Willard and Gretchen Van Ert, longtime Ketchum residents, celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary on March 1. The parents of former Olympic snowboarder Sondra Van Ert and three other daughters, the couple have for decades been members of the Presbyterian Church of the Bigwood.
Gretchen is 90 and Willard turned 92 in March. The Van Erts recently moved to a retirement community in Medford, Oregon. The couple has six and six great benefits.
“Mom made and sold wildflower cards and hiked extensively with Ann Hollingshead and Gloria Moore when they were writing ‘Day Hiking Near Sun Valley’,” said Sondra, who operated Baldy Sports in Hailey with her husband Aaron Blaker for many years.
Willard Van Ert, who had a career in the HVAC business and banking, served on the board of the Sun Valley Summer Symphony and as volunteer service director for the Idaho Red Cross. He was also president of the Sun Valley Ski Club, a board member of Blaine County Recreation District and one of a small group of individuals instrumental in saving Galena Lodge and establishing the Harriman Trail.
“We spearheaded, about six or seven of us, with the help of Teresa Heinz, an effort to purchase the lodge and all the kilometers of cross country skiing out there,” said Willard. “That’s probably one of the most memorable things that has happened for us. When I see the many people cross-country skiing up there with their kids and pets, I remember that the area could have been lost to snowmobilers.”
The lodge was eventually turned over to the Blaine County Recreation District for management and has since become a Nordic skiing and mountain biking mecca.
Willard and Gretchen skied for many years in the Sun Valley Mountain Masters. His men’s group was called The Suits. Gretchen’s group was called Hill’s Angels.
“Our life was so wonderful there. We did a lot of hiking and biking, and played tennis and golf, too,” Willard said. “My father always said that with all the blessings that we have in this land, if we don’t give back a portion of our time and talents or treasures, it would be selfish of us.”
“We got our first condo in Warm Springs when Sondra was a junior in high school so she could be on the slopes more,” said Willard. “In time she became a world cup snowboarder in 1997 and later competed as an Olympian. So I guess that was a good decision.”
“I’ve learned that it is a rare situation to be with the same woman for 70 years,” Willard said. “It’s about commitment more than anything else because things are not always perfect. The secret to a long life is keeping your mind active and learning, and to enjoy your social life.”
Gretchen Van Ert is now in memory care and unavailable for an interview.
“We’ve enjoyed our lives with work, travel, family and church, and have taken many trips with our adult children on every continent,” Willard said.
“I’m so proud to see our children and enjoying all the things Gretchen and I have enjoyed,” he said. “Kids don’t always like what their mom and dad have done. It’s cheerful to see.”