Grandma June had it right

Sandy (Thran) Thornton at the site of the old Fredericksburg Schoolhouse where her Grandma June taught.

Sandy (Thran) Thornton at the site of the old Fredericksburg Schoolhouse where her Grandma June taught.
Lisa Gavon | R-C Alpine Bureau

The most powerful connections between people and communities are shared memories. Sandy Thornton can cast her gaze anywhere across the great green fields of Carson Valley, or the granite peaks of Alpine County, and she will find a marker that notes a story from her family, both past and present: how they lived, their thoughts and accomplishments, and their legacy being manifested even today.

On her father’s side, her heritage goes back six generations in the valley. It was Fritz Kettenberg who first arrived from Hanover, Germany. He homesteaded 500 acres and relocated a house from Virginia City. When Sandy was a child, they would drive the old boundaries of this land, not reminiscing on what “might have been,” but rather acknowledging what was. Though the family lost the ranch in the 1955 floods, what still exists is the strength and determination that allowed them to work that soil in the first place. Using every ounce of your strength to focus on a goal is hard-wired into them.

Born at Carson Tahoe Hospital, Sandy’s parents brought her first to her Grandma June Thran’s house in Gardnerville. They made a sweet little bed for her in a dresser drawer. She has a wonderful mother and father, and many incredible relatives, but her deep attachment to her Grandma June began in these early days and has continued her whole life. Her great aunts, uncles, and grandparents were the most influential people to her.

“They were my everything growing up.” says Sandy, grinning.

Sandy’s parents had just purchased a home in Smith Valley when her mother was pregnant. She and her older brother, Emery spent all their early years in that house. She did not know it at the time, of course, but she even met Danny, who would become her future husband at a baseball game in Yerington when she was just 10 years old.

It was going to Grandma June’s house every weekend that made her the most happy. They would go to Miller’s Market and load up on Klondike bars and junk food for their “girl’s party.” June not only liked to drive fast, she was even comfortable enough to let Sandy drive around and around her house in her Buick, propped up to see out the windshield on old phone books. What an incredible privilege to be trusted with a vehicle, and what fun. It was definitely a different era. This, along with playing piano for her uncles and June’s children, made for some very special remembrances.

“I was really not musical, and could only play ‘Silent Night,’ but everyone clapped each time just the same!” Sandy recalls. They would all drink coffee and created their own safe cocoon. It was obvious that real family, and real connection did exist. On holidays at Grandma June’s son’s house, it was packed.

“She held everyone together,” says Sandy.

Grandma June’s father had immigrated from England, and her mother and her parents from Denmark. June had a challenging life growing up on a ranch in Southern Nevada where her family worked tirelessly to provide care for her mother who had suffered a paralytic stroke. This was where June developed her commitment to service, which would become a hallmark of her life, and a motivation to her granddaughter. June worked her way through school and took her first teaching position at Mottsville. She married Dick Thran and had four sons, who would go on to form Thran Brothers Construction. It was not until 1943 that June went back to work, teaching at the one-room Fredericksburg School House, just across the border in Alpine County. Students still remember the patience and kindness she showed while teaching them. The building itself burned down in the Fredericksburg Fire of 1986.

In her current position as the Alpine County Carrier with the Postal Service, Sandy’s route takes her by this place that was so important to June.

“She would make three or four extra lunches every day, knowing that many children would not have one. She would give each child a hug as they entered the classroom and slide the lunch from the table behind her to anyone who needed one, making sure no one else saw her do it,” Sandy said, “She was filled with compassion, and unconditional love.”

Right up the road is the old stone schoolhouse on the hill in Woodfords. Grades 6 and 7 were taught there. This is where Grandma June ran her little library. Each day, June’s gifts ring loud and clear as Sandy drives by on her rounds. The effect of these benevolent memories cannot be overestimated. They are the part of the past that creates who we are today, and who we will become in the future.

After graduating from Smith Valley High School with honors in 1995, Sandy moved to Carson City and went to beauty zchool. First, she worked in Reno, but that did not suit her. She ended up starting her own salon inside Cottonwood Care Nursing Home. This was a good fit. Sandy could use her gentleness and empathetic skills to create a positive experience for the residents. In turn, she appreciated their life wisdom.

When she ran into Danny again, it was easy for them to fall instantly in love. They had a shared background, values, and world view. “It was simple and right,” said Sandy, “one day we met at the Genoa Store, had lunch, and then got married!” Their wedding at CVI had been planned in a week. It has been a beautiful journey for them.

They have three children, Max, Emmy, and Elijah. All have alternately been home-schooled (a natural choice for the tight-knit family) or have attended local private schools like Faith Christian Academy or Sierra Lutheran. Sandy and her sister-in-law even started a learning co-op together. Their homeschooling has been centered around their knowledge that every moment is precious. “I did not want to miss one minute of their growing up!” says Sandy. It is imperative to both of them that their children go out in the world with a firm foundation.

Over the years, whether they were running a cabinet shop, or attending Global University Bible College together, they have always been on the same page. “He is an incredible man,” Sandy says, with her characteristic and ever-present smile, “He never gives up, no matter what. He inspires me.” An abiding faith is the guidepost for their family’s life. Her husband is Worship leader and Associate Pastor for the Damascus Road Christian Assembly. All of this is why Sandy has a lovely “glow” about her, no matter what challenges may come her way. Her smile could not be any bigger or any brighter.

In our fast-paced world, many strive for social recognition and to be remembered for their “persona.” But Grandma June had it right: it is in the quiet, small gestures that true love and devotion are made manifest. She lived it, and passed this inheritance on to Sandy, who in turn, is living it and passing it on again. Like Grandma June, Sandy’s sphere of influence is large. The impact of her everyday behaviors and attitudes are the pebble dropped into still water, rippling out across the pond.


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