Many insist that they have nothing special to write about, and then share amazing stories. My interview with Julie Chenoweth was one of those interviews.
I have long wondered who resided in the house at the end of Kalaspo Avenue. I was pleasantly surprised when I realized my interview was to take place inside the beautiful walls surrounding her home. She greets me and invites me in. I am immediately at ease. Vivacious, petite, with an easy smile, big, bright blue eyes, and genuinely charismatic, Julie begins to share her life with me.
An only child of parents, each who came from large families in the state of Oklahoma, Julie and her parents, Artie and Olan “Bee” Odom moved from Oklahoma to Libby, Montana at Christmas-time when she was in the seventh grade. She said that her mother had never finished high school and her father was a mechanic on logging trucks, working for J. Mills and Champion St. Regis.
Julie says that her dad became homesick the first year and moved the family back to Oklahoma the summer between seventh and eighth grades, and Julie attended eighth grade there. Once school ended, the family returned to Libby, where Julie began ninth grade and graduated from high school.
“I didn’t go to college even though my dad had begged me. I had met George Miller, the father of my children, in high school.” George was seven years older and like Julie, he loved to dance. Julie explains that they began dating when she was a sophomore in high school. “When I got out of school, I was just ready to get married. I just thought marriage was typically what people do.
“We were married in 1960 and lived in Libby where three of my kids were born. Ronnie was born in ‘61, Rick in ‘62, and Holly in ‘63. I thought I was through and ended up having Robbie in ‘67.
“We had moved from Libby up to the Sylvanite Ranger Station up on the Yaak River. We lived there seven years, and had a whole complement of rangers and assistant rangers. George was an engineer and he used to man surveys there.
“We didn’t have television because there was no reception, we had a crate telephone, and a propane refrigerator. I cooked on a wood stove. Our only electricity was from a generator.
“The wives at the ranger station would have two days when they could do laundry. Here I am with three little kids and cloth diapers, they’d turn on my power twice a week, so I could do laundry. It was quite an experience, but overall, a great place for kids. We had a little boat, and in the summers we’d go down the Yaak River with the kids and take a picnic. In the winter, there was tons of snow, and the kids would slide off the roof into the snowbanks.”
Julie remembers being on the Yaak in November of 1963, when Kennedy was assassinated. “I was really sad, it was the first time I had ever had the opportunity to vote and I had voted for him. The country mourned and wondered what would happen next.”
In 1970, George was transferred to Orofino. “We had looked at several other places, but decided on Orofino. There was an A&W here and the town had electricity, they were some of the things we had gone without. It was very exciting!
Julie admits that she feels disenfranchised from the state where she was born, Oklahoma, and that her heart belongs to Idaho.
“George and I bought the home where the MacEacherns live now, on Kalaspo. Nick and Helen Chenoweth lived in this house. There was quite a group of us in this little neighborhood who would get together and play cards or go dancing at Konkolville’s Steakhouse when it was in full swing.”
Nick’s wife, Helen had been offered a position as an Executive Secretary for the Republican Party in Boise. She wanted to move and she wanted Nick to move with her. “Nick wanted to stay here as he had just opened his law practice. The marriage ended in divorce not too long after we’d moved here.
“Up until then, I had always been a stay at home mom. I got my first job with Mike McNichols filling in for Lee (Weddell) Pippenger for a month one summer while she was vacationing with her kids. A little later, I learned how to do the books. It was a little overwhelming at first. I was hired to do the books for Nick Chenoweth soon after he had received his law degree, he was working in Sam Swayne’s office with David Swayne. I became a full time secretary.
“George didn’t want me to work. He wanted me to be home with the kids. But I absolutely loved working, so I continued. We were divorced in 1973.
“Nick and I had a good friendship which developed into a relationship. We both enjoyed working. It was new for him, we were starting out together and I worked as his secretary for eight years. I loved being a legal secretary, it’s still my passion. In Nick’s office we did real estate closings for the Farm Home Administration and one of the brokers from Kamiah, a guy by the name of Ed Hancock, had asked me to do his closings. He mentioned he was looking for an agent in Orofino, then asked me why I didn’t study and get my real estate license. I asked myself the same question.
“In the meantime Lee Weddell and I had maintained our friendship, meeting often at the Ponderosa for coffee or a coke break. Lee had her real estate license and worked in Lewiston, I got mine in 1978. I sold real estate as well as continued working for Nick.
More life changes
“In 1980, Nick and I were married. Lee and Paul Pippenger were married about the same time. Lee and I decided to open a business together, The Real Estaters.
“We had a great business! We loved it and worked well together. We were very successful. We did whatever it took to make it work.
“It was truly one of the highlights of my life. I never felt more on top of my game. I’m not sure why but one year we had a huge influx of Californians, it was one of the busiest days of my life, I had shown houses in the morning and was at the office until 10 p.m. I wrote nine offers in one day! It was crazy and unheard of. It felt good.
“Paul and Lee were wanting to travel, and as he bought and developed more real estate, Lee was needed full time to help him with that. I ended up buying the business from her. I ran it by myself until 2000.
“In 1999, Nick was diagnosed with cancer, and I worked through that year. In 2000, I sold the business to Jane Green and Mike Harrington.
“When I was married to Nick, we had a grand time and traveled a lot. We went to Europe several times and took cruises. We went to Russia and Greece, Spain, Italy, Czechoslovakia, when it was still a country, and Istanbul, Turkey.
“We went to Cuba before it was open. We flew from Toronto down to Havana. It was a scary experience, with all the armed guards. I was never so glad to get back to the United States after visiting Cuba. Nick and I also traveled with Lee and Paul to Hawaii while they were looking at timeshares as well as Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta.
“Nick was partners with Dr. Vic Walters, one of the founders of Empire Airlines in Hayden Lake. We flew often on short trips to Seattle or Portland. It was about the same time that Orofino Airport manager Ron Vanderwall and his young son were killed in a plane crash near the Kelly Creek Ranger District.
“Ron’s wife, Joan Vanderwall no longer wanted to be in the airplane business, she didn’t fly. Nick decided to buy the note and fixed based operation (FBO) here at the airport. Empire kept growing through contracts with the forest service. We practically signed our lives away, and took out a loan.”
The company kept growing. Empire turned out to be a wonderful investment for everybody and is still a very viable company in Hayden Lake.
Julie is a stockholder in Empire. From a small, fixed-base charter company in Orofino, Empire Airlines has grown into an international air carrier and heavy maintenance repair station.
Julie and I talked about the thrill of flying. She tells me she was training to get her pilot’s license, she took all the tests, right down to doing a solo flight. Julie shared that she has a problem with depth perception. “I tried landing and came in way high, it was then that I decided I wouldn’t push it.”
Julie stayed busy, but was alone for about three years after Nick passed away. She recalls that life was really lonely.
She placed an ad with an online dating service, which had just started to become popular. “I met a guy who was moving from the Minnesota-Wisconsin area to Kalispell, MT. When he couldn’t find property in Kalispell, he turned his interest to Priest River and we agreed to meet up there. My daughter Holly and her husband had a cabin at Priest Lake.
“Dave and I hit it of immediately and we had a good relationship. He ended up getting a motorcycle and I loved it! I put in over 40,000 miles on the back of a Harley! We went to all the National Parks everywhere you can think of on the motorcycle...rain, sleet, sunshine, it was a real adventure.
“Initially, I was going to move up to Priest River and sell this house. I moved some of my stuff there and stayed at Priest River four months. Just long enough for me to realize how much I missed my kids and my house. I couldn’t convince Dave to move down here, in his mind, this was ‘Nick’s house’. I came back and we broke up.
A new direction
“After I broke up with Dave I had no intention of ever meeting anyone. Nick and I had bought a bunch of rentals, I had about 10 houses to manage and repair when the tenants moved out.
“I had gone to Home Depot to purchase a couple of air conditioners for the rentals. They should have fit in the car but with all the packing, the boxes were too big for me to transport. So instead of rushing home to get the pickup and come back to Lewiston that hot August afternoon, I drove around the parking lot to see if anyone I knew was there with 6C plates. I spotted a gentleman just putting stuff into the back of his truck with 6C plates.
“Are you going home soon?” she asked.
The man immediately asked if he needed to go home soon.
Julie couldn’t help but laugh and introduced herself to Larry Paske. She explained her situation. He delivered the air conditioners to her son, Ron’s business, Miller Marine on Hwy 12. When she offered to pay him for his assistance he told her she could buy him a drink someday.
Some day was not too far off, Julie called and they met at The Edge.
The next day he asked Julie if she would meet his friends and “we were together ever since.” He had been married and divorced, had been single for 30 years and vowed he’d never marry again. Julie said she felt the same way.
They went fishing, and camping, all sorts of fun things for the next year, as they shared houses. The following September, Larry proposed, and they were to be married in October.
It was fall, when Robbie, her youngest son was hit by a motorist while on his motorcycle. He died Oct. 21, 2013.
“We were going to cancel the wedding but everyone and all the kids had made plans to come. So we were married here in the garden. I hardly remember the day, I was happy, but devastated at the same time.
“The hardest thing I’ve ever experienced in my life bar none, is losing Robbie. That was the most devastating. You don’t ever get over losing a child.”
Larry and Julie had been married about three years when they had a couple over for dinner and Larry had been unusually quiet that evening. Julie asked if she had said anything wrong and he assured her that she hadn’t, but he did say some of his memory seemed to be gone. Julie wondered if he might have had a stroke and insisted on him seeing a doctor.
“After an MRI was done, we got some really bad news. The doctors had found a brain tumor and Larry was scheduled for surgery the following morning.”
Lab results showed that the tumor was terminal. The oncologist told him he had anywhere from five months to five years.
“We traveled to Seattle for treatment at the Virginia Mason Hospital. He lasted seven and a half months.
“I had lost a second husband and a son, I felt I couldn’t possibly endure anymore. I tried to keep myself busy and I’ve always loved being in the garden. When Nick and I landscaped, Nick bought the greenhouse as a surprise, which I still keep full of plants.
“This house was Nick’s mother’s house. Nick’s father was killed in an airplane crash when he was about three. His mother, Virginia remarried the postmaster here, Art Dennison. The house had been his family home. His wife had passed away from cancer. Dennison had two older sons who were in college when Nick was very young.”
Virginia had a teaching degree. Nick attended all 12 years of school in Orofino then went to Whitworth University in Spokane, where he met Helen.
“Nick’s mom wanted a new house built,” continued Julie, “so he and his stepbrothers built her a home and Nick and Helen lived here while they were married and raised their children, Mike and Meg in the house. My four children had grown up across the street and they were all great friends.
“When Helen left, Nick continued to remodel and expand this house with the garage and guest house, he finished the driveway shortly before he died. So I was left with this great big house.”
Julie was also very much involved in the Chamber of Commerce, as well as with the Clearwater-Lewis County Community Guardians.” In addition to gardening, Julie is an avid reader.
“Nick was probably my best mentor and when I learned the most. I had always felt inferior because I didn’t have a college degree. I didn’t think I was smart enough. Nick just always encouraged and assured me I could. I learned to know I could do whatever was needed to get by in life. It has helped me to be resilient.
“Another benchmark in my life was being able to purchase my parents a home on Riverside, once my dad had retired.
“I’m still lonely at times, you don’t expect at 76 to be facing the rest of your life alone, but a lot of people do. You simply must continue to live, and be thankful for all our many blessings.
“I am truly blessed with my kids and grandkids,” said Julie. We’ve shared a lot of great memories over the years.”
What Julie doesn’t realize is that in honor of Mother’s Day, I’ve talked to her kids about those memories. It’s clear to see that Julie’s sons Ron and Rick, each adore their mother. They love her cooking, her thoughtfulness and consideration for others, they would do anything for her. But I heard much more from Julie’s daughter, I guess we women usually have a little more to say!
Holly recalls these as some of her favorite memories with her mom.
When Holly was in second grade, she remembers their house had three bedrooms and four kids, so she and her younger brother Robbie shared a room.
One day the youngest three kids were playing just down the street, when their older brother Ron came running down to tell her she was in trouble and better get back to the house.
“I took off running and skinned my knee, arriving home in tears with a bloody knee. Mom was really upset with Ron for telling me I was in trouble. I wasn’t in trouble at all, Mom had bought me a new pink bedroom set and she wanted to surprise me.
“Unfortunately, poor Robbie had to sleep in a girly room, with the same pink bedspread as I, so that everything matched. He didn’t seem to mind, he was such a good sport!”
Holly adds that “Mother loved surprising us, and she did so often. She’s always been like that!”
When Holly graduated from high school, she said Julie and Nick sent her to a private survival school, hoping that she would grow from being a rather sheltered young woman afraid to leave Orofino, into a confident adult.
“The three month experience of learning to survive in the wilderness was something no one else even thought I needed, giving me confidence in myself to become whatever I wanted to become. I learned lessons I would use all my life.
“My mom has always known what was best for me. At 22, my mother pointed to a man walking down the street.”
“Mark my words,” said Julie, “someday you are going to marry that man.” Holly says that she met Keith Hanson at a Chamber of Commerce meeting and hit it off right away. “Thirty-two years and two kids later, she was right!
“My mom is an amazing grandma! The kids and I lived up in our cabin at Priest Lake, throughout the summer. Mom would take them school shopping every year. We would meet her in Spokane, get a hotel for the night and shop for two days straight! They always started school feeling good about themselves, confident and to grateful for their Grandma!
Holly says that her mom is her BFF - Best Friend Forever. We love spending time together, going places, seeing concerts, and just hanging out playing cards. I’m so glad she’s happy and healthy. I love her so much and look forward to making so many more memories with her.”