Thursday, April 07, 2011

Seasons of Life

Go over to and check out that lady on the pretty horse.  She's celebrating a special birthday today, and the weather isn't even bad.

That's my sister Laurie, born April 7, 1961. As with all my siblings, I'm very proud of her.  Her life has been filled with service to others, hard work and horses, and I'm believing she loves them all.  

So, happy birthday, Laurie, on this special day.  May your birthday ride be like no other. 

This week brings a reminder of those seasons of life as I think of two friends who have passed on. 

One would have been 39 had he lived one more day.  His name was Jeff Green.  I'm sure the auditorium down in St. Maries will be filled for his memorial service this weekend.

Jeff was a colleague at Sandpoint High School during my last years of teaching.  A young buck at the time, he made it a point when he first came on staff to visit with his new staff members and get to know them.  His wholesome, small-town roots shined through in his friendliness.

In fact, Jeff's friendship was a sincere as they come, as were his zest for life, his dedication to teaching, and his continued upbeat attitude while dealing with the challenges of cancer.  

Somewhere among my collections of photos, which were packed away for our move five years ago, I have a photo of Jeff and me taken at an SHS graduation.  Before we moved, it was tacked to the wall next to my computer to remind me of my good buddy.

It's an understatement to say that Jeff will be missed deeply by his family and all the people he befriended along his way. 

This week we say good bye to Sam.  He yodeled for me one day at The Bridge for Assisted Living, as he did for most anyone who came to visit.   He died Tuesday.

Sam was Schweitzer Basin (known that way at the time) first-ever manager and rightly proud of it.  I would not be stretching it a bit, I believe, to say that the development of Schweitzer was the single most influential change we've seen in our community during my lifetime.

Besides being "Schweitzer Sam," who always yodeled for the ski report,  he was a good friend to our family in ways too numerous to list.  

Besides his integral role in Schweitzer's beginnings, Sam was also very proud of his service for the Canadian Army during WWII.  He often traveled to France, donned that uniform, and participated in anniversary programs associated with the war. 

Sam,  his wife Elsa and daughter Colleen lived in the neighborhood over on Gooby Road when they first moved to Sandpoint from Canada back in the early 1960s.

And, the Wormingtons had horses, nice horses and horses that carried them hundreds of miles.  They still do.  

We've known three generations of Wormingtons and I'm getting to know little Miss Elsa, Jr., Sam's great-granddaughter.  She accompanies her mom Cherise, our veterinarian, on many of her rounds. 

Our hearts have been touched in so many wonderful ways by Sam and his family.  And, so I extend to them my thoughts----and to Sam, my promise to keep the "battrees" updated in my mother's hearing aids.

Below is a portion of the features story I wrote about Schweitzer Sam in 2003.

The Mountain turns 40: A Tale of Two Managers

By Marianne Love

At the helm in 1963
‘Schweitzer Sam,’ the mountain’s first manager

Like many Sandpoint natives, I’ve lived the history of Schweitzer Mountain Resort. I once held stock in the place. My parents still have a. photo of us with local promoter Bob Cox when we invested $10 apiece from our savings into the new ski resort not far from our North Boyer home.

I even remember an afternoon in the early ’60s when Dr. Jack Fowler and his friend, Grant Groesbeck, stood near our driveway with drawings spread across their car hood. Both brimmed with enthusiasm while showing my dad their plans for Schweitzer.  Somewhat skeptical about building a road up in the watershed where he tended Sandpoint’s water system, he wondered if they could pull it off.

Well, they did. As snow piled up in 1963, a steady stream of cars, bound for the ski hill, began rolling past our farm, turning at the corner of the woods onto the “old Schweitzer Road” (Woodland Drive). We knew our quiet, rural existence would never be quite the same.

When Schweitzer opened – like other curious locals – our family gathered in our ’58 Ford, carefully drove the switchbacks, venturing up the mountain farther than we’d ever gone with our tractor and hay wagon years before for huckleberry picking. We couldn’t believe the views of Pend Oreille Lake. We were even more awestruck with the new, almost foreign world atop the mountain that visionaries from Spokane and Sandpoint along with carpenters, dozer operators, technicians, loggers, laborers, et al, had created so quickly for its Dec. 4, 1963, opening. (See Timeline – 1963.)   Envisioning a wintertime family playground, Schweitzer pioneers also hoped to boost Sandpoint’s seasonal economy.

The snowy scene was magical as we listened to Bavarian music and drank hot chocolate while skiers seemingly floated down the slopes from Chair One. I remember seeing “Schweitzer Sam” as the tall, lean, friendly Canadian from Kimberley, B.C., greeted visitors at the distinctive lodge designed by Groesbeck. That inaugural visit not only introduced me to Schweitzer and Sam but also signaled an awakening for our community. Since then, Sandpoint and Schweitzer no longer sleep during the winter.

We eventually got to know Sam, his wife, Elsa, and daughter, Colleen, as neighbors and fellow horse lovers. I sold season tickets in the ’60s.  In the ’70s, my husband, Bill, worked for Sam as a chairlift operator. My brother, Kevin, managed the Ski Patrol prior to John Pucci, who still holds the job today.

Forty years later, we’ve all grown older, and Schweitzer has grown beyond our wildest imaginations. General Manager Tom Fortune’s challenges of ushering the resort into its fifth decade contrast sharply with those 43-year-old Sam Wormington faced in 1963.

Wormington joined me at Schweitzer Village last August to reminisce. This World War II Canadian Army veteran may be 83, but age hasn’t slowed him down. I huffed and puffed while climbing the hill behind him to Chair One for some picture-taking.

Sam surveyed the slopes where trees have grown, erasing any sign of the first rope tow and original T-bar. He still marvels at road contractor Russell Oliver’s scheme of running a bulldozer up the snowy slope, letting the path freeze and covering it with sand, enabling cement trucks to get to the top in January 1964 during T-bar installation.

We then went to Selkirk Lodge to talk more about the past. As Sam opened his scrapbook of clippings and medals of appreciation from Sandpoint’s Rotary and the Queen of England, the past came walking by in the form of early ski patrol volunteer Dutch Miedema.

“It was all basic, starting from scratch – no grooming,” Miedema reflected. “It was a whole different mountain then, wasn’t it Sam?”

After Dutch left, we started again. Minutes later, Otto and Denny Schatz walked by, recognizing Sam. They skied Schweitzer during Otto’s Fairchild Air Force Base tour in the ’70s. Wormington and the Schatzes swapped stories, including one about the young pilot who buzzed the basin with his B-52 bomber, only to learn later in a chewing-out that his commanding officer had been sitting in the lodge during the flyover. “He’s a three-star general now,” Denny quipped.

Over lunch at the Alpenglow Deli, “Schweitzer Sam” and I traversed the high spots of his 14-year career at Schweitzer, recalling original players in the resort’s evolution, some who have since died. Spokane’s Dr. Merritt Stiles – one of the resort’s foremost, early cheerleaders – came up to North Star at Kimberley, encouraging Sam to apply for the Schweitzer job. The manager would be involved in supervising everything from clearing timber for ski runs, installing power and organizing ticket sales, to hiring staff and even marketing the new ski area.

While remembering Jim Brown Jr., Sam expressed appreciation toward the community leader and visionary businessman who later took sole control of the resort. (See Timeline – 1982-mid’80s.) He answered directly to Brown whose influence and support drove Schweitzer for the next 26 years. As founder of Pack River Lumber Co. and a vast timber empire, Brown and his wife, Jean, shared the early vision for Schweitzer as a family-oriented ski area that would provide employment in Bonner County.

“It was supposed to be a venue for good fun,” says Brown’s eldest daughter, Bobbie Huguenin. “Mom and Dad supported the operations for all the years I can remember because they wanted the people of Sandpoint, et al, to enjoy something appropriately challenging and thrilling.”

Brown was grooming Bobbie to help carry out his dream of catapulting Schweitzer into a regional destination resort when he died suddenly in 1989. (See Timeline – 1989.)

“We made a plan and laid the foundations for the next 50 years of operations and development with the conviction that Schweitzer has the potential to be a top quality, family-oriented, year-round destination mountain resort,” she recalled. “The plan contemplated that Sandpoint/Bonner County would always be integral in terms of amenities, accommodations and employees. We saw many ancillary businesses being able to piggy-back our investment.”

Brown’s leadership, vision and friendship left an impact throughout the community and especially with Sam, who wrote in his 1980 book The Ski Race, “Much of the credit for the success of Schweitzer Basin goes to Jim for his foresight and faith in the development.”

Sam also touched on Schweitzer employees, including  meticulous bookkeeper Delores Kelly, ticket seller Patti Parkins McGovern, and “Girl Friday” Shirley Hamacher. Wayne Parenteau, Rennie Poelstra and Bob Aavedal functioned as jacks-of-all-trades, while Russell Oliver, Wayne Ebbett and the Palmer brothers (Bud and Perry) built the road. Ski patrolmen Dewain Mullins and Zane Lund, maintenance man Jim Robertson, lift specialists Bob Melton and Scotty Castle, as well as a host of other employees and volunteers played key roles in launching the operation.

When Sam left in 1977, Schweitzer, with its seven chair lifts and overnight accommodations, had become well-established as a popular Northwest ski resort, but not without a few glitches. Until paved in 1974, the road, with its soft base,  provided  headaches. Sam always worried about parking space. Still does. And he still grouses about Chair One’s 600-person per hour capacity.  Should have been 1,200 skier-per-hour capacity, he says.

Sam, however, has little time to dwell on the past. Besides trips to Europe for World War II monument dedications, he’s training and caring for his German shepherd sidekick, Astra, who sniffs out missing persons for Search and Rescue.

He quit the ski business in 2003 after 50-plus years, managing Kimberley, Schweitzer and Mt. Spokane resorts and installing Riblet chair lifts in the United States and Canada. No longer skiing, he prefers snow shoeing because the dogs trip over skis, and the workout keeps him in shape. Elsa died in 1992, so he house-sits or spends time at his daughter’s ranch in Montana.

When I left Sam, he was feeding Astra turkey scraps from his deli sandwich. I headed home,  appreciating my visit with an old friend who played such a significant role in shaping Schweitzer and starting Sandpoint on a whole new journey.

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