Some family names have come to symbolize extravagance and power, philanthropy and adventure. But it is up to each new generation to set a course for the future.
Ketchum resident Emilie duPont, 31, was born into one of the richest business dynasties in America, yet finds happiness in hands-on work with students and the elderly. She also carries on a family tradition of expanding the frontier of fun. Ever heard of surfing in Idaho? There will be more on that later.
The duPonts are some of the oldest of old money families in America. Emilie can trace her family history back to Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours (1739–1817), the son of a Paris watchmaker and a member of a Burgundian Huguenot family. His son Éleuthère Irénée duPont fled the French Revolution to the United States in 1800. He used family resources to establish a gunpowder mill on the banks of the Brandywine Creek in Delaware.
For more than 200 years, the American duPonts have been pioneers in the munitions, chemical and textile industries, playing principle roles in the automotive industry, NASA space programs and the development of atomic weapons. Ever heard of Teflon, Neoprene or Kevlar? Thank E. I. du Pont de Nemours and company for such innovations.
Today, duPont is a worldwide conglomerate with 10,000 scientists and engineers working at facilities in China, Brazil, India, Germany and Switzerland. They work on innovations in agriculture, genetics, biofuels and other industries.
Emilie duPont was born at the Moritz Hospital in Sun Valley. She is a local through and through. She was in the first class of local kids to go from kindergarten to 12th grade at the private Community School.
“When you grow up here, you leave and think you will never return to live in Sun Valley,” duPont said. “It is good to go and travel and then come back and realize how lucky we are, being in the mountains and working in a community. Here you are accountable to your friends and neighbors. It does keep you on your toes.”
Her father, Chris duPont, moved west to get away from the duPont family name, duPont said.
“He bought a pair of cowboy boots and a big belt buckle and opened the Crazy Horse bar in Ketchum,” she said.
Her mother Holly, a former member of the Sun Valley Ski Team, was born and raised in Idaho Falls and made a name for herself on the slopes of Bald Mountain.
“She was the first woman to do a back flip on skis,” duPont said. “She snuck into the Crazy Horse one night, under age, and met my father.”
Ten years later, Holly and Chris duPont made it official, getting married at a B.B. King concert in Sun Valley. Emilie has two younger sisters. Lexi is 26 and Madi is 24.
Emilie left the valley to attend college at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, where she studied theater and psychology. She gave acting a try in New York City and Los Angeles.
“I found it very humbling, even degrading,” she said.
After that, she journeyed to New Zealand where she lived for a year “woofing” (working on organic farms) and sharpening her travel skills by embarking on crazy adventures. She completed yoga teacher training in New York.
“I was traveling the world, trying to find out what I wanted to do with my life,” she said.
In between adventures, she volunteered her time teaching English and supporting orphans in southern India, and spent time educating young women in the sex slave industry in Cambodia.
Four years ago in Ketchum, she linked up with the Flourish Foundation, founded by local yogi and teacher Ryan Redman, teaching mindfulness training to school children throughout the Wood River Valley. Last year, she helped lead a group of students to northern India to help out at a Tibetan Kalachakra celebration, serving tea and bread to thousands of people and helping tend to elderly visitors, and helping clean up after the event. Next year, duPont will help with a student service trip to Morocco.
“People define success in different ways,” she said. “Some are looking for fancy cars and big houses and nice vacations. They want things outside of themselves.
“In India, I discovered that the only thing that defines success for me is happiness. I found that I am most happy when I am volunteering my time to help others.”
These days, duPont teaches the Flourish Foundation’s mindfulness training techniques to students in Wood River Valley schools. She also volunteers at the local hospice. Her duties include helping to bathe an elderly man who is approaching the end of his days.
“Our culture doesn’t talk about death. By acknowledging it, we can live our lives more fully,” she said.
Living fully also means have fun, duPont said. She and her friends discovered a new way to do just that at the lakes in the Sawtooth Basin a few summers ago.
“You get a bunch of people in a ski boat and go exactly 8.5 miles per hour,” she said. “Then you get on a surfboard, catch the wake’s wave and drop the line. It is surfing in Idaho. The more people you have in the boat, the bigger the wave gets. The only rule is that you have to paddle back to the boat if you fall. I know how to surf a wave, but I don’t know how to catch one.”
The duPont family only gets together on rare occasions, she said.
“I have like 2,000 cousins,” duPont said.
In 2000, the clan gathered at the duPont’s 1,000- acre Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Penn.
“They came from France, from all over the world. There was a very big fireworks display. I think it must have set a world record.”
Despite all the fun and games, one can’t help being curious how a duPont might use family money to help change the world. Emilie rests on a family tradition begun by her grandfather, A. Felix duPont.
“My grandfather was a very generous man. But he always made donations anonymously. I like that tradition. It takes the ego out of it,” she said.