Stories from the street: This group gathers to write, share stories and celebrate milestones – Idaho Press-Tribune

March 1st, 2020 9:41 am

It was an offer I couldn't refuse.

I recently had the opportunity to attend a monthly meeting of a group of Treasure Valley writers who also happened to be celebrating a milestone: one of their members had just turned 100.

I arrived at the home of Peggy Thiessen in Boise. She and two others Lavaughn Wells and Nancy Ives were waiting for "the birthday girl" to arrive. In the meantime, we began talking.

I found out that this group of "women of a certain age" the youngest, I was told, is 68 get together once a month to share their stories. They all have been working on their autobiographies for a number of years. They follow Frank P. Thomas' book, "How to Write the Story of Your Life."

At each meeting, they read their most recent installments out loud to one another. "An interesting thing is when we read our stories we piggy-back on top of each other," said Thiessen. "There are triggers. We'll think of something in our past that we want our children to know."

The stories are for family members to read so that they can get a glimpse of what their mother's, grandmother's, aunt's or great-aunt's lives were like "before smartphones."

It's a chance to show that there may be more than work or looking at screens, said Ives. "I write my stories in the hopes that my great-nieces will not be too orthodox. I think there's a lot more to life than 8-to-5," she said. "I hope this will give them a spark to get away and see some of the world."

Thiessen, 78, the de facto leader and hostess of the group, said she has been through Thomas' book about four times and each time remembers more stories to write down.

"As you write more and more, you remember more and more," she said. "I tend to write about the funny things instead of the harder things I don't want to think about those things."

Theissen writes all of her tales out in longhand, and her husband, Wayne, types them up for her. They've been married for 57 years, but still "sometimes he learns something new or remembers something he forgot," she said.

Wells, 80, traveled around spending time in Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky before lighting down in Boise in 1986. "My husband, David A. Wells, started the Blue Thunder Marching Band at Boise State," she said. "The first time they were on the field was in 1987."

Lavaughn Wells was also involved in music she had been a teacher in choral music at Nampa High.

Ives, 82, was originally from California and came to Boise by way of Taiwan in 2007. "It was a jump," she said, smiling.

Then the guest of honor arrived. Ethel Farnsworth walked into the room, took a seat and looked around, noting everyone there.

"I've had an interesting life," she said.

Farnsworth, who actually turned 100 on Feb. 9 which also happened to be Ives' birthday held her latest story on her lap. "We're so old, we're turning things over to the historical society," she said, laughing.

Prompted by Thiessen, Farnsworth regaled the group with the story of how she and her husband, Ken Farnsworth Jr., now deceased, came to be the owners of Rhodes Bake-N-Serv, the frozen bread dough company.

There was a Mr. Rhodes, she said, and through a series of fortunate events, he came up with the winning formula for frozen bread dough, much to the delight of homemakers everywhere.

"Mr. Rhodes had found this recipe in the drawer of a cabinet," said Ethel. He handed the it over to his ingenious nephews who began perfecting the process.

Ethel's husband, Ken, who had started a food brokerage business, sort of stumbled onto his bread destiny.

He found Rhodes Bread while traveling in northern Idaho, said Ethel. "He saw some women, who he knew were home bakers, waiting at a grocery store for the bread truck to come in." Intrigued, Ken Farnsworth waited, too. When the truck arrived, it wasn't at all what Farnsworth had imagined: it was a small truck with two college-aged young men handing out frozen loaves of bread dough to the excited women who took the dough home and made fresh "homemade" bread.

Not what he thought, no, but Ken Farnsworth was mightily impressed.

"He immediately went to Portland to meet Mr. Rhodes," said Ethel. "In time, Ken convinced (Mr. Rhodes) he could do a good job with Rhodes bread and he added it to his brokerage and he eventually bought the business," she said.

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Ken Farnsworth became the owner but always remained faithful to the bread basics started by Rhodes, who had been a strict vegetarian and humanitarian. "Herbert Cecil Rhodes founded Rhodes Bake-N-Serv in 1958," it says on the company website. "He was a man with high standards and personal principles. ... He did not allow any preservatives to be added to Rhodes White Bread Dough or White Roll Dough. The flour he selected also had to be of the highest quality, unbleached, and have a high-protein content.

Ethel, who was a home economist, published a number of frozen bread dough recipe books for the company, but the most requested recipe through the years is the Butterscotch Bubble Loaf.

Today, the company is run by Kenny Farnsworth, their oldest son. "He's doing such a good job, Rhodes is in all 50 states and he's working on Hawaii," Ethel said.

Looking over her life, Ethel talked about some of the highlights, including her eight children, 16 grandchildren, "and who knows how many great-grandchildren," plus some great-great grandchildren.

After moving from Massachusetts to Morningside Park in Los Angeles, The Farnsworths "found" Boise, she said, in 1959.

"My husband was traveling the 13 western states and he always liked Boise, he found it so friendly," Ethel said. "One day he called and said, 'I bought you a house on Owyhee Street in Boise, Idaho.' I said 'get me a map,'" she said laughing.

She taught foods classes at Boise State University for two years until "they decided (teaching) the classes was too expensive maybe they had to buy a new stove or something," she said, laughing.

She was moved over to The Learning Center in 1976 or '76, she said, where she worked with some of the community's earliest refugee population. "It was the fall of Saigon and people from Vietnam were coming in to Boise. I was in charge of the refugee center," she said.

Farnsworth still goes on walks every day "when the sun shines," works out with her exercise programs on Tuesdays and Thursdays and plays Mahjong twice a month.

To what does she owe her longevity?

She thinks a moment. "I would just say it's just genetics," she said with a smile.

"We're still pretty active old broads."

Know somebody with a story to tell? A neighbor, friend? Someone youve met in school, at church or the grocery store? Send your story ideas to, or call 208-465-8106 or 208-871-0911.

Originally posted here:
Stories from the street: This group gathers to write, share stories and celebrate milestones - Idaho Press-Tribune

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