Thursday, August 2, 2012

Growing Up With Blue Mountain Shadows


By Deniane Gutke Kartchner


            Some people grow up with horses or music, art or cooking, dance lessons, or team sports. Me?  I grew up with a magazine, and looking back at the last 25 years, I am amazed to see how Blue Mountain Shadows has changed my life through the skills I have learned, the friends I have met, and the mentors I cherish.

            I was sixteen and a sophomore at San Juan High (1987) when my English teacher Janet Wilcox told me about a summer job interviewing as part of an oral history project. I wasn’t the only high school student to help with what ultimately became Blue Mountain Shadows, but the process and the people influenced me so much that, years later, I found myself still caught up in the magazine, first as an interviewer/researcher, then a writer, and then as the layout and production editor. I am still an avid collector of every issue, reserving a spot in my personal library for each one. 

            As I recall, before the first issue was even in the planning stages, we sat down as a group (most of us high school students) and chose a topic to research over the summer. I chose the CCC’s. I had no idea what “CCC” was, and I confess it took me awhile to learn to say Civilian Conservation Corps (“core” instead of “corpse”).  But it sounded intriguing, and no one else spoke for it, so I took it. The best part of this subject ended up being the wonderful people I met.  

            We prepared ourselves to interview through workshops, where we practiced how to ask “open-ended” questions (encouraging people to elaborate on a subject instead of just answering “yes” or “no.”) We also learned how to use a tape recorder. Believe it or not, what I feared the most was getting half-way through a really great interview without actually recording anything! We also did some preliminary research; for example, I looked through interviews that had already been done in the ‘70s by California State University-Fullerton so I would be familiar with some of the people involved and know what questions to ask. 
  
            One of the first people I interviewed was Thomas “Brush” Keele. What I remember most—besides the fact that Brush was handsome and good-natured and his stories detailed and funny—was his answer to my open-ended question. “To begin with, why don’t you just tell me a little about how you got involved in the CCC’s, and some of the experiences you had while there,” I said.  His response, when I later typed it, took up four-and-a-half pages!  I was ecstatic. The time went by so fast that it didn’t feel like work at all, and Brush really helped set a positive tone for future interviews with his CCC buddies. My interview with Brush also stands out in my mind as a testament to the importance of the work we were doing. I interviewed him in June 1987 and that February (1988) he passed away.  What if we had waited to talk to him? The value of one person’s life experiences cannot be underestimated.

            Throughout that summer, I talked to anyone and everyone I could about the CCC’s—which turned out to be a government work program of the 1930’s. At first I focused on the Blanding “camp” (they were set up all over the country): what it looked like, where it was located (in a four-block area in northwest Blanding along 300 and 400 West), who had been involved (most boys came from back East), and who had stayed in the area after being discharged. I found out who the local foremen were and talked to local boys who had traveled to other places to be part of this same program (you couldn’t sign up in your home town). I tried to visualize the boys’ circumstances, what they were working on (most projects involved conservation and natural resources), and what they learned as far as skills and life in general.  Was it a good program?  Would they recommend it today?
            It was a huge task for a sixteen year old, to make appointments and go into people’s homes and interview, and then to transcribe the interviews (I’ve never been a great typist), but I was successful. I had the support of my parents and my mentors on the BMS staff helping me, and wherever I went people caught the vision of it and shared their experiences. I think other students’ experiences were similar; one of my close friends Annette Carroll (Cashin) and I have talked about the wonderful experience she had that summer interviewing those involved in the exodus from Old Mexico.
            My experiences with Blue Mountain Shadows could fill a book, but I’ll share a few more from this first summer. Thomas “Toddy” Wozniak from New Jersey was so great to visit with. He was soft-spoken and kind, with an amazing memory that included specific details about projects and people. So many boys came through this Blanding camp! What I remember most about my interview with Toddy was after we had talked for a while he said, “Here, I’ve got a book I’ll show you,” and then he brought back this scrapbook containing not only dozens of pictures, but camp exchange money, a CCC clothing patch, and his discharge papers, just to name a few of the treasures! I could barely contain my excitement, because seeing faces with the names I was hearing about was so cool. And to be allowed to touch stuff that was over 50 years old and so well cared for, I was just in heaven. Better yet, with the help of his daughter Donna, Toddy gathered everything he could find pertaining to the CCC’s and let the San Juan Historical Commission copy it all, so that future generations would have access.
               Local “old timers” also shared experiences and information with me; Lynn Lyman, LaVell Palmer, and Dave Guymon explained some of the CCC projects, what the boys’ part actually was, how the division of agencies worked. A plus was during these interviews they also shared stories about my own grandpa, Lynn Palmer, which led me to learn more about my own family and to later write an article about roads in San Juan County.
            And I absolutely can’t forget the interview I had with my grandma, Fern Palmer, and her lifelong friends Marva Laws and Georgan Burtenshaw. I can still picture them--each of them in their seventies, sitting there giggling over silly memories of the CCC boys. They told me stories with such gusto and vividness that I couldn’t help but be engrossed and transformed back in time. They sang songs: “When the blue goon has turned to gray again, when the Navy takes the curse away” and shared pictures they took with the CCC boys when they were all my age.  Along with their memories of the CCC’s they shared impressions of their teachers and stories of several pranks they had pulled--they enjoyed very much retelling capers such as drying fat snakes for belts and drinking homemade “hooch”.
            As I went from interview to interview that first summer, the places and the people began to tie together in a large “family” of people connected through the CCC’s. I don’t how it happened exactly, but I immediately felt a part of it. Maybe it was because as we met and talked we treated each other with respect, kindness and openness, which created a connection even though in most cases there was a difference of two generations between us. These wonderful, older and experienced people of our community must have been able to envision what this newly created organization was trying to do (even in the hands of high school kids), and what BMS has been trying to do ever since. As was said by one reader of the very first issue, “This country has a wonderful heritage which needs to be remembered…I am very pleased that the history of our San Juan County is considered important enough for projects of this kind and applaud the efforts of those participating.”[1] I was pleased to be a part of it. 

            As I continued interviewing, transcribing, and reporting back to my mentors on the BMS staff, we realized that the CCC influence expanded beyond Blanding into all parts of the county; subsequently, I got the chance to do some traveling. My mom took me to conduct out-of-town interviews; my dad took me over many dusty roads to visit first-hand some project sites. This aspect of my experience would never have been possible without my parents, who helped make arrangements and/or accompanied me. 
            In Monticello, I met with Kent and Fern Frost. Kent gave me an autographed copy of his book My Canyonlands: “To my friend Deniane Gutke from Kent Frost the Slickrock Hiker”. They fed me lunch, and Kent let me try out some of the equipment he had used in his adventures, including a pair of shoes with horseshoes tacked to the bottom of them invented solely for pulling pranks.

            Heading north to the Provo/Salt Lake metropolis I interviewed Walter “Prock” May, a fascinating man who came from Ohio with the CCC’s and consequently married a Blanding girl (Alene Jones, who was one of my relatives). Prock shed light on the organization of the camp with its Army officers, company sergeants and local foremen, and expounded on day-to-day relationships within the camps and community. I appreciated Prock’s perspective; I left his home with a bigger picture of the service those boys provided during that era and the impact of their arrival and assimilation into the community. I also interviewed my great aunt, Edith Palmer, whose husband Lawrence was the sheriff in the CCC days. Edith was a beautiful and stately-type lady in my memory and I enjoyed talking with her not only about what she knew of the CCC’s but of her memories of old Mexico (which, by the way, helped my friend Annette, and also brings to mind how many times we students were able to help each other during the project because we were taught in those summer workshops to listen, notice details and allow people to diverge and reminisce).

            Next, I interviewed Karl R. Lyman at his home in Orem about his experiences as a religious and political leader during the CCC time period (he was the county attorney in 1935). My impressions of this kind, regal man have stayed with me all these years—and apparently he remembered me, too, because when my marriage engagement appeared in the local newspaper in 1991 he noticed it and took the time to write my parents a congratulatory note and to remind them of our acquaintance four years prior. What I remember the most about my interview with Bro. Lyman is gaping in awe at the sheer number of books he had in his possession, particularly the journals of his father, Albert R., “The Old Settler” of San Juan. I felt like I had gone back in time and linked to the century prior. When I left, Karl gave me five books, including his book “The Old Settler” written in 1980. The books stand proudly in my library next to my Blue Mountain Shadows magazines.


            After a busy summer and more work into the school year, we students started putting together articles from our interviews and research. Here again, I had so much help from others as I put together my first article about the Civilian Conservation Corps in San Juan County, which was published in the first Blue Mountain Shadows magazine as “Open Arms?  The CCC Invasion of San Juan County.” A second article, “A CCC Enrollee A Day Kept Depression Away,” followed the spring of 1988.  I consider these articles about the Civilian Conservation Corps in San Juan County a great attempt by everyone involved to bring to life a crucial piece of San Juan history.
            When I look back at my experiences with Blue Mountain Shadows, it’s hard to believe they began in high school. Even though my interviewing “job” ended in 1987, I continued as a researcher and a writer and completed many other projects. (For example, I interviewed my own grandparents, and the stories they shared are, in some cases, a great majority of what we know about them.) I wrote for school and community publications and made long-lasting connections with many other wonderful people in the community through other worthwhile pursuits.

            When I graduated from high school and left Blanding for college, I thought my involvement with BMS might end, but it didn’t. I walked right into my first college job interview armed with several Blue Mountain Shadows magazines and got the job immediately because of my involvement. In fact, I went to college in the first place on an English Sterling Scholar scholarship that came about primarily because of the depth of my work with BMS. Later I got the chance to write additional articles and then to lay out the magazines, eventually putting together eleven of the issues as the layout editor.
            The influence of BMS in my life continues. Since 1987, my work experience with Blue Mountain Shadows has been at the core of every resume I have ever put together. Every article I have since written, every photo I’ve taken, every family history I’ve prepared, and every blog I currently maintain can honestly be attributed in part to what I learned in my youth through Blue Mountain Shadows.
            Because I literally “grew up” with it, BMS is so much more than just a magazine to me. In my youth I was welcomed into others’ homes and taught from their life experiences. From my interviewing experiences I learned to listen—really listen, not just say “uh huh, that’s nice” at appropriate moments--and to value others’ opinions. I learned that everyone has a story, and it is uniquely theirs and irreplaceable. Through my interviewing experience with Blue Mountain Shadows I also developed skills like remembering names, dates, and relationships--skills I use all the time when conversing with strangers who soon become friends.
            From my mentors on the BMS staff I learned you can have different backgrounds and strengths and all work together on a common cause. I have high expectations of what I can accomplish because these wonderful people who were my parents and teachers held me to greatness at an early age. I learned that age difference doesn’t really matter when your mentors treat you kindly, share their knowledge, and expect great things from you like hard work and fairness.
            The men I interviewed from the CCC’s were good men. They had families and jobs and were patriotic citizens. The period of the Civilian Conservation Corps was a huge adjustment for the little communities of San Juan, and it wasn’t always easy. Everyone had to adjust their thinking a little to accommodate each other. Even today, this home of ours can be a place where conflicting ideas and different cultures collide, but I have great faith in people because of our past. I really believe if our future is half as good as our history has been, we will all have grown up nicely.
            Thanks, Blue Mountain Shadows.
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Memories of the BMS Staff

By Deniane Gutke Kartchner

            I have wonderful memories of the BMS staff who were my mentors while I was in high school and involved with the magazine; in fact, they are all still very important to me.
            My most trusted and loved mentor throughout my life, besides my immediate family, is Janet Wilcox, managing editor of BMS for 20-plus years. She is a woman who loves people and worthwhile projects. She works circles around me constantly, and I will always admire her and look up to her.  She is a very skilled writer and can bring to life the most mundane of subjects. Back in the early days of BMS, she was as I mentioned earlier my English teacher.  Janet worked with all of us students to help us hone our research and writing skills, and she along with Kathy Hurst as I remember were very instrumental in helping us choose topics and do our best work. Janet is the queen, the public figure and organizing force behind so many things, and she has been the glue that has kept BMS together all these years through her tireless efforts to “get out among the people” and do the nitty-gritty stuff—write grants, invite guest editors to edit the magazines, secure printing companies, set up panel presentations.  She is amazing, and my dear, dear friend. (She’s a “kindred spirit,” as Anne of Green Gables would say!)

            Every group needs a scholar—a person in the community whose reputation for published works gives the group’s projects merit.  In my opinion, that person for Blue Mountain Shadows is Robert S. McPherson (editor of this issue and of many past). Now, if Bob didn’t edit this out … my honest opinion of him is that he is a genius. Whenever I say to myself, “Work hard, do your best work,” it comes from working with Bob.  I have learned to love red marks all over my paper – it means the person actually read what I wrote with interest and questions. It means there might be a better way to say something. It means maybe I should take something out.  When I hear in my mind: “Too long of a sentence. Cut it. Too many small sentences. Combine them,” it comes from Bob. More importantly, Bob is a great example to me of what it means to be fair. He has been a stickler for truth in that we should not be content to represent only one group of people or one side of an issue. In other words, Bob’s philosophy in my eyes is if you have to choose between “fair” or “flair,” choose the one that does the most justice to the most people. Bob has worked tirelessly to help Blue Mountain Shadows maintain the professional, scholarly reputation he brought to the magazine in the beginning. His work at the College of Eastern Utah as a history professor and in other community pursuits has always been an example to me since the first time I met him through Blue Mountain Shadows.

            Speaking of editors, I have had the opportunity to get to know many wonderful, intelligent people because I worked with them as guest editors for Blue Mountain Shadows. First, K.C. Benedict.  I will never forget sitting down with K.C. for the first time:  she was the writing consultant for the second issue (1988) and worked with me on my second CCC article. I had typed my rough draft on the computer and brought a printed copy with me. K.C. came armed to a work table in her living room with several pieces of white paper, a glue stick, scissors, and a pencil; she used these tools to help me craft the article together, cutting and pasting sections, leaving out others, and writing transitions until it became a wonderful piece.  Something about this hands-on technique combined with technology stuck with me and I still use it. K.C. is an extremely intelligent woman whose ideas and knowledge of printed material, including historic collections and getting around a library have added to Blue Mountain Shadows integrity and value.  Helen N. Shumway is another wonderful woman I greatly admire and her contribution to the magazine over the years is astounding. I worked personally with Helen for months to put together her book “The First Forty Years: History of San Juan High School.” Beautiful, soft-spoken, kind, and intelligent Helen. 
  
            Next is Winston Hurst, whose involvement with artifacts and archeology over the years has made him a legend to me—including the fact that he is the first man I remember pulling his hair back into a ponytail. I recall meeting Winston during junior high school when I volunteered at the Edge of the Cedars State Park, and Winston’s work there, and his commitment to and respect for archeology and natural history, has been inspiring to me ever since. Every issue of BMS that Winston edits is solid and full of substance and historical treasures. In my everyday life, whenever I think of what is the right thing to do to take care of this world and to appreciate past cultures, I think of Winston Hurst. 
     
            Two more people I can’t leave out: Stan Byrd and LaVerne Tate. Stan is a legend to me because he used the first Macintosh computer at CEU and was the design guy. (Stan and my dad Dennis Gutke were always playing with the newest technology.) I remember him also as the high school recruiter and the one who put together all of the college’s advertising. For Stan’s part in BMS, I recall that he spent hours copying pictures for historical collections and he helped put together the first magazines. I have thought a lot about Stan’s skills over the years. You can have the greatest content in the world to offer, and no one will even look at it if it isn’t visually appealing. Stan was really good at putting things together with a purpose in mind.  Seeing what he did with design and photography encouraged me in these areas, and he was always helpful to answer my questions and show me cool stuff.  The subjects I explored in college were advertising, public relations and graphic design, most likely a result of Stan’s legacy.

            And now to LaVerne. At one time in my life I didn’t appreciate photos as history themselves, but that all changed through my involvement with LaVerne Tate and Blue Mountain Shadows. It is a tremendous amount of work to gather photos to compliment articles--many times over the years authors had their own to contribute, but just as often they did not.  Pouring through collections, especially in the pre-computer days, was time consuming and it was LaVerne’s job to see that the magazines had photos that went with the text. Talking to people, encouraging them to donate photos to the Historical Commission, manually cataloging and retrieving photos from collections, LaVerne did it all.  She has provided a lifetime of service to the community through her efforts to preserve photos.

            Whenever I think of LaVerne I also think of Corinne Roring, because they worked together so often and so well. In my memory Corinne has always been there somewhere doing something, behind the scenes and yet extremely important.  The number of articles she researched and wrote has left a legacy; her efforts through the San Juan Historical Commission to secure and preserve pictures and documents have been far-reaching and monumental. The number of volunteer hours Corinne has put in over the years to preserve our history is enormous—recently she has been tireless in putting together the Bluff Fort the same way she has completed so many other projects. 

            Others I met who influenced me positively through Blue Mountain Shadows: Gary Shumway, Jim Aton, Sandra Skousen, Finley Bayles, Rusty Musselman, Gary Guymon, and Mikki Palmer. I could write a book about the influence of Brian and Silvia Stubbs, Oliver Harris and Merry Adams (Palmer), with an entire chapter or more dedicated to Merry.  She, like Janet Wilcox, has shaped my entire life because of her writing talents, her teaching style, and her fervent example of goodness in our community. To my parents Dennis and Lurlene Gutke I owe the deepest gratitude for a positive upbringing filled with meaningful, service-oriented experiences and a love for the people of my community.

One of Deniane's last big projects 2012
            The mentors I gained through Blue Mountain Shadows were the age of my parents and grandparents, but they quickly became my life-long friends.  This connection between generations is possibly the most important benefit I received from my association, and I’ve noticed whenever a community has it the youth are happier and seem more confident of their future. My mentors/friends have influenced me in almost everything I do today, and it all started with a little organization called Blue Mountain Shadows.


[1] Mrs. William O. Sheppard in “Reader’s Roost,” Volume I, Issue II of BMS, Spring 1988.

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