Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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Barbara J. Renner, 87

| June 19, 2024 1:00 AM

On Aug. 13, 1936, in the Missouri Ozarks, Ernest and Clara Allen Smith welcomed their firstborn — a daughter, Barbara Jean. The following year, the family welcomed Barbara’s brother, Willis Eugene. Times were tough in the Ozarks as the Depression ended with little hope of finding meaningful employment. Many of Ernest and Clara’s siblings had already headed west for the opportunities available there. Having no car or money for transportation, the Smith family made plans in January 1942 to hitch a ride with Ernest’s relation to California, where they were assured jobs were plentiful. However, the bombing of Pearl Harbor caused them to change direction and the family of four headed to Kellogg, Idaho, where Clara had four siblings. Barbara’s parents quickly found jobs, and Barbara started first grade in September 1942 at Sunnyside School. In 1944, her dad was hired to manage the Russell and Pugh Lumber Company General Store in Springston, Idaho. Located 3 miles up the Coeur d’Alene River from Harrison, Idaho, Springston sat on the bank of the river near the mill. The company store shared the narrow strip of land between the river and Anderson Mountain with the Union Pacific Railroad tracks. Four trains roared through daily, and the population of Springston never topped 35. During her lifetime, Barbara would often share stories of the idyllic teen years of her life growing up there. All the kids in the neighborhood spent hours on the mountain clearing trails, building treehouses and bridges across the streams, swimming and fishing all summer and ice skating in winter on Anderson Lake. There were challenges to see who could walk the railroad tracks the furthest and place coins on the tracks to be flattened by the next train rumbling through. 

In September 1945, the Smith family welcomed their son, Rollin, into the world. Being 9 years old when Rollin was born, Barbara said it was like having a “living” doll to play with. Barbara and her brother Willis rode the bus to Harrison, where she would complete 10 years of classes. She loved school, always earning high marks. Activities included starting guard on the high school basketball team, playing catcher on the softball team, and taking piano and accordion lessons. Barbara and seven other classmates were members of the North Idaho Accordion Band, which placed first in the Northwest Accordion Championships in 1953 in Tacoma, Wash. The school bus always dropped the Springston kids at their bus stop at the same time as the day shift at the sawmill ended. Barb caught the eye of one of the younger sawmill workers, Harlan Renner, and he soon asked her for a date. That date was the beginning of the next phase of her life.

1954 was a busy year for Barbara as she graduated from high school in June, was the queen of the Harrison Old Timers picnic in July, and married the love of her life, Harlan, on Aug. 1. One of her teachers told her she would be throwing her life away as she turned down several scholarships in favor of marriage. Time would prove the teacher was sadly mistaken! Six months after they were married, the Renners left Harrison to settle in Coeur d’Alene. On Aug. 10, 1955, they welcomed their firstborn, a daughter, Bobbi Jean. In 1957, they looked forward to the birth of their son, Bruce, but were shaken by his death just eight hours after his birth. Her daughter, Karen, was born in 1959 and spent the first three weeks of her life at the Deaconess Hospital in Spokane before being able to join the family. Husband Harlan had been raised on a farm up from Carlin Bay around Lake Coeur d’Alene, and many of their dates were spent there. Barbara learned to ride horses there, and every fall, several dates were spent at the Kootenai County Fair, where Harlan had shown hogs in the 4-H program. Once they were married, they began entering the competitive exhibit contest at the fair and they won many ribbons for their fruits, vegetables, flowers and canning entries. Wanting more land, they moved to 2 acres in Dalton Gardens, and the Renner Mini-Farm was established. What wasn’t part of the large garden was given over to horses, sheep for the girls 4-H, and a cow that produced not only their own milk but enough to sell raw milk to several customers. Taking care of all this was hard work, but Barbara loved being a mom and housekeeper, as well as the challenge of raising a weed-free garden and helping with the animals. In 1963, with the help of a couple of neighbors, Barbara was a founding member of the ladies’ equestrian team, "The Saddlelites," who performed at rodeos all over the Northwest. She remained with the team until 1982. 

In the '70s, things changed significantly for Barbara as Harlan went to work on a tugboat for Lafferty Transportation. Harlan would be gone all week and only home on weekends. Unable to keep up the garden and the care of the animals, their mini farm soon became just horses used for recreation. So, with spare time, Barbara began working outside the home — one of these jobs as a waitress at the Athletic Round Table would lead to opportunities in the food and beverage industry. So, as a dream to own a small breakfast and lunch café came to fruition in 1967, she became a partner in “Profs Coffee Shop” in Coeur d’Alene’s first mall. She and her partner, Phil Graue, would then purchase a lifetime community favorite, the Log Cabin Restaurant. Shortly after selling the Log Cabin, she and Phil joined in a partnership with Tom Robb to establish the “Iron Horse Restaurant and Bar” in downtown Coeur d’Alene. It opened June 2, 1972. Over the next 20 years, Barbara would enter into partnerships with the Broken Wheel Restaurant in Kellogg and Arrow Point Resort on Lake Coeur d’Alene, as well as management of the Pinehurst Country Club, Sourdough Restaurant, and concessions for the Coeur d’Alene Turf Club at the fairgrounds.

Wishing for a place to retreat and relax, the Renners bought 5 acres in 1976 at the confluence of the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River and Teepee Creek in the Coeur d’Alene National Forest. They hired their friend, John Hattenburg, to build their off-grid cabin, and for the next 45 years, they hosted family and friends on many occasions. It was extremely busy in the winter months as headquarters for snowmobiling — a sport Barbara really loved — always wanting to climb higher and go faster! 

Though life was busy, Barbara never lost her love of things, such as the “County Fair,” in 1977, she was appointed to the Kootenai County Fair Board. Having seen firsthand how many fairgrounds operated, she realized the Coeur d’Alene fairgrounds were not being utilized to their fullest potential. However, the Fair Board wasn’t ready to make the changes her “vision” called for. In 1984, circumstances changed and in 1985, she assumed management of Kootenai County Fairgrounds, home to the North Idaho Fair. With a good staff and the support of the Fair Board, Barbara quickly began to turn the fairgrounds into a facility that would accommodate year-round usage — a “vision” she and Harlan had held for many years began to be fulfilled. The North Idaho Fair is a member of the Rocky Mountain Fair Association and the International Association of Fairs & Expos (IAFE). These associations liked Barbara’s leadership qualities and appointed her to roles on their boards. Recognizing that she was now working in her dream job, Barbara sold her interest in the Iron Horse and Arrow Point to focus her energy on the fair. In 1993, the IAFE asked her to travel extensively throughout the U.S. and Canada, giving workshops, seminars and keynotes at fair association meetings in 46 states and five Canadian Provinces. Not only did she serve as President of the Idaho Fair Associates and the Rocky Mountain Association of Fairs, but in 1998, she served as the first woman to be president of the International Association of Fairs & Expositions. Incredibly honored by that appointment, Barbara would soon realize she had “broken the glass ceiling” as other well-qualified women assumed leadership roles in the industry associations. In the final years of her career in the fair industry, Barbara was inducted into the Hall of Fame of both the Rocky Mountain Fair Association and the IAFE. She was most proud of our own Kootenai County Fairgrounds and North Idaho Fair, which have grown to be major destinations for hundreds of events throughout the years, culminating with Kootenai County’s largest party — the fair! Harlan retired in 1996; in 1998, Barbara retired to join him as they traveled to many destinations (Hawaii, Florida Keys, New York, British Columbia, Alberta, Glacier, Yellowstone, the Dakotas, Utah and Alaska). They were able to take two cruises and loved to jump in the car for a two to three-day driving trip. 

Their oldest daughter, who had retired after 20 years in the U.S. Navy, was having severe health issues. Between 2003 and 2007, the Renners spent about six months a year in Jacksonville, Fla., caring for Bobbi. She passed away in November 2007. Fate wasn’t kind, as they also lost their daughter, Karen, to pancreatic cancer in 2015.

Barbara loved to cook, and over the years, she and Harlan hosted many dinners and parties for family and friends. Folks recognized her amazing organizational skills, strong work ethic, home decorating, beautiful landscaping, and, most importantly, her love for her family and friends. Harlan always told everyone he didn’t buy lottery tickets because if they should win, Barbara would just give it away.

After Harlan’s death in 2019, Barb continued to live and care for their home in Dalton Gardens — that mini-farm and Renner home since 1960 and the place of priceless memories — until the fall of 2023, when she moved into Garden Plaza Independent Living in Post Falls. Her love for Kootenai County Fairgrounds and the North Idaho Fair never diminished, as she attended every fair since 1952.

Barbara’s recipe for a life well lived was hard work, love of family, respect for others, and staying positive! 

That teacher in 1954 who thought Barbara was throwing her life away by marrying couldn’t have been more mistaken — for it was the love and support of Harlan and her daughters that led to her successes in life. In 2018, Barbara and Harlan celebrated their 64th wedding anniversary, and six months later, Harlan passed away. 

Barbara was preceded in death by her grandparents; parents, Ernest and Clara Smith; husband Harlan; son Bruce; daughters Bobbi Jean and Karen; son-in-law Michael McPhedran; and brother Rollin Smith. Surviving her is brother Willis Smith and wife Alta; nieces Stacy and Kelly; nephew Glen Renner and wife Elizabeth; two step-grandchildren, Mac McPhedren and Jessica Lohstreter; and close friends Rodney and Pam Waller.

Memorials can be made to the North Idaho Fair and Rodeo Foundation, Schneidmiller Hospice House and Companions Animal Shelter.

A celebration of life will be held in the Jacklin Building at the Kootenai County Fairgrounds, 4056 N. Government Way, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, at 11 a.m. Saturday, July 6, 2024.

Please visit Barbara’s online memorial and sign her guestbook at www.yatesfuneralhomes.com.