Attendees to this year’s Grand Marshal Reception will be treated to a first-hand glimpse into Ketchum’s history, told through personal anecdotes by area historian Mary Jane Griffith Conger.
Conger, author of local history books “The Legacy of Al Griffith,” and “The Chronicles of Ed Price,” will ride as grand marshal in this year’s Wagon Days parade.
Al Griffith, Conger’s grandfather, was the second man to buy a lot and set up a tent in the city of Ketchum. The first was Isaac Lewis, the father of Horace Lewis who owned and operated the Big Hitch ore wagons during the silver boom.
Conger was born in 1925 and has been riding horses in the valley since before the Sun Valley Resort—built in 1936—was so much as a dream.
“I will tell some stories about how the area was when I was growing up here,” Conger said.
The city of Ketchum and the Wagon Days Committee will honor Conger at the reception at Memory Park on Main Street between Fifth and Sixth streets on Friday, Aug. 31, from 5:30-7 p.m. The reception is open to the public.
“It’s one of the best honors I could possibly receive,” Conger said. “I have all these wonderful feelings that are pouring out to my community.”
Conger expressed particular excitement about her family’s being in attendance to see her as grand marshal.
“Four of my five children will be at the [grand marshal] ceremony and at the parade,” she said. “We spent a lot of time here when my children were growing up. They got to experience some of the activities I enjoyed so much as a child.”
Conger’s childhood activities included skiing down the hill on Leadville Avenue on long wooden skis (before there were chairlifts on Proctor or Dollar Mountain, let alone high-speed, detachable quads on Baldy), ice skating on the Big Wood River, archery and riding horses.
“It’s one of the best honors
I could possibly receive.”
Mary Jane Conger
“I was a very outdoors-oriented person,” she said. “There were no cars. The streets weren’t paved, just Main Street. The housewives had a lot of trouble keeping their houses dusted. It was a great, free place for children.”
While growing up, Conger spent as little time dusting houses as possible, much to the dismay of her female peers.
“I was a tomboy,” Conger said. “I played mostly with the boys. The girls my age weren’t interested in the stuff I wanted to do and I wasn’t interested in anything they wanted to do.”
What did the boys want to do? Mess around with outhouses and small donkeys.
“The boys in town used to push over outhouses for fun. They also put a live burro on the top of the old school’s belfry once. The janitor found it there in the morning and had to get it down. I felt sorry for the animal.”
Conger’s love of animals, particularly horses, was founded long before her prankster friends hoisted that burro up the bell tower.
“When my brother and I were very young, we used to play with the horses out in the yard,” she said. “I had to pet every one of them. When I got older, as a teenager, I spent as much time on my horse as possible.
“I was crazy about horses. I rode up Baldy and along game trails. On a horse you can get close to bear, elk and deer.”
Conger’s passion for horses and other, more exotic, quadrupeds remains ardent. She expressed excitement toward riding in this year’s Wagon Days parade and getting a good view of all the action.
“I always enjoy seeing the horses and the ore wagons,” she said. “This year they’re going to have a camel again like last year. That should be fun!”
Besides expressing her excitement for the event, Conger mentioned what she’ll miss most from previous years.
“I’m really going to miss seeing Jim Hitson in the parade. He used to dress up as an old-timer mountain man. He really looked the part. Unfortunately, he died last year.”
Conger and her family’s history with Wagon Days goes all the way back to the beginning.
“My parents were given the honor of riding in a special carriage during the first Wagon Days in 1958,” she said.
Conger herself has been honored in the parade before, riding as an “honoree of the Heritage Court” in 2004.
“All I can think of is what a wonderful life I’ve had and how lucky I am to live in this community where my heart and soul are. I’m so proud to receive this tremendous honor.
“I spent the first part of my life learning, always learning. Now I enjoy focusing on giving back.”
Brennan Rego: firstname.lastname@example.org