Sun Valley GuidesA common misperception about the Wood River Valley is that it is inhabited only by the extravagantly wealthy.In reality, the area is a mélange of hard-working, hard-playing people, including ranchers, athletes, artists, writers and, yes, some rich and famous. But, the real soul of this place is best observed in the families who have been here for generations, some since Ketchum was a rowdy town of sheep ranchers and miners. In the fourth installment of the Sun Valley Guides series, Deb Gelet coaxes three local families into sharing their stories and observations on life in this ever-changing and ever constant place we call home.Photos by Paulette Phlipot.
Childhood sweethearts Maxine Bolliger and Ted Uhrig first met in 1949 at Hailey High School: Even then their families were regarded as longtime residents. Ted’s grandfather, Henry Uhrig, was a stagecoach driver on the route from Boise to Gannett. On his many trips across the Camas Prairie, he fell in love with land near Stanton Crossing and homesteaded there (the land west of the crossroads of highways 75 and 20.) Ted’s parents, Bill and Alta Uhrig, later made their home out on Highway 20, just east of the now landmark "blinking light."
The eldest member of the Uhrig clan, Chrystal Uhrig, is 101 years old. "Aunt Olie" grew up on the Stanton Crossing homestead, but has lived "in a little old cabin on Main Street in Bellevue forever," says Ted of his father’s sister. "Everyone knows her, she walks to the post office with her dog everyday."
Maxine’s family lived in Triumph where the Bolliger girls started grade school. They moved to Hailey when Maxine started second grade, and never left. Maxine’s sisters, Marian Nelson and Martha Bolliger, still live in downtown Hailey. Marian lives just across the street from their childhood home.
Ted attended his first four grades at the Bellevue School. But when his father signed on with the Navy Seabees in WWII, Ted went to live with relatives. Upon his father’s return, the ranch at Stanton Crossing was sold, and Ted started high school in Hailey. He graduated in 1951 with his sweetheart just a few years behind him. Maxine admits with a spirited laugh, "Ted was a few years older, so we didn’t really socialize. He actually dated my sister, Marian. But, I got him!" They married in Hailey’s St. Charles Catholic Church in 1953.
Ted spent many years as Blaine County Assessor while he and Maxine raised six strapping young boys. "Oh, Maxine wanted to be the only girl, and she always gets her way," explains Ted with obvious affection. "Number one for us is that we’re family," says Maxine. "We’ve stuck by one another through thick and thin. And, believe me, there’s been a lot of that! I often say my knees have given out from praying so hard and so many times."
The Uhrig clan is well known for their love of sports and a serious love of Idaho’s great outdoors. It’s hard to miss them at a rodeo. To say they are robust is weakly understated. And, just try finding them during the early autumn months. "Oh well, you know, they’ll be hard to track down for a couple of months. It’s hunting season," Maxine laughs. "They’re all up Federal now, past Triumph Mine. It’s been their favorite hunting area forever."
When Ted emerges briefly from hunting camp, he expounds, "Federal is a canyon that takes you on over into the Little Wood. We’re right on top of the world there, looking down into the Carey Valley. We’ve been hunting in there, oh, about 40 years now." It is deeply satisfying that there is no indication of any change of plan for the Uhrigs.
Even the career paths of Ted and Maxine’s six sons speak of a rugged predilection for working outdoors and with their hands. Running down the list, Curtis owns Uhrig Construction; Ed owns Uhrig Fencing with brother Phillip (aka "Wheat"—no one seems to remember why) and James Nelson (Marian Nelson’s son); John trains horses; Scott works for the BLM and Ken works with Rocky Mountain Hardware.
Ted is now a brand inspector for the area. In this classic western role, he checks the brands on horses and cattle being taken over state lines to verify they are being transported by their rightful owners. He’s a well-known face at the Shoshone stock sale yard. Ted’s taken his horse to work that yard for more years than anyone can accurately remember.
"We’ve been around a long time," says Maxine. "We just happened to have lived in Hailey forever, and we’re darn proud of it! We know a lot of people here from all walks of life. Sometimes, people who live outside the valley think everyone here is rich, but you know, that’s just not true. This valley is full of really wonderful people and many of them are hard-working regular people."
Lila & Jack Corrock
The trail map of Bald Mountain offers many hints about the history and characters that have intersected on the top of our favorite hill, with one exception. That can be found on a street map of Ketchum.
Three generations of Corrocks have skied Baldy, and most of them still do. Lila and Jack "Corky" Corrock have skied here since the late 1940s and still live at the base of their beloved mountain. Early on, they tutored their three children in the methods of sliding down a hill.Fast. Son Kenny commanded undisputed respect as one of the top pro racers on the world circuit. Now, he heads up the ski school at Soldier Mountain near Fairfield. Daughter Susie snapped up the bronze medal for downhill in the 1972 Olympic Games. Corrock Drive in Ketchum is named after her accomplishment.
But skiing is not the only mark the Corrocks have made on local history. They are also known for their participation in Ketchum politics. Corky served 11 years on the City Council, and daughter Anne, now Corrock-Wrobel, serves on the Planning and Zoning Commission.
Eschewing politics, Lila jumped headlong into the community by serving on countless boards, committees and teams of volunteers. She was also a popular knitting instructor at the Craft Guild during the ’70s and ’80s, and still teaches when the opportunity arises. She recently shared her knowledge with women in the small fishing village of La Ventana in Baja California. "I don’t speak Spanish well enough and they speak no English, but sign language and smiles do wonders! When I drive up, all the kids call out, ‘¡Lila’s aquì!’ and run right over to carry the bags of yarn into the school." Lila has a rollicking good laugh, and it bubbles out of her as she relates her experiences there.
The Wood River Valley attracts people with a serious sense of adventure, and the Corrocks are a quintessential example of this. In the early ’60s the family lived in Kitzbuhel, Austria for five months, then spent another five touring Europe "in a Volkswagen bus with no pop-top," laughs Lila. Still possessing a vagabond nature, Lila and Corky drive south to Baja every year. While Lila’s teaching knitting, Corky windsurfs.
As the Corrocks traveled, they always held Ketchum as home in their hearts. Finally, in 1970, it seemed prudent to settle in one place. Corky had worked in the construction industry in Seattle, so he picked up his tools and went to work here, building the family’s first home near the base of River Run. In 1973, he and Lila built their current home out Warm Springs. "We went over Galena Summit to harvest those logs," she says, pointing to their quaint log sauna hut. "And, I nailed every single one of those shingles. This house is such a part of who we are."
How has it been to raise children and grandchildren here? Lila speaks with her typical forthright directness. "Well, you know, it’s always been challenging to make a real living here. So, as long as they have 12-month-a-year jobs, I’m happy as a clam. Underneath it all, this is a real town, not just a resort. And, we just love living here. Still!"
Betsy & Bob Pearson
Betsy and Bob Pearson first arrived in Idaho, as so many have, simply visiting family. Their son, Brad, moved to the Big Lost River Valley in the 1970s pursuing a dream to operate a horse ranch and maybe grow some organic crops. His parents soon came for a visit, fell in love with the "drop-dead gorgeous views" and ended up buying 240 acres nearby. Bob remembers that land was $39 an acre.
A few years later, when Brad thought his son would benefit from living near a good school—there weren’t many educational options in Moore, Idaho, in the mid-’70s—the young family moved to Hailey. Bob and Betsy pondered the idea of staying on at the base of King Mountain, but there was the irresistible lure of following Brad’s young family (with requisite beloved grandchild) to the Wood River Valley.
Just as with all good things that seem to happen here, what started out as a good-natured joke in answer to a friendly query, ended up as a very lucky real estate deal in 1978—one sealed by Betsy with a handshake in the Silver Dollar Saloon on Bellevue’s Main Street. Soon after, she and Bob started construction on the cozy log house they still call home just west of Bellevue and surrounded by aspens, willows, glistening water and hundreds of birds. In a comforting and charming circle of life, Brad built his (and wife, Premi’s) home just behind Bob’s and Betsy’s in 2005. The cozy little compound has become the whole Pearson family’s gathering grounds.
"We had 60 people here for a family reunion in 2006,"
Betsy laughs. "We have such a good time together—always have—we eat at
big tables in the yard, we play volleyball, we work crossword puzzles
together. It was sheer fun!"
Bob and Betsy are prolific writers in their own rights with decades of syndicated columns, books, and countless articles streaming off their desks. The couple raised two more successful writers and a devoted teacher. Brad is recently retired from his lengthy editorship at Heartland USA magazine. Son Ridley came to the Wood River Valley straight out of college to play in a band at night and write fiction during the day. He now works from St. Louis, Missouri, and is widely known for his crime-thriller novels and his young adult books, including the Starcatchers trilogy written with Dave Barry. (Ridley’s recent bestseller, Killer Weekend, is set in Sun Valley and features local characters.) Daughter Wendy (now Daverman) taught elementary school for years before leaving her career to travel more often with her husband and children. They split their time between homes in Gimlet and Glencoe, Illinois.
"Oh my, yes, we are a gathering family," exclaims Betsy. "Everyone comes back here whenever they can. My niece was married in Coeur d’Alene and everyone came. My sister is turning 93, and we’re all going to Kansas to celebrate."
The Pearson family now finds their most recent three generations firmly anchored in the Wood River Valley even though they may have homes in other places. Among the 10 grandchildren, Dhwani Pearson works as a masseuse and Pilates instructor at Zenergy in Ketchum. The others are scattered about in pursuit of their own dreams, but it is not unusual to find them sitting around the big table in the Pearson yard.
"Of course, it isn’t hard to convince any of them to come back here," says Betsy. "You know, it’s just so beautiful here, and we have so many good memories set in this place."
Brad adds, "The things I liked about Idaho back in the ’70s haven’t changed at all. We can still go out East Fork, Greenhorn, any canyon, and be in the wilderness or at least the wilds, in minutes. The essence of Idaho is the same as it was 30 years ago when I moved here. That’s what keeps me here and still thrills my heart."