One day in the mid-60s, the late Alice Schernthanner was skiing on Bald Mountain. Coming down the mountain-side she heard people at the bottom loudly admonishing her. "Child abuse!" they muttered, pointing out that not only was she visibly pregnant, but she was also skiing with a baby in a backpack.
Recounting the story at Schernthanner's memorial service last month, one mourner, her skiing companion that day, said Alice turned to her clearly baffled.
"I don't understand," she asked. "They know I'm only skiing the groomers don't they? I'm not skiing the bumps."
At the celebration of the 74-year-old Schernthanner's life, this anecdote was greeted with laughter and delight. Anyone who ever met Schernthanner knew that there was nothing she loved more than children. Not only did she have seven of her own, but she dedicated her life to teaching children how to ski.
While the exact origins of Papoose Club are lost in history, it is entirely plausible that a scene like this led to its foundation. The name certainly fits with the vision of Alice, a lifelong member of the club, carrying her children Indian-style down a mountain.
"Papoose Club's sole purpose was a babysitting exchange so we could go skiing," confirmed founding member Betty Bell in a 2007 interview.
That was in 1954, and for a decade or so the "club" continued to operate as a way for mothers to enjoy the snow. At some point, recalls club member Patti Williams, they started to incorporate teaching children how to ski. From there emerged the modern day Papoose Club's mission.
Today, it is one of the valley's oldest nonprofit organizations.
"The club's mission is to promote and assist cultural, social, educational and athletic activities for the children in the valley," Danni Dean, the current president, said. "In the past 12 months alone we have given more than $30,000 to 29 different local organizations that directly benefit children. That's incredible when you think the money comes from pancakes being flipped, soup being served and plants being sold."
The cash-flow comes almost entirely from the blood, sweat and tears of its volunteers, who put on
This model of grassroots fundraising through three community-events—the Wagon Days Pancake Breakfast, an annual plant sale and a holiday bazaar—remains true to the club's origins as a mothers' group. Each event celebrates the fundamental things a mother does for her family, and by extension, the Papoose Club has become a de-facto mother to this community.
When Williams and her sister, Lois McDonald, joined the club in 1969, they did so because they were young mothers looking to meet similar individuals.
"It was a great way to get to know people. We've made lifelong friends," Williams said.
The arrival of the sisters who, as any longtime area-resident will attest to, are forces of nature, helped propel the club into the shining philanthropic success it is today.
"There were just five of us sitting having coffee, Alice [Schernthanner], Patti [Williams], Betty [Bell] and Judy Glenn," McDonald recalls. "It was a small group when we first joined, but it just grew."
The Kindercup was already a fixture of the Papoose Club calendar when the sisters joined, but it wasn't a fundraiser.
According to a story in the Wood River Journal in 1974, the Kindercup grew out of Papoose Club's original purpose. The mothers went to Sun Valley Co. with a request to use Bald Mountain to teach their children how to ski. The resort agreed that if the women were organized as a club, they could use the mountain. At the end of those lessons a little race was held for the children. That race became the Kindercup, which two decades later boasted 250 entrants.
This race's success was the primary driving force behind the expansion of the group in the '70s. The members realized they had momentum to do more for the children of the valley.
"We helped organize the first events to make money for the kids." Williams said, and the group officially became a nonprofit in 1974.
"The town was getting bigger and there were more needs," McDonald said, explaining the impetus for transforming the group.
"The school needed playground equipment," Williams said. "I recall that being our main motivation. We needed to make money to buy it for Hemingway. Our children were the first to go into kindergarten in the valley."
They raised $3,182 through a plant sale (which continues today) and a fashion show (which sadly does not) to purchase an "eagle's perch," a "muscle man," a swing set, a super-spiral slide, see-saws and a "free stride." All the equipment arrived unassembled and the club members built the playground with their own hands.
The success of this playground laid the foundation for today's organization that now boasts more than 60 members and numerous fundraisers.
The Wagon Days Pancake Breakfast is by far the club's most high-profile event. Begun in 1977, the year Wagon Days was reintroduced after its hiatus, the breakfast has become a Ketchum Labor Day tradition.
"It took us a while to get it right, I remember the pancakes used to get stuck ... ." Williams said.
"But they bought them anyway!" McDonald laughed. "I remember Alice was always our coffee lady. That was always her thing."
This year, the breakfast again takes place over Labor Day weekend, Saturday, Sept. 1, and Sunday, Sept. 2, from 8 a.m. to noon in the Ketchum Town Square.
"It's always been right here, where we're sitting," said Williams from under a gaily colored umbrella atop one of the many attractive tables scattered around the square. As she talked, she surveyed the artwork, high-tech restrooms and solar-powered ice-cream stand that now grace Ketchum's town center and continued, "Only then it was a dirt parking lot, nothing at all was here".
"A lot has changed since those days," McDonald said. "There are a lot more people here today, but it is still the same loving community."
At just about that moment, the sisters were interrupted by a young boy in a Wood River Wolverines football shirt. Leider Schwartz was selling fundraising cards to help the middle-school team buy new equipment.
"Last year, my face-mask got ripped off and now it's broken, we need money to buy new ones," Schwartz said, as he gratefully accepted $15 from each of these generous ladies.
Clearly a mothers' work is never done.