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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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Wednesday, June 16, 2004


Horsewoman recalls early days

Marge Heiss is Heritage Court Lady

Express Staff Writer

Marge Heiss, 94, lives now in an assisted living home in Bellevue. "I still love Ketchum despite the many changes," she said.

Heiss was born in 1910 in Caldwell and moved to Ketchum two years later. Her father was Ernest Brass, who bought 3,300 acres to farm east of the small mining town of Ketchum. In 1933, he sold the land to Averell Harriman and the Union Pacific. It’s on this land that the Sun Valley resort and a good portion of Elkhorn now sit.

Marge Heiss Express photo by Dana DuGan

Selected to be part of a Heritage Court, Heiss is being honored on Sunday, June 27 at the Liberty Theater in Hailey along with Mary Jane Griffith Conger, Billie Buhler, Verda O’Cowley and Lillian Wright for their contribution to the heritage and history of the Wood River Valley.

"We had that whole 3,300 acres. We rode all over it. There were five of us, four girls and a boy, Roberta and Richard were twins. They came two years younger after me."

The Brasses put much of their land into hay, ran cattle, sheep and horses. Roberta and Marge delivered mail and supplies on horse back to the ranch’s sheep camps.

Heiss and Roberta were sent to grammar school in Boise, and then to high school in Caldwell. They lived with their grandparents. "Mother didn’t have the best of health after five children," Heiss remembered. While she was attending the College of Idaho she met Clark Heiss, a banker in Hailey who originally was from Jerome.

"My sister was talking me up to Clark. When I came home in June from college we met and started dating. I had to do a semester at a time, then work to pay for another semester."

The Heisses were married in October 1933.

When Count Felix Schaffgotsch appeared on the scene in 1936 in search of a ski resort site for Harriman, Roberta and Marge strapped on the 11-foot-long wooden skis they used to ski across their property and took the well-outfitted Austrian on a tour of the land. Not long after, Ernest Brass sold the land for Union Pacific’s new development.

"My folks still lived in Ketchum, so we spent a year in Hailey. It was the country we loved. After that we moved to Jerome but I always came back in the summer especially. I cried when we left I didn’t want to leave my horse."

This is the gist of Heiss’ life—her love of horses, the mountains, rivers and countryside. Tales of various horses she owned pepper her conversation. But it wasn’t her husband’s passion.

"On Friday afternoons he’d close the bank early and go fishing. I became fascinated with fish and fishing, too. It was a way to spend time together. Horses are my first love and fishing is my second," she said.

The couple had three daughters, Cheryl, Lynette and Jo. "We called her Jo-Jo. She was the cutest little thing." Though they lived in Jerome, they bought property next to her parents’ ranch house on the east side of Ketchum, where St. Thomas Episcopal Church is now located. The Heiss cabin was recently moved and townhouses are being built on the spot.

Marge Heiss still wears her wedding ring today. She has been widowed since 1959.

"His brother died in World War I and his parents were afraid of spoiling him, so they sent him to Culver Military Academy in Indiana. He was a nice husband. He didn’t leave his clothes on the floor, he could cook. He was so handy. I had a real nice married life but he passed away too soon."

When the Heisses would move back to Jerome for the beginning of school year each fall, Marge would often ride her horse the entire way.

"We’ had no trailers then. It took two days. I made the round trip probably six times. I was accustomed to go out riding. As long as I was on a horse I was happy."

In 1953, the Heisses built a house next to the cabin. Her daughters and their husbands and children used the cabin over the years as did guests and friends who came to visit. In 1958, Ernest and Mary Hemingway rented the cabin, while he worked on the novel, "A Movable Feast."

When the cabin was sold and then moved last year, the whole family were saddened. It was the last link to the old Brass property and their long years in Ketchum.

"It was awful to give up my yard, trees and flowers and that sort of thing," Heiss said. Not long ago, the sight of her horse trailer and horses right in the middle of town was a regular sight.

Heiss and her daughters started riding Peruvian Pasos and for years were seen together riding in the Wagon Days Parade on the smooth gated horses, while holding full champagne glasses.

She credits her longevity to the Wood River Valley.

"It was being raised in the good fresh air and the clear skies. I still love the mountains but this is the closest I can be."

Marge Heiss is a treasure. As sweet and lovely as ever, she looked at the hills from her chair at the Aspen Grove home and sighed. On the television "Bonanza" was playing.

"I can’t talk right now. There’s a horse on," she said with a smile and a look of secret longing.


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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.