tiaras.
Event originator Laura Hall presented the court and initiated a raffle of prizes, including two photographs from the Mallory Collection and gift certificates for other prizes. A reception and museum tour followed the event.
In order to qualify as a Heritage Lady, one must be over the age of 70 and have lived in the Wood River Valley for at least 30 years.
The ladies inaugurate their reign riding in a vintage carriage in the Hailey's Days of the Old West Fourth of July Parade on Monday. The foursome also appear at Ketchum's Big Hitch Wagon Days Parade, Carey's Pioneer Days Parade and Bellevue's Labor Day Parade.
Hailey Heritage Lady
Gladys McAtee exemplifies some of the valley's best heritage; the story of her life is rife with tales of community support, simple pleasures and the astounding success of a 72-year marriage.
She and her late husband, Val McAtee, first moved to the valley from Shoshone in 1936; Val was a carpenter with the Union Pacific Railroad and was enlisted by Averil Harriman and Count Felix Schaffgotsch to help build the Sun Valley Lodge.
In the years that followed, the McAtees became part of an era in Ketchum in which Union Pacific employees populated the city almost entirely.
"It was like one big family," McAtee recalled. "You were always helping your neighbors and your neighbors were always helping you."
They built a small log cabin in Ketchum and attached a tent that acted as a bedroom. That cabin, on the corner of First Avenue and Fourth Street, is now home to a popular restaurant called Felix's.
The family eventually established the first permanent settlement built out Croy Canyon, east of Hailey. The McAtees continue to enjoy the view from the picture windows in their Croy Creek home.
The McAtees were members—and eventual leaders—of community organizations such as the Oddfellows Lodge and the Rebekahs for more than 60 years.
Val and Gladys McAtee were born and raised in Center, Colo. Val's grandmother was the first McAtee in the Wood River Valley.
As the oldest living member of a five-generation family, Gladys McAtee is today a great-great grandmother to Adrian, 3, and Ivan Gonzales, 7 months, of Shoshone.
McAtee is honored that she has been chosen to represent Hailey as one of this summer's Heritage Court Ladies.
"I feel like Cinderella, I feel like someone is shaking a wand over my head," McAtee said. Meanwhile, she is readying herself for the four summer parades showcasing the Heritage Court.
"I have to go out and run around the hills to get my legs where I can climb up on those wagons," she said.
Orpha Smith Mecham
Carey Heritage Lady
Third-generation Carey resident Orpha Smith Mecham represents Carey as the town's Heritage Court Lady.
Mecham, or "Orpha" as she is simply known by the legions of students she taught during her life as an educator, was born on July 21, 1914, in Carey. She grew up as a farm girl, working alongside her father, Lafe Smith, ranching sheep and farming hay and grain.
Her grandparents, Joseph and Annie Smith, were Carey's first full-time settlers, officially staking ground on what had been the strict domain of cattle men and their herds in 1880.
What truly distinguishes Mecham in her small community, even more than her family's history, is her legacy as a teacher.
"You name 'em in Carey for 20 years and they were my students," she said proudly. Anyone who passed through Carey's fifth-grade class from 1956 to 1976 did so under Mecham's tutelage.
Mecham was a teacher for five decades in southern Idaho. Mecham's first year spent as a full-time teacher was in a six-student schoolhouse near Upper Fish Creek Dam, northeast of Carey. She later returned to Carey to teach generations of students.
Today, Mecham's influence is everywhere in Carey. Her nephew and former student Ken Mecham is a history teacher for Carey High School. John Peck, the school principal, was in her fifth-grade class, as was Carey Mayor Rick Baird and three generations of assistant football coach Lee Cook's family.
In 1976, at the age of 62, Mecham took an early retirement. As a self-described "farm girl," she helped her husband, Lowell Mecham, farm grain and hay. Within two years, though, the Carey School came calling, this time in need of a reliable substitute. Mecham accepted and filled in as a substitute for another 18 years, achieving her long-held goal of teaching at 80 years old.
This September, after 91 years in and around Carey, Mecham will move to live with her son in Cedar City, Utah.
"It's hard to leave," she said. "My roots are too deep."
Before she moves, though, Mecham will proudly represent Carey's Heritage Court with a ride in a vintage carriage in Carey's Pioneer Days, scheduled for July 22-23.
Ketchum/Sun Valley Heritage Lady
Ketchum and Sun Valley honoree Anita Gray played an instrumental role in founding three of the area's most well-known institutions. Gray helped to establish the Sun Valley Hospital's Auxiliary, now known as St. Luke's Wood River Auxiliary, The Community Library and the Gold Mine Thrift Shop in Ketchum.
"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," Gray said.
Gray's introduction to Sun Valley was idyllic. She and her husband, Win, met in her hometown of Chicago, and 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, hiked and snowshoed, often with either her sons in tow or her good friends, including Ernest and Mary Hemingway.
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."
Gray's diligent work for the community began when she and friends Jeanne Lane and Mary Ellen Moritz founded the Sun Valley Community Hospital Auxiliary, at the request of Mary Ellen's husband, Dr. John Moritz.
Then in 1954, a group of 17 women that included Gray began what would be The Community Library, the first and only private library in the valley. To support the fledgling library, the women later opened the Gold Mine Thrift Shop. Nowadays, the Gold Mine still operates on East Street in Ketchum in support of The Community Library, located on Walnut Street.
Despite two hip replacements, Gray remains active playing golf and continues to care deeply for the community.
Bellevue Heritage Lady
Born in 1917 on a farm between Bellevue and Gannett, Lula Shoemaker is a lifelong Blaine County resident and Bellevue's representative to the court.
Her experiences span the farming and mining industries that brought early development to the Wood River Valley.
During her childhood, her family farmed in Slaughterhouse Canyon and on a farm on Baseline Road near the town of Gannett. Shoemaker recalled many days spent milking cows and feeding pigs.
"If we hadn't had the farm we probably wouldn't have lived. It was during the Depression. We had all the food we could eat," Shoemaker, 87, of Bellevue, said.
Shoemaker graduated from Gannett High School. In 1939, she married George Shoemaker. The couple moved to Bellevue, where they raised three children. Her husband supported the family working as a miner in the nearby mines.
"Bellevue was a nice, friendly little area," Shoemaker said.
The family connections contributed to friendly atmosphere of the town. Shoemaker's sister, Lillian Wright, lived across the street.
Wright represented Bellevue on the court last year.
"I think it's great to think that my sister and I were honored together," Shoemaker said.
Shoemaker contributed to the community as a mother and as a member of the Miner's Auxiliary and the Bellevue Civic Club. She continues to stay active, listening to Western books on tape and visiting with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.