Gwen Cooper, a lover of the Methow Valley for 25 years, died on Aug. 9, 2022. She was a youthful 86 years old: hiking along the waterfront of Edmonds, Washington; reading any book that a friend recommended; and always intrigued by what the young people were doing. Our family is devastated by the loss yet deeply grateful for all she has taught us.
Gwendolyn Lee Rae was born in Spokane on Feb. 4, 1936, and moved with her parents Earl J. and Virginia (Martz) Rae to Yakima along with her older sister, Janice (Gekler). She was horse-crazy and an explorer of the outdoors from a young age at her parents’ cabin near Chinook Pass. By the time of her college years at the University of Washington she was hiking the 90-mile Wonderland Trail around Mt. Rainier with a group of women, and skiing when rope tows were the latest technology. Her husband-to-be, Terry Cooper, must have been amazed to encounter a hiker so impervious to mosquitoes and steep trails as he was! They were married in 1960 spent their honeymoon skiing at Sun Valley before eventually settling in Shelton and then Olympia.
As with many other women of her era, Gwen set aside her career as a cartographer for the Washington State Department of Game to begin a family. Her three sons probably drove her crazy at times, but throughout their childhood she was the most sensitive and encouraging mother imaginable, always ready to read a book, get out the art supplies, throw a baseball, or sit quietly and talk. Another child in the neighborhood remembers Gwen as a “profoundly important influence on me as an early example of someone who loved nature, who cared about the earth and was respectful and conscious of use of resources — how ahead of their time were your folks! She exemplifies terms like gracious, enlightened, creative, vibrant.” Gwen’s love of music always ensured that the house was filled with old singing cowboy songs from her childhood.
It was during family hikes in the North Cascades that Gwen and Terry fell in love with the Methow Valley. After retirement in 1992 they built a log home up the West Chewuch, where Gwen’s eye for decorating and Terry’s willingness to battle Barnaby Thistle served them well in their early residency. They loved hiking and skiing with friends, volunteering at the Shafer Museum, and attending the Chamber Music Festival. It seems possible that Gwen read every book at the Winthrop library. After Terry’s death in 2009, Gwen remained in the valley with her beloved dog companion, Rocky, until moving to western Washington.
Gwen is survived by her sister Janice; her sons Ken (Caroline Woidat), Stephen (Kelly Taylor), and Kevin; and four beloved grandchildren — Dalton, Nora, Alex and Maren — whose birthday cards and artwork sent to her always were carefully saved. The family suggests that any remembrances be sent to the Friends of Winthrop Library or the Methow Conservancy.