Gladys Kent

by Dawn Kent from Kelly, Wyoming

Gladys Kent (The Kent Family)
Gladys Kent (The Kent Family)

Gladys Lorraine May was born on October 24, 1918 to Joseph Andrew May and Chloe Ina Crandall May at Kelly, Wyoming. She was the oldest daughter of nine children - Lynn, Gladys, Max, Dell, Norma, Imogene, Bonnie, Ross and Roy. Mother was always proud of her pioneer heritage. The Mays were among the first settlers in Jackson Hole. Mother's grandparents came to the valley in 1896 and settled on what came to be called Mormon Row.

When the family came in to the area, it was still part of Uintah County. When Mother was born, Jackson Hole was then part of Lincoln County. A few years later, Teton County was formed and there was a heated competition about whether Jackson or Kelly would be the county seat. Kelly lost by only a few votes.

In 1925 the north end of Sheep Mountain slid into the Gros Ventre River and created a dam and a lake. Two years later in 1927, the dam broke and the lake came down and washed away the town of Kelly. Six people lost their lives in that flood. The day before the flood, Mother, who was 8 years old, had swallowed a small Red Cross pin. The doctor had ordered that Mother eat shredded flannel mixed in with oatmeal to ease the passage of that pin, so her Mother had kept her home from school on the day of the flood. The water didn't reach the ranch, but they did have a fairly good vantage point. Mother always said that it was a good thing that Jackson won the county seat or all those records would have been destroyed in the flood.

Dawn in front of the Gros Ventre Slide that caused the Kelly Flood on 5/18/1927
Dawn in front of the Gros Ventre Slide that caused the Kelly Flood on 5/18/1927

Joe May's family lived on a ranch just north of Kelly. Since it was during the Depression, there were a lot of people who had nothing. Mother told of going to school with children who had only one set of clothing. She remembered going to school with children who brought lard sandwiches to school for their lunch because they didn't have anything else.

Mother attended school at Kelly and either rode horseback or walked the two miles to and from school. Her older brother Lynn would ride the horse and pull a sled behind, with her and her two brothers on board. She remembered a time when the sled ran up into the horse's hind feet and Mother, who was sitting on the sled backwards, got kicked in the head. She said that her head was split wide open and bled like the dickens. Mother always liked to tell how her Mother wanted to get the doctor, but her Dad said that wasn't necessary and stitched her up just like an old horse.

We girls loved to listen to the stories of Mother's childhood. Mother was a master story teller and she had a special talent for making her life on the ranch come alive. Mother came of age during the Depression and her life was molded from that experience. She came from hard working enterprising people and she said that they never were without food and clothing. They may not have had any cash, they always had clothes and food to eat. The family raised a huge garden and canned much of their food. They raised chickens, pigs, sheep and beef. Mother always pointed out that they didn't eat much beef, as that was their cash crop. They would butcher a pig and get their elk every year. Mother was impressed with the compassion that her folks had for other people. She always told about how they helped other people less fortunate and how her Dad made it clear that you "helped but then never mentioned it again". This trait was passed on to Mother. It wasn't until I was well into my teens that I became aware of how much Mother helped people that she felt were in need. She helped people quietly and never wanted recognition for her compassion. She seemed to feel that any fanfare nullified the act.

When it came time for Mother to go to High School, she was sent out to Idaho. In her own words: "I had to go out to Idaho for a couple of my High School years because my Mother thought Jackson was corrupt. She'd heard a few stories about some of the kids getting drunk and throwing a teacher out the window. She'd heard isolated little things and she thought it was a terrible school and couldn't see me going there. So I went to Idaho for two years. Vera Chambers and I both went away to school, but we decided our junior year, that we were going to lay down the law and not go out to school, so our junior year we went in to Jackson and it was fine. There was nothing wrong with it."

Mother spent one year with her Aunt Velda Alexander in Buhl, Idaho. That year she attended the high school in a little tiny town called Filer. A couple of years ago we took Mother back to visit Aunt Velda. It was interesting that there is hardly anything left of Filer, Idaho. Mother spent another year boarding in Rexburg, Idaho. Finally, in her junior year, Granddad rented a small house in Jackson, since the roads were often impassible during the winter. Mother and her brothers would spend the week in Jackson and return to the ranch on weekends. After High School, she took some extension courses from the University of Wyoming. She earned her teaching certificate and taught school in Kelly.

Kent's Korner, Kelly, Wyoming
Kent's Korner, Kelly, Wyoming

Mother married my Dad, Donald Kent in 1941. Dad's mother, Anne Kent, owned a general store complete with post office. Dad took over the store and post office and both Mother and Dad worked long hours tending those businesses. The building where the store was located was originally an Episcopal church and the house they lived in was the parsonage. Grandmother Anne had purchased the buildings after the Gros Ventre Flood.

There were three girls born to this union, Joanne, Cynthia and Dawn Electa. Mother taught school when Joanne and Cynthia were in 2nd and 1st grades. Mother was a good teacher and spent her life praising the joy of learning. We appreciated her passion for learning and her vast vocabulary. However, I learned early on to dislike Scrabble. I was no match for my Mother and to the end, her vocabulary far exceeded mine. She was a master at crosswords. She loved reading, she loved words and she loved learning. That is a gift that she shared with her children.

Donald Kent in the Kelly Post Office
Donald Kent in the Kelly Post Office

My parents were very community minded and were involved in many different things. They were charter members of the Jackson Hole Historical Society. They belonged to a square dance club. Mother was a member of the League of Women Voters. Dad was a member of the School Board and Mother certainly carried her share of the load in that endeavor. They were involved with 4H and Jobs Daughters. When the fund drive for the "new" St. John's Hospital was under way, Mother took a great deal of pride in the fact that she and another lady were able to canvas the entire town of Kelly with 100% success. She participated in many fund raisers, including the cancer drive and the March of Dimes. There was a time when the mothers got together and decided they would take turns bringing hot lunches to school at Grovont. Mother's lunches were always looked forward to because in addition to the lunch, she brought each child a bottle of soda pop. If there had been a competition among the kids as to who was the most popular mother, Mother would have won it hands down! Mother spent many hours working in the store. People who drove up to Kelly often were lost and would stop in the store to ask directions. They usually wanted to go see the Gros Ventre Slide. We kids and Mom and Dad got used to saying "Go one mile north and turn right". Mother told Dad that when she died he could just put on her tombstone "She went one mile north and turned right"; Dad said no. He said he was going to have it say "She went one mile north and turned wrong." Dad liked to tease Mother.

In 1971, the store burned. The store was totally destroyed along with a little piece of history since the building had stood there since before the Gros Ventre Flood. The fire had a tremendous effect on Mother's life. To her dying day if she couldn't find something she would say that it "must have burned in the fire". In the days after the fire, Mother's thrifty Depression upbringing kept her from just throwing everything away. A funny remembrance of the fire is a giant jar of toothpicks that Mother had salvaged. The fire was devastating, but somehow an entire carton of toothpicks that had been in the store, managed to survive. They were smoke damaged and Mother went to the trouble of washing and sterilizing all those toothpicks. She had to spread them out in the sun to dry. She then put them in a giant pickle jar with holes poked in the lid. We still have the jar with some of those toothpicks. Every time Mother would get out that jar of toothpicks, she'd have to laugh at herself for going to all that trouble.

Mother always tried to teach us empathy and compassion for other people. I remember Mother being totally friendly with everyone she met. I remember asking her, "How can you like everybody you meet?" Mother replied that she didn't have to like everybody but she believed there was good to be found in everyone. She would tell us that if we couldn't find something good to say about someone, not to say anything at all. Mother's kitchen was often visited by people who needed a sympathetic ear. Mother was truly interested in people and people felt safe and comforted with her listening to their troubles.

Mother said that growing up in Kelly was a neat childhood. She always felt safe there. She liked to tell the story about the day when I was two or three years old and I wandered off with our dog Laddie. Laddie took care of me and wouldn't let me near the ditch (which used to make me mad). Mother knew this and felt confident in Laddie's abilities. One day when she got busy in the store, she realized that it had been awhile since she had seen me. She started looking, and before long she had alerted the entire town of Kelly. Finally someone saw the dog running back and forth out in the field. Apparently I had climbed up on an old piece of farm machinery and couldn't get down, Laddie wouldn't leave me, but he ran in circles barking. Mother said that Tex Little said "Mark my words, that child will never grow to adulthood", I guess I had given everyone quite a scare. Kelly was just a little place out in the middle of nowhere, but it was a good place to grow up and Mother knew that.

Mother's love for Kelly never failed. When it became critical that we might lose our little school, she set about rejuvenating our little town by selling land to young families at rock bottom prices. Her theory was that if there were young children, there would be a need for a school. She felt that without a school, the heart of the community would be gone. She was criticized for not having good business sense, but I think that she had the bigger picture in mind. Later, when she realized that Jackson Hole suffered from a lack of 'affordable housing', she created the Yurt Park as an alternative form of housing. Mother's "vision", love of community, story telling, sense of humor, and compassion are just some of the attributes that made her such a remarkable woman. She will be sorely missed.

Mother passed away on March 3, 2004 at St. John's Hospital in Jackson, Wyoming.

Page created on 2/18/2014 10:24:44 AM

Last edited 1/5/2017 10:48:36 PM

Related Links

Story of the Kelly Flood - Wyoming Tales and Trails

Extra Info

My Mother Read to Me
By Cynthia (Kent) Thompson

I sailed on a pirate ship.
I fought with Captain Hook.
I dug up buried treasure.
I went to Lilliput.

I climbed the Alps with Heidi.
Black Beauty was my friend.
Flicka took me riding.
The mem'ries never end!

I mutinied on the "Bounty",
With wicked Captain Bligh.
With Nemo - underneath the sea -
I watched the world go by.

"Little Orphan Annie"
"The Shooting of Dan McGrew"
"Hiawatha"; "Paul Revere's Ride"
"The Village Blacksmith", too!

"The Sugarplum Tree"; "The Raggedy Man";
"The Cat in the Hat", for sure;
"The Children's Hour"; "The Raven", too;
"The Face on the Barroom Floor".

My life is an adventure With new ones yet to see.
It all started out back when
MY MOTHER READ TO ME!

Author Info

This tribute to my mother was a collaborative effort which included my sisters, Cynthia Kent Thompson and Joanne Kent.