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Wendy Pesky Championed ‘a Bit of Lee’
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Wendy and Alan Pesky served as honorary co-chairs of the Sun Valley Museum of Art’s Wine Auction several years ago.
 
 
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Tuesday, July 25, 2023
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

“We’re going where?!!!!!”

Those three words became Wendy Pesky’s mantra after she married Alan Pesky, a young business school graduate student at Dartmouth College, 62 years ago.

Alan Pesky had a zest for adventure that would take her around the world—on a 600-mile bicycle ride through the Australian Outback, on a bike tour of Vietnam and as guests of an American expedition on Mount Everest. And it didn’t take Wendy long to embrace the adventure and the excitement of every journey.

 
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Wendy Pesky shared a hug with Lois Rosen when Wendy was honored for walking the New York Marathon at a Wood River Jewish Community’s Ladies Luncheon.
 

“When we married, she was 19—she hadn’t seen much of the world, whereas I had been in military before graduate school,” recounted Alan. “But she quickly came to love the excitement of traveling.”

Wendy went onto her next adventure—a solo one—this winter, passing away in New York City where the couple lived when not in Sun Valley. A Celebration of Life open to the public will be held at 4 p.m. Thursday, July 27, at Sun Valley Resort’s River Run Lodge.

“It came as an incredible shock,” said Alan. “We had gone to the New York Philharmonic that evening at the Lincoln Center, which is a block away from our apartment. We came home, had dinner and she was full of life. Then, without any warning whatsoever, she experienced pain and passed away a few hours later. It just shows how fragile life can be.’

Wendy and Alan met at her brother’s wedding, her brother a classmate of Alan’s.

 
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Wendy Pesky had an impish streak in her and an excitement for life. PHOTO: Jane McCann
 

“I saw this beautiful young woman there. Four months after, we were engaged. Nine months after we met, we married,” said Alan.

Wendy majored in childhood education at Hunter College and that proved fortuitous when the couple’s   son Lee developed learning disabilities at a time when there was little understanding of such challenges as dyslexia and ADHD. With their support, Lee was able to complete college and go into business. And,   after he passed away of a brain tumor in 1995 at age 30, they founded the Lee Pesky Learning Center to honor his legacy by helping other children with learning differences.

“Learning to read is one of the most important benefits we can give our children,” she said. “All children deserve the opportunity to high quality instruction and learning experiences so they have the chance to start their lives on an equal playing field.”

The Center, now a national recognized organization in early childhood education, has served 100,000 Idaho children so far.

 
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Wendy Pesky published this book just before she passed away.
 

“It was her hope that every child we help at the Lee Pesky Center leaves with a bit of Lee in them,” said Alan.

In addition to championing early childhood education, Wendy served on the board of the Sun Valley Museum of Art for 15 years.

She and Alan supported numerous projects at The Museum, including an art educational enrichment outreach that challenged students to explore change in their lives by creating art through the scope of Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis.”

In 2018 they served as honorary chairs of the Museum’s 37th annual Wine Auction, and The Museum honored their longstanding support of arts education by naming scholarships to further educators’ arts and humanities experience in their honor.

“She was not somebody who was a big talker—she was quiet, reserved. But sometimes what she didn’t say was what impressed people,” said Alan.

She also was a founding member of the Wood River Women’s Foundation and supported such endeavors  as the Family of Woman Film Festival, which brought attention to the challenges women face around the world.

Six years ago, at 75, Wendy and Alan walked the New York City Marathon to raise money for the Lee Pesky Learning Center they had started 21 years earlier. Eight members of the learning center either ran or walked the 26 miles as the center became the first nonprofit organization from Idaho to be represented in the marathon.

The couple called it at mile 19 because it was cold, rainy and miserable. But they were the oldest couple in the marathon that year.

“I went from a five-mile walk to a hundred,” Wendy described her training regimen for ladies at the Wood River Jewish Community. “I wanted to do it for my daughter and my husband, who is a very passionate man. It’s one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had. Now, when I want to take the short route home, I don’t. I take the long way, instead.”

When the COVID pandemic forced people to shelter in place, Wendy didn’t retreat to the couch and watch soap operas. She compiled a beautiful soft-covered recipe book she titled “GUESS Who’s Coming to Dinner” that included photos of the family’s Copper Basin getaway and favorite recipes.

The “cabin” had become their getaway from their getaway in Sun Valley, said Alan.

She published it just before her death—so recently that she could lament the fact that her family could no longer bring in a bag full of Perry’s muffins up Trail Creek Summit.

The book tells of her joy watching grandchildren scurry up hillsides and wade in the East Fork of the Big Lost River at their “Pretty Wonderful Place.” And it tells of her morning ritual of curling up with a book on a swing in the early morning sun as the neighborhood moose noshed on breakfast nearby.

“If our place was easy to get to, it just wouldn’t be the same,” she said, acknowledging the rough dirt road that brought them to this hideaway.

Her book reminisces how bagels were hard to find in Idaho in the 1980s, forcing them to bring them from New York “like precious cargo.” And she tells how son Lee opened The Buckin’ Bagel in Ketchum in 1994, offering Sun Valley residents an eastern bagel with a western twist.

And it offers recipes for family favorites, including baked bacon and Cornflake Crusted French Toast.

Here’s her recipe for Gruyere and Green Onion Bread Pudding, shared with her husband’s blessing:

Gruyere and Green Onion Bread Pudding

INGREDIENTS

Butter for greasing the baking dish

12 to 18 slices dry bread, ½ inch thick

2.5 to 3 cups milk

3 bunches green onions

5 eggs

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

½ cup chopped fresh herbs like tarragon, parsley, sage, thyme and marjoram

8 ounces Gruyere cheese, shredded

1-2 tablespoons of butter

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 3-quart mold or souffle dish with butter.

Put bread in a bowl, breaking up large pieces. Pour enough milk over the top to submerge the bread when it’s pushed down. Let it stand until the bread is soft, even soggy, for about 5 to 15 minutes.

While the bread is soaking, cut the onion whites and two inches of the greens into thin slices. Set aside 2 teaspoons for the final layer.

Remove the bread from the milk, squeezing until it’s as dry as possible and reserve the milk.

In a bowl, beat the eggs, salt and pepper, then stir in the final ½ cup of reserved milk until well blended.

Lay 1/3 of the bread in the greased dish. Sprinkle with 1/3 of the green onions and half of the mixed herbs, then cover the surface with 1/3 of the cheese.

For the next layer use half of the remaining bread, all the onions and herbs and half of the remaining cheese. Arrange the remaining bread on op. Cover it with the rest of the cheese and scatter 2 teaspoons of reserved sliced onions on top.

Pour the milk-egg mixture over the layers and dot with butter.

Bake for 45 minutes until the top is crusty brown and a knife inserted into the pudding comes out clean. Serve hot or warm.

 

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