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Huckleberries

| March 5, 2023 1:06 AM

It’s all there — the bell, the world war monument, a new freedom tree, the Never Forget Garden, the flags symbolizing our country and five branches of the service.

On a cold winter’s day, with a wind chill in single digits, I inspected the Veterans Memorial Plaza at McEuen Park. I was looking for the war monument first dedicated at City Park on Armistice Day 1947.

I thought it had been lost to posterity. But it was there at the plaza behind "Pappy's Bell" — three vertical slabs of Georgia marble stone.

In November, I told you about the fanfare surrounding its dedication 75 years ago on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. The Coeur d’Alene High band had led a jubilant crowd along Sherman Avenue to the park, where hundreds had gathered for speeches and the ceremony.

Oddly, eight days later, a haunted WWI veteran left his Victory Medal, discharge papers, a hammer and a note at the monument, urging residents to destroy it to protest the town’s many “Commies.”

On Oct. 31, 1961, the war memorial was moved to Third and Front, to be joined seven years later by the 350-pound bell donated by WWI veteran Charles Earl “Pappy” McMurray. A plaque on the back of the gong-less bell notes that respected veterans’ advocate Jim Shepperd had helped Pappy McMurray move it.

A McMurray thread runs through the plaza.

In fall 1972, the city rededicated a Freedom Tree to Pappy McMurray’s grandson, Fred, a fighter pilot who’d been shot down and captured in North Vietnam. A new Freedom Tree was replanted at the western edge of the plaza after the original one was cut down during the McEuen Park makeover. A patriotic wood carving stands nearby, fashioned by artist Jeff May with guidance from former POW Fred McMurray. The wood for the piece of art came from a Forest Cemetery ponderosa that had died near the graves of Fred's grandfather and parents.

Veterans Plaza has room for the new, as well as the old.

On Sept. 11, 2021, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Never Forget Garden was added, featuring white roses, the rose of Sharon and a plaque.

Now, according to Parks & Rec director Bill Greenwood, plans have begun to add two pieces of Terry Lee’s art to the plaza — a soldier, from money bequeathed by the late Bud Ford, and a military nurse.

Obviously, the plaza was constructed with care by the city, McEuen Park planners and veteran's groups. Tender reverence for those who fought and died for this country permeates every square inch. And respect is shown for the veteran's monuments from times past.

The Veterans Memorial Plaza is holy ground. And it will still be decades from now.

O pioneers

Permit me to introduce you to a trail-blazing woman who crashed through at least two glass ceilings in Coeur d'Alene — Maxine Whitney.

Not only did she become the first female attorney in town after she graduated from the University of Idaho law school in 1948, but she replaced her remarkable father, Judge M.G. Whitney, as the county probate judge March 4, 1953.

In failing health, Judge Whitney, a Republican, called it quits after winning 19 consecutive, two-year terms as probate judge, from 1917 to 1953. He won his 19th term three days after his 87th birthday in November 1952. And stepped down on the day his daughter replaced him. She had received the unanimous endorsement of the local bar association and board of county commissioners.

Earlier in her career, Ms. Whitney helped her father run a business school he founded in 1914: Whitney’s College of Commerce. Also, she taught commerce at Coeur d’Alene High, worked as a court reporter, and held a master’s degree in economics from Stanford University.

Former mayor Steve Widmyer, who collected for The Coeur d'Alene Press at her Government Way home in the early 1970s, recalls: “She always had classical music playing on an old phonograph. She was always very kind.”

The judge, born Dec. 7, 1900, was 72 when Marsha Johnson Dornquast began working for her. Marsha remembers her as a character who chain-smoked Newport cigarettes and once set her desk on fire. And she never learned to drive. Marsha says: “You could spot her in the crowd anywhere downtown as she had gotten kind of hunched over, and she always wore a stylish hat. She was a cool lady.”

Judge Whitney was a Red Hat Society woman before it was fashionable.

Sunk

You may have shrugged after reading the Press story Feb. 25 about oil leaking from a submerged bulldozer at Higgens Point.

But dozer operator Fred Fridley, then 49, of Lewiston, and his son, Ray, then 24, didn’t shrug when they rode 300,000 pounds of heavy equipment into Lake Coeur d’Alene at 4:05 p.m. Thursday, May 17, 1990.

They fought for their lives.

Fred Fridley was underwater for a minute and then tread water for another 15 minutes before being rescued. His son, who was operating a scraper behind him, was able to pull himself from the lake.

Witnesses say the cave-in happened instantly. “I just blinked my eyes and (Fred Fridley) was gone,” one man said. A 900-foot section of fill up to 50 feet wide collapsed into the lake.

The earthmovers came to rest in 100 feet of water, 500 feet from shore. The fill work was part of an effort to widen Interstate 90. The incident was the second one in seven weeks in which dirt-and-rock had collapsed into the lake.

The outcome could have been worse.

Huckleberries

Poet’s Corner: It’s a bland sort of month,/neither winter nor spring,/but for basketball fans/it’s a glorious thing — The Bard of Sherman Avenue (“March”).

Name Change: On this day in 1963, the Press changed the name of its “Editorial Page” to “Opinion Page.” The editor, according to an announcement, believed “opinion” meant more to people than “editorial” in defining the purpose of the page. The editor and staff pledged to “do their utmost to keep their opinions and feelings out of the news columns.”

Born Losers: Bereft of his compound, due to the civil suit in 2000 that bankrupted him, Aryan Nations leader Richard Butler moved to Hayden and, in 2003, ran for mayor, finishing third of three with only 50 votes out of 2,122 (2.36%). Two of his followers ran for council, attracting 69 and 42 votes, one of whom was arrested for assault two days before the election.

Buttercup Redux: Last week, I told you that 5-year-old Mariah Rosenblum, nee Rosdahl, won a crisp $1 bill by showing up at the Press office with 1988’s first buttercup. Well, Mariah’s sister, Cory, says there’s more to the story. Seems venerable Dr. Ted Fox mailed her another dollar with a note that said: “The Press didn’t take inflation into account.”

Deep Freeze: Experts Randy Mann and Cliff Harris say Lake Coeur d’Alene rarely, if ever, completely freezes over. I asked them about it after that item about the USPS employee who, in 1993, couldn’t deliver mail by boat to the western shore of the frozen lake. Randy doesn’t think it has happened in the last 40 years. Cliff says it might have occurred four times since 1895.

Parting shot

Fifty-five years ago (March 4, 1968), the City Council unanimously made one of the wisest purchases in Coeur d’Alene history — 38 acres, or the whole south side of Tubbs Hill — for $62,500. The feds matched that amount for a total purchase price of $125,000. City property set aside for parks and recreation nearly doubled in size with the acquisition. Mayor Larry Gardner said at the time: “It is a fine piece of property which can only become more valuable with the passage of time.” You think?

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D.F. “Dave” Oliveria can be contacted at dfo@cdapress.com.

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Photo courtesy of Dave Oliveria

The Never Forget Garden is dedicated at Veterans Plaza.

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Photo courtesy of Dave Oliveria

"Pappy's Bell" was badly damaged Oct. 22, 2016, by an unidentified couple who tried to ring it.

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Photo courtesy of Dave Oliveria

Judge Maxine Whitney was a Coeur d'Alene trailblazer.

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Photo courtesy of Dave Oliveria

On May 17, 1990, ITD official Jim Richards and ISP Capt. Ed Strickfadden inspect damage caused by a cave-in at Higgens Point.