Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Crystallized life is honored

Centenarian will be crowned by Heritage Court

Express Staff Writer

?Oh my goodness, I might be on stage,? Chrystal Uhrig Harper laughed about her upcoming role as a Lady of the Heritage Court. Express photo by Dana DuGan.

When asked why she was nominated to be one of the ladies of the Heritage Court, Chrystal Uhrig Harper gave a shrug. "I haven't the faintest idea!" she quipped. "I didn't know what I was getting myself into."

At nearly 101—her birthday is two weeks from today—Harper is a feisty, funny lady, who'll no doubt revel in wearing her Heritage Court crown cockily.

A native of Idaho, she was nominated to be a Lady of the 2006 Blaine County Heritage Court by the Blaine County Senior Connection, where she socializes and dines with her old friends three nights a week. This is not her first honor. Last year, her 100th birthday was celebrated in high style, and she was the grand marshal of Bellevue's Labor Day parade.

"I was the Smart Alec last year," she sniffed haughtily, before laughing. "I had a chauffeur and a supporter to help me in and out of the '56 Ford Fairlane."

Spry and sharp, though a little hard of hearing, Harper walks daily without the aid of a cane, lives alone and reads voraciously. "I like good old mysteries," she said, a twinkle in her eye.

"I feel no different that when I was in my teens," she said. "I don't feel this old. I may look it, but I sure don't feel it. I'm in pretty good health. I take two pills a day."

A friend winks and leans in to fill out the information.

"Those two pills are a vitamin for her eyes and one aspirin," said Sharon Shrock, who, with her husband, Bruce, acts as kind of surrogate child to Harper. "We've given birthday parties for her at 83, 90, 95, 100. I told her if she doesn't quit I'm going to be too old to throw the party."

At which point, the two women laugh heartily.

Harper grew up the second youngest of six on her father's ranch near Stanton Crossing. There were three girls—Hazel, Delsie, and Chrystal—and three boys—Fred, Ben, and Bill, whose son, Ted, is the patriarch of his own brood in the valley. Harper has 14 nieces and nephews.

"I'm not even counting all their children," she laughed. Clearly her family means a lot to her.

"My dad was a wonderful little old man," she said. "He liked Westerns, and I liked love stories. He was an understanding dad. If I did anything bad he'd just look at me, and I knew I was doing wrong. We all turned out good. My mother died when I was 5, and his sister came that year and stayed with us. She taught us girls to do dishes (I hate dishes), peel potatoes, sweep and do the beds. After she left, that's what my sisters and I did.

"Dad was the best doughnut maker. We'd come home from school, and the kitchen smelled so good. Those were wonderful days."

The Uhrig family's wood stove, their mother's wedding dress and formal photo are in the Bellevue Museum, which is kitty-corner to Harper's current home.

In 1924, she married Ed Harper, who she met in Boise when she attended the Franklin High School.

"He came and met my father, and he liked my father, and my father liked him, so we were married.

"In 1929 we packed up our little car and drove to Long Beach. After Pearl Harbor he went to work at Douglas Aircraft. I worked as an Air Force warden, and thank heavens I was only called out one night to patrol six blocks."

The Harpers owned a dry cleaning business for several years in Long Beach.

"We moved back to the ranch for two years in 1943 and then north to Bellevue. Dad died while we were still in California. Ed worked for Sun Valley Co. in maintenance. He was just plain Ed," she said. "His friends called him Curly because he was bald. He was a great guy—never knew a stranger."

Chrystal Harper kept busy as well. For 55 years, she was a member of the local Rebekahs Lodge and held every office in the lodge, including 35 years as the treasurer.

"I've been here for 66 years," Harper said. "I love the old town. They called it just a wide place in the road when we moved here." She and her husband lived in a log cabin on Main Street.

Ed Harper died in 1953. Though they never had children, her sister Hazel's son, Pete, who was 13 years her junior, lived in Bellevue and kept her company for many years.

Harper lives next door to the little log cabin she and her husband shared. Her present home is bigger than the cabin but still small, room enough for one but with a huge, well-groomed back yard. She has four cats, pictures of cats on the walls and two framed letters congratulating her on reaching the age of 100. One is from Idaho's former governor, Dirk Kempthorne, and the other from President George W. Bush.

After all the talk of her past, Harper, who is quite a joker, turned reflective.

"I had a wonderful childhood. I wouldn't trade it for anything. I'd like to go back there," she said with a contented sigh. "It's a good thing we have memories."

Heritage Court

The Blaine County Museum's Heritage Court, consisting of women who are honored annually as having influenced their communities, 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. They are riding in the Days of the Old West Parade, on the Fourth of July in Hailey, The Bellevue Labor Day Parade, and the Ketchum Wagon Days Parade.

Second in a series of four: The Legacy of Ladies

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