By BRYAN CLARK
Edith Stanger died Friday at age 93.
Fundamentally, she was a cowgirl from Bone, friends and family said, the daughter of a farmer and a school teacher. She and her husband, Dick, were among the most prominent Appaloosa horse breeders in the nation, exporting planeloads of the horses, once on the verge of disappearing, as far as Venezuela, Australia and England. And she was the last Democrat and the only woman ever to serve on the Bonneville County Commission.
“My grandmother was a talented woman, in fact, a force,” wrote Alexa Stanger, education director at the Art Museum of Eastern Idaho. “But she didn’t teach me to quilt, can fruit or bake cookies. She taught me to trust my gut, make a difference where you can, grab life (with) both hands and do what no one else could dream of doing. She is my inspiration.”
Alexa Stanger isn’t alone in that description. Nearly everyone the Post Register talked with about Edith Stanger used the same phrase to describe her: “a force of nature.”
At the same time, they described a woman who was deeply caring, forthright and hard-working.
Roy Reynolds, now a renowned local artist, spent 20 years working as a cowboy for Edith and Dick Stanger starting in 1969, caring for their large herd of Appaloosa horses (he counted 400 at one point, he said), including long drives from the Double Arrow Ranch in Bone to another ranch west of Idaho Falls.
“When I was young and pretty reckless, she let me work there and also live there when I needed to,” Reynolds said. “She looked out for me. They were very kind to me personally, and they didn’t have to be.
“Some people you just have a natural friendship with, and I did with them.”
Reynolds said Dick once told him a story about his wife that summed up her no-nonsense attitude well. Because of their prominence in the Appaloosa breeding community, in the 1950s they were sent to the USSR as part of a diplomatic mission to improve relations with the U.S., he said.
Mostly, things went smoothly. But at a Moscow hotel, a bellboy kept trying to take Edith’s suitcase from her. She repeatedly told him she would carry it, but he wouldn’t take no for an answer. When he again grabbed it, she “decked him,” he said.
“She about set off an international incident,” Reynolds laughed. “Nobody pushed her around.”
The force of her personality, and her honesty, garnered respect from those on the other end of the partisan divide, including longtime Republican legislator Linden Bateman, who worked with her compiling history related to the First Presbyterian Church.
“She was a queen,” Bateman said. “She was a wonderful, wonderful woman.”
Bonneville County Commission Chairman Roger Christensen, who faced off with Stanger in a commission race in the mid-1990s, said the same.
“She went to school with my mom — and always used to remind me of that. She had a great sense of humor,” Christensen said. “(She and Dick) had that independent, pioneer spirit.”
Everyone agrees, Stanger wasn’t intimidated by anyone. In the early 1990s, she launched a challenge to Secretary of State Pete Cenarrusa, who had occupied the office for 27 years and remains the longest-serving politician in state history. Most years, the Democrats couldn’t even field a challenger.
Ellie Hampton, who worked as Stanger’s statewide coordinator on her secretary of state bid, said she knew she was “tilting at windmills” by challenging Cenarrusa, but she thought it was important that voters have a choice.
“You never ever had to wonder how she felt about something,” Hampton said. “She didn’t think about whether you agreed with her or not, she told you what she thought. Candor without being mean is something that’s really been lost.”
She ran a forceful campaign, Hampton said, speeding off to campaign appearances after finishing her day of county commission work or on weekends.
“She would literally race across the state,” Hampton said. “I don’t think she knew what ‘under 70’ meant.”
Cenarrusa evidently didn’t want a face-to-face showdown with Stanger, cancelling a string of debates and forums when it came close to the wire.
“It has become abundantly apparent that Idaho Secretary of State Pete Cenarrusa is refusing to debate his opponent, Edith Stanger, not because he is too busy, as he claims, but because he doesn’t want to tangle with the salty contender for the throne he has occupied for 27 years,” opined Bill Hall of the Lewiston Tribune at the time. “He has given the lie to the old boxing remark, ‘He can run but he can’t hide.’ Cenarrusa has found a way to both run and hide.”
Memorial services will be held July 2 at 2 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church.