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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of January 7 - 13, 2004

Opinion Column

Small county, big heart

Commentary by Pat Murphy

Once again, our small county showed its big heart.

Somewhere out there last week on the terribly cold, blustery slopes of Bald Mountain was Tom Wernig, a Sun Valley Resort ski instructor, a stranger to most people, friend and co-worker to others, father and husband.

Soon as word spread Tom was missing Thursday night, overdue from a final ski run on a stormy day, reaction was instant—people showed up Friday morning offering to help.

The turnout was typical Wood River Valley—scores of volunteers, skilled rescue teams from the Blaine County Search and Rescue, police and sheriff’s deputies, a backcountry rescue team from Galena.

Had all volunteers been allowed to join the search, hundreds literally would’ve been on the mountain looking for Tom Wernig. But as Blaine County Sheriff Walt Femling, himself one of the searchers, explained later, a search requires tedious, precision foot-by-foot coverage of the deep snow by a coordinated group. So, many, many volunteers were turned away while maybe 150 carried on, poking the snow in search of Tom.

On Sunday, the third day of the sorrowful mission, Sun Valley Ski Patrol avalanche dog Kintla and her handler Troy Quesnel found Tom deep in snow on the edge of an established ski run. A skilled skier, Tom nevertheless was tragically killed in an accident that illustrates the cruel, random risks of skiing.

This selfless effort in behalf of others is one of the constants in the character of people living in the Wood River Valley.

Time and again our community not only shows spunk and sacrifice when help is needed, but unity, too. Whatever distinguishes us from one another—Democrats and Republicans, well-off and not-so-well-off, blue collar and white collar—is utterly invisible when striving shoulder to shoulder to achieve purposeful good.

Only a few weeks ago, hundreds of volunteers joined in the agonizing, exhausting task of trying to find a missing pilot and resident, Jim Woodyard, who vanished within minutes of landing at Hailey’s Friedman Memorial Airport in dreadful, stormy weather. The crumpled wreckage with his body was found near the freezing summit of a mountain east of Bellevue.

But the spirit of helping doesn’t require a life-or-death human emergency in our community to trigger action. Every worthwhile cause in the Valley—for children, schools, arts and culture, the environment, wildlife, health care, community facilities, the needy—succeeds because of the same spirit that drives men and women to hurl themselves into storms to help someone in need.

The enormous scope of charity and giving and helping in this community belies our relatively few numbers of some 21,000 people.

A few outsiders without any knowledge of the sense of community we value find sport in sarcasm from afar, portraying us as idle dilettantes who nibble brie and sip Chardonnay as our only serious pursuits.

Before belittling others, perhaps they should ask whether their own communities could muster hearts as big and effort as spunky day after day, no matter who or what is in need.



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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.