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Nevada and Eastern California
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Reno, NV 89507

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Toiyabe Chapter's 50th Anniversary


The Past As Prologue:  The Founding of the Toiyabe Chapter 50 Years Ago.

Identify Yourself with the Personalities of an Effective Environmental Organization

The Toiyabe Chapter of the Sierra Club celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, 2007.   Who were the Chapter founders, what did they do, and what were their issues?   What can we learn from them?  In particular, what were and are the critical factors for success of an environmental organization?   And, even more important, what are the key personalities and essential roles of the individual participants?  Consider the founders of the Toiyabe Chapter fifty years ago and with which individuals you most identify.  This article examines the founding and the first ten years of the Toiyabe Chapter.  I have tried to reconstruct the personalities involved, based on information from several of the remaining participants.  TOP

The founders started from a nucleus of about 20 friends who loved the wild outdoors.  They socialized together for at least 2 years before petitioning to found a Sierra Club in December, 1956.   The Chapter was founded in 1957.  The founders had fun which included outdoor outings, such as walks and short hikes in wild areas, snow shoeing, rock climbing, lots of parties, and even cowboy poetry.  There were over 25 members of the early social group, including in alphabetical order Nancy and Grace Borderwich, Jane Bowden*, Jeanne and Gus Bundy, Elizabeth (chair 58-9) and Jack Crenshaw, Jane* and Bob* Gaw, Victor Goodwin, Nancy* and Les (first chair, ‘57) Gould, Sam  (chair 60-61) and Edda Houghton, Carola Hutchinson* (chair, 64), Hal Klieforth* (chair 66-7), Maya and Dick* Miller,  Milla and Ken Thompson, Irving Pressman, Olga and Jack Reifschneider, Joseph Schubert, David Thompson (chair for part of 64 and 65) and his wife, and Ed Worley.  (The *indicate those individual still living.)  TOP

Who were these founders of the Chapter?  Most of them were in their 20s and 30s at the time.  Starting from A to G, Nancy and Grace Borderwich were sisters living in Carson City.  Grace was a school teacher and Nancy was an artist.  Nancy went on many outings with Don Bowers whom she later married.  Jeanne and Gus Bundy ran a guest ranch in the days when people came to Nevada for 6 weeks in order to qualify for divorce proceedings.  Gus was a master photographer of wilderness, including wild horses.  His photographs are archived in the University of Nevada, Reno library.  (The Bundy’s are also the parents of Tina Nappe, 2005-6 Toiyabe Chapter Chair.)  Elizabeth (‘Betty’) and Admiral Jack Crenshaw were somewhat older.  He was a retired Commandant at the Hawthorne Naval Ammunition Depot and manager of the Whittell Estate at Lake Tahoe, including what is now known as Thunderbird Lodge.  She was the initiator and organizer of the Chapter, starting in 1954, and wrote the petition for chapter status in December, 1956.  To quote Bob Gaw, “Betty was the true spark who championed the concept of the chapter”.  Jane and Bob Gaw were the only two teachers in the elementary school at Zephyr Cove from 1954-1957.  They were in their twenties and the social group opened up a world of adventure.  There are memories of Bob rock climbing with Sam Houghton, a special dinner party given by the Crenshaws in the caretaker’s quarters of the Whittell Estate, and of their first exposure to cowboy poetry.  Victor (‘Vic’) Goodwin, US Forest Service Toiyabe District Ranger, was a “tough rough guy” to quote Bob Gaw.  Vic lived in a government-issue house in Carson City that was also the ranger station in the 1950s.  There were many fun meetings in that ranger house.  (There is now a tree at the Carson City Railroad Museum that is named in Vic’s honor.)    Les Gould was a psychiatrist with a substantial clinical practice; his wife Nancy led hikes.  TOP

The founders with last names from H to Z were equally diverse individuals.    Sam and Edda Houghton were very active participants.  Sam was an outdoorsman, the rock climbing was serious with ropes, belays, etc.  He was very concerned with water issues (which in those days included Lake Tahoe).  Sam Houghton wrote Trace of Desert Waters, published in 1986.  Carola Hutchinson lived in Carson City and was a big outings leader, and later did the entire Pacific Crest Trail after age 60.  Hal Klieforth was a meteorologist at the Desert Research Institute in Reno and loved his job of going into the mountains in winter to monitor the amount of snowfall.  Maya Miller was an extremely warm and socially conscious person who was very active in politics to improve the conditions of life, and even ran for US Senate.  Her husband Dick Miller was an ichthyologist.   Olga Reifschneider loved nature.  She had passion, and is remembered for once having fits about the members’ cars damaging the plants on one of the outings, setting a precedent for recognition of the long term impact of vehicles in natural areas.   Joseph Schubert, was Nevada State Librarian.  David Thompson was a practicing MD who established the first Chapter classes in wilderness first aid.  Ed Worley, is described by Marge Sill as, “The best man she ever knew, [who] lived his religion, [which was] respect for the earth”.  TOP

The Chapter was established in 1957 with 83 members and quickly grew.  Several of the early members had very positive experiences with the Sierra Club in California, which provided the inspiration for joining the national organization.  Five years later, in 1962, there were 193 Toiyabe members, and 551 by the tenth anniversary.  There were monthly meetings and outings open to all.  TOP

Fun continued.   A lot of the fun centered around Lake Tahoe.   There were outings at the Lake, snow shoeing a Spooner Lake, and hikes to Marlette Lake.  In the first ten years, outings extended to the White Mountains east of the Sierra Nevada and to Red Rock Canyon in southern Nevada.  “The biggest thing then was that people were friends and enjoyed each other” to quote Marge Sill.   Some of these individuals felt truly out of place upon arrival in Nevada and found kindred spirits within the Chapter.  One person reminds the reader that “Nevada was the ‘Mississippi of the West’, a state with low education levels, low incomes, low self esteem, low ambitions for the state, and racist attitudes”.  The state population in1957 was 249,500, with approximately 100,000 people living in Las Vegas.  TOP

Several key members in the first 10 years of the Chapter arrived in Nevada after the founding of the Chapter.  Marge* and Dick (chair 62-63) Sill arrived in 1959.  Marge was a math teacher in Sparks High School, and soon became the prolific and knowledgeable author for the Toiyabe Tattler, the Chapter newsletter, a role she continues today.  Dick was a physicist at the University of Nevada, Reno, and a strong leader for legislation for environmental protection.  TOP

What were the issues of this young environmental group?   An early issue was Lake Tahoe, its protection and the foundation of the Nevada State Park at Lake Tahoe.   Publicizing the environmental issues was essential, the Toiyabe “Tattler” was the Chapter newsletter, which had articles contributed by numerous members.  The Chapter strongly supported the federal 1964 Wilderness Bill.   The Jarbidge became Nevada’s first wilderness because it was the only administrative US Forest Service wilderness study area in Nevada in 1964.  Upon passage of the 1964 Wilderness Bill, all the previous administrative areas throughout the country received wilderness status.  Many members of the Chapter immediately set out to identify, enjoy and advocate wilderness and park status for other remarkable areas throughout the Great Basin.  TOP

What were the key roles of the individual participants?  There were so many initiators of outings, ideas and dreams that they cannot be named today.  There was an organizer, Jane Bowden, who kept the lists of telephone numbers, addresses, meeting places, times, etc.  There were chairs, people who interacted with the national Sierra Club and ensured that the Chapter meetings ran productively.  There were strong leaders, including Dick Sill.  There can be no question that Marge Sill, contributor to the “Toiyabe Tattler” now named the “Toiyabe Trails” has been a respected publicist for 48 years.  There were outstanding photographers, Gus Bundy and Irving Pressman, whose pictures were more valuable than words.  There were strategists, people who refined and focused issues, including Maya Miller and Sam Houghton.  Maya was a dedicated Democrat; Sam a confirmed Republican.  Each was able to make critical personal connections for political support of state and federal legislative issues.  There were emergency financiers; for example, the publication costs of the “Tattler” would exceed the budget and Sam Houghton, Dick Sill, and perhaps Maya Miller reached into their pockets to keep the Chapter solvent.  There were social moderators, the kind people who can get warring believers to enjoy each other’s company, notably Betty Crenshaw and Hal Klieforth.  And of utmost importance, there were happy members of the Chapter, who joined and remained in the Chapter, participated in outings, and supported Chapter issues.  TOP

In closing, take a look at yourself.  Every dues-paying member counts behind the testimony and advocacy of Chapter representatives on environmental issues.  Take the torch from the past, start having more fun.  More information about the early Toiyabe Chapter can be found at htttp://nevada.sierraclub.org/halfcentury.   Special thanks for this article go to Bob Gaw, Hall Klieforth and Marge Sill.  Please contact Dorothy Hudig at dhudig@medicine.nevada.edu or (775) 323-4835 with additional information and corrections for this 1-23-07 version, which will be used to update the website version.  TOP