Saturday, June 15, 2019
Connie Grabow’s Curious Mind Spurs a Lifetime of Adventures
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Connie Grabow said she was inspired to take a career with the State Department by a man in her hometown who used to read her letters he got from his daughter who taught in Egypt and other countries at a time when American’s didn’t travel as much.
 
Wednesday, June 5, 2019
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

She had the unique experience of caring for the poet Robert Frost briefly as the poet lived out his last days near Harvard where she was attending college. And she regrets that she didn’t invite a young John F. Kennedy to coffee when she spotted him walking through the halls one evening, his shoulders slumped.

Connie Grabow brought a lifetime of such experiences to Sun Valley in 1980. And in the 39 years since, she’s created a lifetime of new experiences, helping to grow the Community Library, raising funds for the hospital and serving meals for Souper Supper and The Hunger Coalition.

“Thirty-nine years here—I’ve been here longer than any place else. My children live here. My grandson and granddaughter went to school here…I have real roots here,” she said.

What Grabow’s cultivated here have not gone unnoticed. The City of Ketchum nominated her this year to the 2019 Blaine County Historical Museum Heritage Court.

Grabow will be inducted into the court with her fellow nominees—Verla Worthington Goitiandia, Pamela Rayborn and Mary Peterson—on Sunday, June 9, in a fun-filled event open to the public at The Liberty Theatre in Hailey.

At first, Grabow turned down the honor—“I wasn’t born here,” she said. Then she reviewed how her son John, who had worked in the U.S. Senate Legal Department, had moved here with his wife Laura so their then 4-year-old son Charlie could attend Community School. Her son has had plays produced at the old nexStage Theatre, and her grandson won a 4A doubles Idaho State Tennis championship.

And her daughter Marcia Grabow taught math and physics at Wood River High School before becoming Data and Assessment Coordinator for the Blaine County School District.

“So, I’m totally rooted here,” she conceded.

Grabow grew up in Milford, Mass., where her father owned a popular restaurant. Grabow ate lunches there during elementary school and worked as a cashier during high school.

“Everyone ate there so I knew everyone,” she said.

Though just 5-foot-4, she played on her high school’s first women’s basketball team—a team that won every game its first year, thanks to a player who had good athlete DNA since her brother played for the Boston Braves.

Grabow studied anthropology and sociology at nearby Harvard University, later becoming the first women president of the Harvard Club in Michigan to the chagrin of a few guys who were not happy having a woman at the helm.

She went on to work for the U.S. State Department in Freiburg and Stuttgart, Germany, during part of the 1950s and ‘60s.

“It was a wonderful job,” she said. “We worked to make sure the Germans were not taken over by the Russians. We had Voice of America and a documentary film program. And we ran Amerika Hauses, which were developed after the war to provide Germans an opportunity to learn about American culture.

“I’d say the program was successful because the Germans are big allies now. The children learned about Americans—they knew we were not the way the Nazis portrayed us.”

Grabow left her work with the State Department to marry her late husband Leonard Grabow, and the two moved to Michigan where Leonard practiced law. He came to Sun Valley for a legal conference and was smitten, announcing he wanted to move to Sun Valley for a year or two to improve his skiing.

“I looked at him and said, ‘Are you for real?’ ” Grabow recounted. “All I knew about Idaho was potatoes.”

The Grabows never went back to Michigan. Leonard skied every day in winter, and the couple played tennis during summer. They traveled to Africa, India and China during slack season.

“Leonard had seven years in Sun Valley, deliriously happy doing everything he loved before he died,” Grabow said. “I never dreamed we’d stay here.”

Grabow plunged into the thick of things, housing and caring for special needs athletes who came to Sun Valley to compete. She also served on the board of Moritz Community Hospital, which she says was so small and intimate that board members delivered meals to patients and spent weeks decorating for the hospital’s glamorous Christmas ball.

“I don’t know how many Saturdays we spent in someone’s unheated garage making wreaths,” she said. “It’s wonderful to have St. Luke’s with all its state-of-the-art equipment, but I did like the small hospital. I like old things—the house I grew up in is still there, and it’s over 100 years old.”

Grabow also served on the board of The Community Library, helping with such fundraisers as the Homes Tour and the Moveable Feast, where library rooms were decorated in the spirit of different books with foods to match.

“I enjoy volunteering. A lot of causes really depend on volunteers—they’re the unpaid employees,” she said. “The library board had more than 30 people on it then. It had to be big because we didn’t just go to board meetings and sit and have tea.”

The library was one of Grabow’s pet causes because, she said, books have always been important to her. She’s taken her collection of books, which include such classics as Wallace Stegner’s “Angle of Repose” and Goethe’s “Faust,” with her wherever she’s moved.

 “The first thing I ever did upon moving to a new town was to find out where the library was. Once I found it, I could feel at home,” she said.

Over the years, she has spent countless hours editing oral histories for the library.

 “The Community Library is an exceptional library—not just for the books but all the special programs they have for kids and adults,” she said. “People come here from other cities and they’re amazed when they find out we use no government funds to keep it going. My son published a book and he couldn’t find it at the Library of Congress but he could find it here.”

Grabow walks a few blocks from her home in Warm Springs to the Wood River YMCA three times a week where she does yoga and exercise classes.

“If I don’t go, I feel guilty,” she said. “And I don’t think I could do some of the things I do now if I hadn’t kept exercising so religiously.”

Indeed, her light auburn hair is a familiar sight at countless activities, including the Wood River Community Orchestra concerts where her daughter-in-law plays French horn, film festivals, play readings, the Sun Valley Writers Conference, symphony concerts, Sun Valley Center for the Arts events and countless lectures at the Community Library.

“I was recently so impressed with John Kerry’s appearance at the library—in fact, I just finished reading his book,” she said. “It’s a busy lifestyle here, and I’ve a curious mind.”

 

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