By Laurelle Walsh
Two of Winthrop’s most stalwart supporters and respected elders will preside over ’49er Days festivities in Winthrop this weekend.
Grand Lady Lois McLean and Grand Marshal Ken Westman will ride in style at Saturday’s parade (May 10) in a fringe-top buggy driven by McLean’s daughter, Kit Cramer.
McLean and Westman have chosen to play up the historical nature of Winthrop’s big event by dressing as well-to-do town leaders from the late 1800s. The Grand Lady will be attired in an old-fashioned calico skirt and demure blouse, along with a hat and shawl borrowed from friend and former grand lady Shirley Haase.
The Grand Marshal will be decked out in a 1890s-era three-piece suit and hat obtained from Seattle theater costumer Pete Rush, who dressed local actors in The Merc Playhouse’s recent production of Little Women. Westman said he intends to donate the period costume to The Merc after his marshal duties are over.
McLean and Westman were selected from a venerable pool of “old timers,” and both required some convincing from last year’s marshal, Tom Graves, before accepting the nomination.
“Tom Graves called and twisted my arm twice,” said McLean. “I told him the first time I’d have to talk to my daughters; the second time I said, ‘yes.’ I feel very honored.”
“Tom came up with one more reason I should do it and I ran out of excuses,” said Westman. “I see it as kind of my duty.” And he couldn’t say no once he learned that his long-time friend Lois had agreed to be grand lady, he added.
Pioneer family matriarch
When asked about her past involvement with ’49er Days, at first McLean said she had “been involved mainly as an observer.” Upon further consideration however, she recalled the many years she sold official buttons, or rode in the parade in Hugh Glassburn’s antique farm truck.
During her 17 years in the American Legion Auxiliary, McLean has sold raffle tickets to raise funds for the Auxiliary’s annual scholarship, and helped to select the ’49er Days royalty — before the chamber of commerce took over that task.
The busy volunteer has served on the Winthrop Auditorium Association board for more than 10 years, and also serves on the board of the Shafer Museum. She can sometimes be found in her pioneer dress doing a butter-making demonstration at the museum’s open-house events.
Lois Hoener grew up on a dry-land farm between the little towns of Elk and Milan, Wash. She graduated from Riverside High School in 1946 and married Ron McLean in Spokane two years later.
After Ron received his teaching credentials, the couple settled on the Olympic Peninsula, where Ron taught for 10 years. Next, with four young daughters in tow, they moved to the McLean homestead near Winthrop in 1961, living in a tent until they built their first cabin. The fifth McLean daughter was born here in the valley.
McLean ran the household and worked as a librarian and enrichment teacher in the Methow Valley School District from the early ’70s until she retired in 1992.
Ron McLean taught first grade in Winthrop and Twisp. He was renowned for his poetry and song writing as well as his wood carvings — one of which still graces the office of the Methow Valley News. He passed away too soon, only four years after he retired in 1978, McLean said. “We thought we had our retirement all planned out.”
These days, McLean continues her education in Bill Hottell’s history class each winter, and enjoys traveling to varied destinations such as New England, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Amsterdam.
Businessman and Winthrop booster
“My introduction to community service came after I retired in 1990,” when Winthrop’s mayor, Stan Peterson, asked Westman to serve on the Westernization Architectural Committee, he recalls.
After 30 years of commercial fishing, during which he divided his time between Alaska and the Methow, Westman prepared to settle down. But retirement found him busier than ever, developing the Farmers Exchange Building into a mini shopping mall, and joining the Winthrop Chamber of Commerce.
Westman was born in Bellingham and grew up in Seattle, graduating from Ballard High School in 1953.
He fell in love with the Methow Valley during a sojourn at Mazama’s Wilson Ranch in 1967. He bought his first property in the area shortly thereafter: 33 acres, which is now Brown’s Farm.
Westman partnered in a cattle operation with Elaine Button, owner of the property across the highway, where Wesola Polana is today. “I found out she was a pretty shrewd businessperson,” Westman said. They married in 1972.
Elaine’s four kids made it an “instant family,” and they also adopted and raised three grandchildren, all of whom graduated from Liberty Bell High School in the 1980s. “Brown’s Farm was an ideal place to raise kids,” he said.
Westman first got involved in ’49er Days through the chamber of commerce. For a time he was in charge of the town’s official parade float, which also appeared in the Wenatchee Apple Blossom parade.
He served on the Winthrop Auditorium Association board, which included a stint as board president and Barn manager. And once he started volunteering, it seems Westman couldn’t stop, racking up years as a Fire District 6 commissioner and electric co-op board member. Today he serves on the Mazama Advisory Committee, and on the board of Room One, “my number-one priority now,” he said.
Westman is philosophical about his wife’s passing several years ago. “We had a great run. We were married for 37 years until I lost her in October of 2009.”
These days he’s a regular at yoga and senior fitness classes, a member of the Methow Valley Supper Club, and a supporter of The Merc Playhouse.
The Grand Lady and Grand Marshal plan on wearing their “regular cowboy duds” at the Ride to Rendezvous camp dinner tonight at Boulder Creek campground, McLean said. They look forward to viewing the parade route from their buggy on Saturday, starting at 11 a.m.