Annual celebration part of the Mountjoys’ lives
Winthrop ’49er Days Grand Lady Marva and Marshal Jim Mountjoy caught their first glimpse of the Methow Valley in February 1972. It wasn’t much of a glimpse.
Outside the windows of their Ford LTD, a blizzard raged. And although their destination — the Methow Wildlife Area headquarters at the top of Upper Bear Creek Road — usually affords truly breathtaking views of Gardner, Oval and other dramatic peaks in the Sawtooth Range, on this particular day it offered the Mountjoys nothing, not even a place to sleep, as the wildlife area manager who Jim would be replacing had not yet vacated the game department residency.
Finding Winthrop completely shuttered for the season (the North Cascades Scenic Highway, which later created the Methow Valley’s viability as a year-round destination, was still months away from opening) the Mountjoys returned to Wenatchee and checked into a hotel for the night.
A Kalispell, Montana, native, Jim was fresh out of the U.S. Army in 1971, armed with a degree in forestry and a minor in wildlife management. He served as the Methow Wildlife Area’s manager for 35 years, but there’s also ranching in his roots, which is how he learned to ride and appreciate Western traditions. “My dad was born on a ranch and I worked on ranches in Jackson Hole [Wyoming] in the summers,” he said.
Wrangling a job
“We had no clue about the Methow Valley until we got here,” said Marva, who grew up in Nampa, Idaho. “We were living in Boise and we’d heard of Moses Lake but that’s about as close as we got, until Jim got the job and we packed up the U-Haul and just drove up in a snowstorm.”
With Jim’s new job keeping him busy, Marva looked for her own ways to earn a paycheck. Despite having no experience riding horses, Marva was hired as a wrangler for Sun Mountain Lodge and learned on the job, quickly becoming a competent horsewoman. Soon she began wrangling and cooking for Claude Miller’s backcountry trips.
“Being the man that he is,” Marva said, “Claude allowed me to bring the kids out with me. Otherwise I couldn’t have done that job.”
Marva’s longtime connection with Miller makes it fitting that he will be driving the carriage bearing the Mountjoys in the ’49er Days parade.
The Mountjoys met in college, on a blind date. Their daughters were both born in Brewster, a few years after they’d settled into their new life in the Methow Valley. Staunch community supporters, the Mountjoys have been to every ’49er Days parade since they moved to the valley and every Ride to Rendezvous since it started 33 years ago.
Marva only recently retired from working for the Washington Outfitter & Guides Association, which hosts the Ride to Rendezvous. Letting go of that responsibility, she says, the only thing that freed her up to serve as Grand Lady.
Love of community
When the Mountjoys were asked to represent Winthrop for ’49er Days, Jim says his first thought was, “I’m not old enough! And I’ve only lived here 50 years!” But they love this annual celebration of pioneer history and there’s no way they would pass up the opportunity to represent the community alongside their granddaughter, Jadyn Mitchell, who is serving as ’49er Days queen this year. “Marva can’t stand to be more than about 15 minutes without a grandchild near her,” Jim said.
The experience is further enhanced by the dress Jadyn will be wearing, which Marva made for the Mountjoys’ daughter Stephanie (Jadyn’s mom) in 1995, when she was ’49er Days queen for the 50th anniversary of the event. After all that sewing, Marva said, “I’m just glad we’re getting two more days out of that dress.”
After riding in and presiding over the parade, the Mountjoys will be greeting friends new and old along the boardwalk and in the Winthrop Park. “Then we’ll go home and take a nap,” Jim said, and Marva added, “Before he takes me out to dinner.”
When the Mountjoys are not busy representing Winthrop’s Western heritage or spending time with their children and grandchildren, they’re using their hands to make things. “Marva has her sewing room and I have my woodshop,” Jim said.
These are people who do not spend much time sitting around being idle. But during ’49er Days, at least, you’ll find them simply enjoying their community and their town, in the place they’ve called home for the past 50 years.