First in a series of four: The Legacy of Ladies.
When Merline Sparks Farnworth's father arrived in the Little Wood River valley in 1892, the grass was as high as the horses' bellies, he told her when she was a child. Since that time, those grassy expanses have been turned into agricultural fields and the town of Carey has grown up alongside the river.
From the time of her birth in the now-defunct Carey Hospital in 1928, Farnworth has watched the town change and the world modernize around her. She raised a family, worked as an accountant in Hailey and helped her husband, Dee Farnworth, work a 240-acre ranch.
Last month, the Blaine County Historical Museum announced that Farnworth, 78, was one of four women named as Ladies of the 2006 Blaine County Heritage Court. The court honors local women who have played a role in Blaine County's history.
"It's a way of saying thank you," said Laura Hall, a member of the museum's board of directors and the instigator of the Heritage Court three years ago. "Men got a lot of glory in those years, but behind every man there was a woman. They did the gardens, washed the clothes and had very full lives.
"Long before the developers came or Sun Valley came, there were these wonderful little communities. This is who lived here and had the storybook Western lifestyle."
Born Merline Sparks, Farnworth has Western roots that stretch back to the Mormon pioneers who colonized Utah. Her mother's family arrived in Carey from Utah in the 1890s not long after her father did.
Like almost everyone else around her, Farnworth grew up on a small farm. She helped herd the cattle, feed the lambs, can fruit and milk the cows. At that time, she said, electricity had barely reached the valley and most people still got around with horses and wagons. Her family got its first car when she was about 12. Even then, it was an all-day trip on dirt roads to get to Hailey and back, and her family usually took a week to go visit relatives in Jerome.
When she and her friends were done with their daily chores, they went horseback riding in the hills, swam in the canals and fished in the rivers. During the summer, she would sometimes accompany her father for as long as a week as he herded sheep in the Pioneer Mountains.
"Kids do so much in the house now," she said. "In those days, we were outside, riding and going on family picnics."
In the winter, she played basketball on the Carey High School team, which was undefeated during her junior and senior years.
"It was our life," she said. "We lived for basketball."
Over the years, the many small, semi-subsistence farms in Carey have been concentrated into a few bigger ones. The new farms use machinery to do much of the work and employ farm hands to run the machinery. The kids, Farnworth said, don't have much to do there anymore except move irrigation pipes.
But even though children of her generation had more work to do, she said she thinks that psychologically, their lives were easier.
"I think we were a lot freer," she said. "We didn't know about the news that happened that morning. We weren't aware of the concerns of the world."
Also, she said, there were no drugs for kids to get involved with.
After Farnworth graduated from Carey School in 1946, she took a job in Boise as assistant treasurer with the state Department of Employment. A year later she came back to Carey and married her high-school sweetheart, Dee Farnworth.
As well as raising the couple's three children, Merline commuted to Hailey for 12 years to work as an accountant for an insurance company.
Hall calls Farnworth one of the county's "early career women."
Farnworth said she didn't have much choice—supporting a family on a farm or ranch income alone was getting increasingly difficult.
When asked how she learned her profession without any formal accounting training, Farnworth replied, "By guess and by darn, I guess!"
She said she had good training from her boss, Art Ensign, a certified public accountant. She said she can still do one thing that many younger accountants can't—read a profit-and-loss statement.
"They need it in computer mode," she said. "But I can't take the computer and make it do what I want it to do—I need a paper and pencil!"
Farnworth and her husband joined a local riding club, and performed on drill teams in arenas in Idaho, Montana and Nevada. She has volunteered for 30 years as a timer for the Carey Rodeo.
The couple is now spending their 59th year together. In addition to their three children, they have 14 grandchildren and 32 great-grandchildren. She said she remembers all her great-grandchildren's names, but has given up on their birthdays.
Farnworth remains active in the Carey community, writing a regular column for the Carey Senior Center newsletter.
Though Carey is now in the planning process for several new subdivisions, the town has grown surprisingly little since Farnworth spent her childhood there. The Carey School's senior class consisted of 12 students when she graduated in 1946. This year, 19 students graduated. And despite the mechanization of the valley's farms, the largely Mormon community's main focus in life hasn't changed much.
"People are still pretty much family and church oriented," she said.
The Heritage Court will be crowned in a pageant at the Liberty Theatre in Hailey, from 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday, June 25. The pageant is free and includes entertainment by Footlight Dance Centre and a barbershop quartet from Twin Falls called Give and Take. Court appointees will ride in the Days of the Old West Parade, on the Fourth of July in Hailey, The Bellevue Labor Day Parade, and Ketchum's Wagon Days Parade.