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Moving to Jackson Hole: 1977

January 7, 2013

After working 12 summers at Lost Trail Camp in Montana with after-camp vacations, hiking, fishing, rafting mountain rivers and climbing many mountains, we decided it was time for a huge lifestyle change. We began our search for a place to settle in Montana or Wyoming. We looked everywhere and finally found one acre of open land on the southern border of Grand Teton National Park. Jackson Hole had a lot going for it; good schools, a summer music festival, great fishing, hiking, climbing, many artists and writers and plenty of winter recreation.

After building our home with the valuable help of Bobbi’s father, a retired builder, our plan was to move to Jackson Hole in 1977, get teaching jobs, and in my spare time, follow my childhood dream of becoming an author. Both Bobbi and I having masters’ degrees and years of experience, we were confident we would be able to get teaching jobs. We would start exploring the teaching openings each of the three summers we were building our home. After returning to Michigan each summer, we thought things would work out and that we would both be hired. Little did we know the struggle for jobs would be so difficult and that summer of 1977, our first living in Jackson Hole full time, would see neither of us with teaching jobs.

All summer I attended every school board meeting hoping to hear about an opening for a teaching position. By August, with no success, I decided to apply for a job driving a school bus. It would provide an hourly wage and health insurance. After the morning bus run, I would work in Fred’s Market grocery store. I would drive the bus taking kids home in the afternoon and then return to the market to get in some more hours.

At a school board meeting in the middle of August two weeks before school started, I heard the big news. The superintendent of schools announced an opening at the middle school. The teacher of eighth grade English classes was being assigned to the high school. Applications were being accepted for his replacement. With many students entering our schools from all over the U.S., the superintendent said he would like to hire a teacher able to teach some remedial reading to eighth graders needing improved reading abilities.

I had never taught eighth grade English, but I knew how to teach reading. Also, in my job as a media specialist in Michigan, I had done public relations work. The Grand Rapids Public School’s leadership had me do a slide program about all the latest methods used to teach reading. I studied all the programs available for individual instruction using reading lab materials by such companies as SRA and ESS. In my application for the eighth grade English position, I included all that I had learned and stated that I could and would institute a program to improve all the eighth grade students’ reading abilities. Of the 27 people applying, I was chosen to be hired. It was time to raise a glass of champagne.

A teaching job, no one knowing me, and availability of time to write: I was sure I had it made! Wrong! Soon my past would lead to a plunge into school and community politics. Don’t miss the next chapter!

The Rink Gets a High-Tech Upgrade!

December 11, 2012

“Nothing stays the same,” is a cliche that is a truism. Every year of building and maintaining the Kelly School ice rink was different. The right ingredients were always needed. Ideal would be six inches of wet snow, followed by single-digit or below temperatures. If this happened without above freezing daytime temps, I could have the ice skating happening after 30+ hours of work and many nights at Kelly School.

Every snowfall from December through the middle of March meant about two hours of pushing snow. Then there was the need to add water about twice a week to repair ice cut up by dozens of skates.

It wasn’t exactly high tech, but it proved to be a big step forward. The Kelly School Parents Club said they would give some money toward the purchase of a snowblower. A snowblower was like music to my ears. Immediately I worked out a deal. I talked the school district into paying half the cost of a great Honda snowblower. Parents gave $425 and the school district gave the other $425. The people running the company selling snowblowers gave me a deal because I bought two: one for school and one for me. The two snowblowers proved to be work their weight in gold. The next and most exciting development came when I heard the word “liner.”

After 27 years of watering snow and packing it down with my boots for four hours straight, all would change. The Parents Club purchased a fabric liner, a system of fiberglass interlocking panels eighteen inches high and four feet long, and bracket supports to hold up the eighteen inch wall around the entire rink. What a deal! With the help of parent volunteers, the walls went up in two hours. Then at noon lunch time, the 20 older students helped unroll the 400 pound liner and drape the edges over the fiberglass wall. There it was, the makings of a pond of water that could produce our first-ever level surface of ice. All I had to do was hook up the hose, drop the end into the “pond” and turn and the water and go home. Because of poor water pressure, I had to let the water run day and night for 48 hours or more.

The first ice rink made with the liner was spectacular. Finally, we had a perfectly level surface for smooth skating!

Next exciting news came for our second year using the liner system. The school district drilled a second well with a fire hydrant in place. We were provided a fire hose in three fifty-foot sections. Now the liner could be filled in less than two hours! I thought everything had fallen into place, reducing the work time dramatically. Then Murphy’s Law was again verified. “What can go wrong will go wrong.” The fire hose had tremendous output. Trouble was, the water was light brown. The water contained grains of sand. The sand was a real headache; it caused the ice to blister, it stained the liner. The fire hose was unusable.

Next the school’s fresh water well and pressure tank began to fail. I was told no more watering with the garden hose. Back to the fire hose and more sand? Frustration led to asking volunteer firefighters from Moose, Wyoming, to come out with their water tender truck and empty the water into the liner. Their two trips helped a lot, but I still needed the sandy water from the fire hose.

Now it is December, 2012. We have a new, unstained liner. We have a new well for the school with a new pressure tank. A new garden hose puts out a great stream of crystal clear water. I turned the water on at 1:16 p.m. on Wednesday, December 4th. The next morning, the liner contained four inches of clear clean water. Problem is, we’ve had very little freeing temperatures! We have a pond of water ready to become another great ice skating surface. The weather forecasters promise single digit temps and more wintry weather! Hopefully ice rink #33 will be stakeable well before Christmas break!

We’ll keep you posted!

Holiday Sale!

December 6, 2012

Holiday Sale!!!

Ken Thomasma’s wonderful stories of adventure and overcoming adversity are loved by millions of readers around the world!

A special offer for the holiday season: order one book, get a second completely free!

Email us your order, and Ken will autograph and personalize all books!

And if you order by December 20th, we will ship your order for free, too!

So, head on over to the Grandview Publishing website and take a look at all of the awesome choices! Once you’ve picked the two you want, shoot us an email at, and let us know who Ken can personalize them for! And as long as it’s in the U.S., we’ll ship them for free!

With Hanukkah, Solstice, Christmas and Kwanzaa just around the corner, send us your order today!


Questions? Shoot us an email, or give us a call at (307) 733-4593!

The Big One

December 3, 2012

Ken Thomasma recalls the creation of the Kelly School ice skating rink. In this entry, he recalls the biggest blizzard in ice rink history. Miss the beginning? Start here!

To this day, I call it “The Big One.” The third year of the ice rink started well. There was good snow and plenty of freezing temperatures. After the 30+ hours of construction, we had an amazingly beautiful surface of ice. Skating began right after Thanksgiving break. During December, almost weekly, we would get six to eight inches of snow. With the two snow shovels, I cleared the ice and used the snow to build perfect snowbanks around the edges of the entire rink. The snowbanks kept the hockey puck in play.

We were enjoying day after day of great skating: then it happened.

Back from our holiday trip to Michigan for a family Christmas, I went to school on Saturday. There were four or five inches of snow to clear from the ice. With the job done, I went home, ready for school to begin on Monday, January 4th.

7:30 a.m., Monday, January 4th: Up early that morning, we, Mr. and Mrs. T., are on our way to school. It is snowing steadily. I know that I will be pushing the shovels again so we don’t lose a day of ice skating.

8:30 a.m. – It’s snowing more heavily than ever. The wind has increased. It’s a full-blown blizzard.

10:30 a.m. – We have to make a run to the Slide-Inn and the post office located a quarter of a mile from Kelly School. In our four-wheel drive pickup truck, I barely manage to get through the three-foot drifts in the village.

10:45 a.m. – We call the school district administration to let them know we would soon be snowed in and unable to get the school bus to the entrance of the tiny village.

11:15 a.m. – The call comes from school headquarters that a snowplow will be at Kelly School by 3:15 p.m. to clear the path, enabling the school bus to make it out of the snowed-in village. The snowfall increases in intensity. The wind is howling. The school bus parked outside our school is surrounded by drifting snow.

12:00 noon – Too bad, no ice skating with snow falling on the ice rink and already over two feet deep.

3:15 p.m. – No let up in the storm, and no snowplow in sight.

3:40 p.m. – School district office calls, telling us the snowplow left the highway and is stuck in a ditch. They say another snowplow is on the way. We call all the parents to alert them to our situation, and tell them to listen to the local KSGT Radio Station for updates.

4:30 p.m. – It’s starting to get dark. Snowstorm ended and the wind is dying down. Another call comes. The second snowplow is also in a ditch.

4:40 p.m. – The decision is made. We will use our pickup truck to blast through four and  five-foot drifts to make way for the school bus to get to the main road. We tell the children to get ready. I warm up our Chevy truck, putting it in four-wheel drive. In the darkness, my headlights shine on the first huge drift. When I hit it, I make a little progress before being stopped dead. I back up, and hit it again. Back up, hit it again. Progress is very slow.

My truck is not happy; she begins to heat up. My next task is to clear the packed snow from the grill to prevent overheating. I establish a routine: smash into drift after drift, back up, hit them again. Get out and clear the snow from the grill. 45 minutes of great work by a faithful pickup, and we finally cover the quarter mile back to the Slide-Inn store. With no cell phones then, I stop and use the store’s phone to call KSGT Radio so they can let the parents know we will be to Highway 89 at about 5:30 p.m. with their children in the bus.

The drifts on the Kelly road are big, but not enough to cause a major problem. We finally make it to the highway where the parents are waiting.

After all that transpired, the school superintendent came up to me as I stood outside making sure each child had a parent there to take them safely home. The superintendent then uttered words that I did not believe. “Where have you been?”

I had to resist a violent verbal or physical reaction. I did not give him an answer.

Tuesday, January 5th – Schools are closed Kelly remains drifted in. Rotary snowplows are needed to eat through the drifts while throwing snow high into the air.

With the road finally cleared into Kelly School, I went out to take a look. With no slowblower, I cleared the way to the front doors. Next, I looked at the ice rink. The entire rink was covered in show three to four feet deep. I knew I was up against all of it. “How will I remove tons of snow in time for skating on Wednesday? I’ll never make it!” So, instead, I created an exciting feature for our skaters. I created a snow maze by digging paths that zig-zagged all over the rink.

Wednesday was one of the best days on the rink! Kids were skating in the snowy ditches, chasing each other through the maze, and squealing with delight. I love the phrase, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!” And we sure made lemonade that snowy morning.

Next time, the ice rink goes high tech. Stay tuned!

Broken Bones and Bumped Heads…

November 28, 2012

Ken continues his series on the Kelly School Ice Rink. In this edition, hear about some of the minor mishaps on the ice! (Missed the earlier blogs? Start here!)

Creating the ice rink for the winter of 1979-80 took about 32 hours, many of them spent after dinner under flood lights. Now for the next four months came hours of maintenance work. For snow removal, I used two snow shovels I could push across the ice, one in each hand. As the snow banks built up higher and higher, the shoveling required much more effort! After each snow removal, I added a fresh coat of water. The ice rink took on its own beauty.

Two days a week, we played hockey with plastic sticks and plastic puck. Three days a week, it was “free skate” with no hockey. Sunny days created beautiful images. Boys and girls circled around the ice with the Grand Teton mountains as a backdrop. Colorful jackets and hats, rosy cheeks and lots of smiles and squeaks made a spectacular scene!

There were a few memorable events over the years that stand out very vividly. There was the Friday noon during a hockey game when a sixth-grade boy raced me to the puck. I won the race and arrived at the puck in time to be hit with a full body check. Down I went, resulting in a broken ulna in my left arm. Knowing immediately my arm was broken, I struggled to my feet, went into school, removed my skates and told everyone I was headed to the hospital emergency room. With my broken arm held close to my chest, I used my good hand to drive our pickup to town; six weeks later, I was as good as new.

We had only one more serious injury requiring a quick trip to the hospital. While practicing a jump on her skates, one of our first-grade girls fell, striking her head on the ice. I rushed over to where she was lying limp on the ice. She was stunned. After about five minutes, she was able to sit up. I asked her some questions, and she didn’t know what had happened. She didn’t know what day it was, or even what time of day. This sharp first-grader had obviously suffered a concussion.

She was a student in my classroom, so I called her mother to let her know what had happened. I told her that her daughter needed immediate attention at the emergency room. I met the child’s mother at the Gros Ventre Junction. Her mother rushed her to town for a doctor’s care. Diagnosis: concussion. It was scary, but with no complications, her recovery was speedy.

Next blog will describe another wintry adventure at the Kelly School! Don’t miss it!

The First Skaters!

November 16, 2012

Last time, Ken recalled learning to build the first Kelly School ice rink. Read more about the wonderful experiences on that first rink!

It was the first weekend of December 1979. I visited the ice rink twice a day on Saturday and Sunday, applying water morning and evening. The ice rink would be ready for the first skaters on Monday! I put the last coat of water on the ice rink Sunday night in five below zero temperatures. It was so dark that I needed a floodlight to get an even coat of water over every inch of the rink. At 9 p.m. I had covered the entire surface. After coiling the hose and putting it away, I took a couple of minutes to stand and take in the beauty of our first ice rink shining under the flood light. All was ready for Monday morning. After eating lunch that Monday, the children began putting on their skates for their first time on ice rink number one.

Kids who had never skated before needed a little help staying upright. It was great to watch older students holding the hands of the younger children. Everyone found out it was all about strong ankles and good balance. It wasn’t long – within a few days! – nobody needed help. There were some spills, but soon even falling safely became a skill.

It took a few years, but we soon found a great way for a beginner to stay vertical on their first day on the slick ice. The answer was one of our fiberglass classroom chairs. Hanging on the back of the chair with the four metal legs sliding along the ice gave the child great support. After using a chair only a day or two, one by one, a skater would leave a chair on the snow next to the ice. Soon all the chairs would be gone, and we knew little ankles were ready to do their job.

Building the ice rink was not the end of the work. Skates would cut into the ice building up loose chips of ice over the whole rink. About every three or four days, I would take two snow shovels, one in each hand, and scraped the residue to the side. Next I applied more water, which sealed the gouges the ice skate blades had made. A coating of water could be applied in about an hour after I had shoveled the surface clean. No Zamboni, no snowblower: all manual labor.

There was an immediate pay-off for the thirty-two hours it took to build that first ice rink. The pay back was all the smiles, laughter, all the skills learned, and all the fun our students had day after day. The ice rink would be a place for some unusual happenings over the thirty-three years. Stay tuned for more!

Ken Thomasma’s classic books, as well as books on CD and even vintage-inspired Naya Nuki tee shirts all make wonderful holiday gifts!

With the holidays just around the corner, Grandview Publishing will be posting special offers and sale prices! Be sure to keep your eyes open for them here on the blog, and be sure to like us on Facebook!



The Anatomy of an Ice Rink

November 14, 2012

Ken Thomasma recalls learning to make the first ice skating rink at Kelly Elementary. Read his first entry about the genesis of the annual tradition here!

The time was approaching for the beginning of construction on our first ice skating rink at Kelly School. So was I going to go about building a large rink with only a garden hose? I knew I couldn’t build it directly on grass or dirt. The first requirement was at least four inches (or more) of snow. Next, I would need nighttime temperatures below freezing, and better yet, below zero.

It was November of 1979 and a week before Thanksgiving when a storm came, dropping eight inches of snow. With the snow, I was ready to begin, but what next? I realized I would have to pack the snow down before getting out the hose. I had the solution. I climbed into my four-wheel drive pickup truck and drove it onto the playground. Around and around I went, driving over the snow in circles. Next, I drove back and forth. The tires packed the snow, but not smoothly. I needed to rake it to eliminate the ruts and grooves.

Finally, I was ready to apply the first coat of water. This would take three or four hours. The reason for the four hours of work was because I needed to saturate the snow with just the right about of water, while using my boots to pack the wet snow as evenly as possible. Back and forth I tramped the wet snow, making dozens of trips across the rink. I was fortunate that first year to have ideal temperatures. When I left after having covered the entire surface, I returned the next day to a relatively hard foundation. Now I started at the northeast corner adding more water and doing more careful stomping with my boots. Two more hours of work, and I headed home again.

When I returned the next day, I began the third application of water. I saw the first signs of eventual success. Many pools of standing water appeared. As I kept returning to add more water, more and even larger pools of standing water appeared. I was on the way to a surface of solid ice. Then I noticed a problem. Bubbles showed up on the ice where there were small holes allowing water to drain down to the earth below. The solution was to go to the side of the rink with a shovel and return with snow. I dropped snow on all of the small holes I could find. Then I added water to make slush that I tamped down into the hole to seal it.

Since there was a slight slope north to south, I always started adding water on the north end and worked my way south. After about thirty-two hours of work, the ice rink was ready for the first skaters. The next blog features the big day! After lunch, the first of thirty three ice rinks at Kelly Elementary School would welcome its first little skaters!

Ice Rink #33!

November 12, 2012

Ken recently began work on his 33rd ice rink at Kelly Elementary. In the next few blogs, he reminisces about how the tradition began and the evolution of his annual creation!

The year was 1979 when my wife, Bobbi, and I were asked to be the two teachers at Kelly Elementary School in tiny Kelly, Wyoming. We accepted the challenge knowing we were going to the one school in Teton County that lacked the facilities that all other schools in the county had. The little school had obviously been neglected. There was no gym, no kitchen, no library and very little storage. The school building was two rooms, one ground level room and one basement room beneath it.

We talked about what we could do to provide physical education activities, especially during the region’s long winters. Bobbie had grades three through six in the upper room, and I had grades Kindergarten through second in the basement. We decided my room would serve as the “gym.” I would stack the children’s desks three high against the east wall of my classroom leaving space for games, exercise, and gym mats for gymnastics.

For winter activities outside, we decided on cross-country skiing and ice skating. Not every child had skis, so I used scrap plywood to build birdhouses to sell for $5 each. We used the money to buy three-pin binding cross-country skis and boots. I made regular trips to our local thrift store to find good deals on skis, boots and poles. One day, the staff there called to let us know that a sporting goods store just gave them almost twenty pairs of three-pin boots! We rushed into town right after school and purchased all of them at a cost of $2 a pair.

Next, friends in our neighborhood who were part time residents and lived in Memphis, Tennessee, said since they ran a sporting goods store, they could get us children’s skis at cost, poles included. Our cross-country ski program was ready to go!

On my trips to the thrift store, I also bought all their children’s ice skates in children’s sizes. I was determined to build a large ice skating rink on the east half of the playground. The summer before our first day at Kelly School in September of 1979, I had worked forty days clearing sagebrush and rock to create a playground space for soccer, kickball, capture the flag and softball. Not only did we find a school with a lack of indoor facilities, but the playground was also nothing but a piece of blacktop, a four-swing swingset and two sets of monkey bars.

As winter approached, I had several boxes full of ice skates in varied sizes. Now the challenge would be to build an ice skating rink 75 feet by 75 feet with a garden hose. Stay tuned… the next blog, “The Anatomy of an Ice Rink,” will explain how I accomplished this!

November 9, 2012

Don’t forget…

Grandview Publishing offers completely free educational materials to accompany many of Ken Thomasma’s books!

Perfect for use in a classroom or at home, these fun activities match chapters from some of Ken’s most popular titles including Naya Nuki: Shoshoni Girl Who Ran, Om-kas-toe: Blackfeet Twin Captures an ElkdogPathki Nana: Kootenai Girl Solves a Mystery and more!

Naya Nuki Movie

November 7, 2012

For a handful of years, Ken has been pursuing the goal of turning Naya Nuki: Shoshoni Girl Who Ran into a feature film. In the following blog entry, Ken gives an update on the successes and challenges facing the project, as well as a strong incentive for information leading to investors!

Here’s the latest news on the Naya Nuki movie project. We were well underway to creating a classic family film based on the Naya Nuki book, when disaster struck. We were three partners in a Naya Nuki LLC; two of us were from Jackson, Wyoming, and our investor was from California. The screenplay was being written when we received word that our investor had been arrested for operating a Ponzi scheme. He was confined to his home with an ankle bracelet. Six months later, he committed suicide.

With the help of a second screenplay writer, I completed the writing that I hope has the potential to produce a classic family film akin to My Friend Flicka, Incredible Journey, and Black Beauty. Currently, I am seeking a new investor. If anyone knows of an individual or organization that would be interested in hearing my proposal for the movie. I am ready to fill in all the possibilities for them to consider. Should we be able to have an investor sign on with us, Grandview Publishing will be willing to consider a generous finder’s fee.

I have traveled the USA and Europe for 30 years telling Naya Nuki’s story in school assemblies to hundreds of thousands of children and adults. With so many fans around the world, the opening week of the Naya Nuki movie has the potential to earn enough to repay the initial investments. There is an audience of millions of people ready to head to theaters to see Naya Nuki’s compelling story on the big screen! The Naya Nuki movie will continue to generate revenue through DVD sales, television rights, merchandising, Naya Nuki and Sacajawea dolls, and film rights in Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Bangladesh, South Korea and Japan.

If you know of a potential investor, please ask them to give me thirty minutes to present the project. I’m sure that’s all it will take to convince the investor to join in bringing this exciting and heart-warming story to movie-going families everywhere!

Please contact Grandview Publishing with any responses or for more information about the project!