There’s no place like Auntie M’s

Marsha Bennett with the view of Markleeville Creek enjoyed by visitors to her Coffeehouse there in the 1990s.

Marsha Bennett with the view of Markleeville Creek enjoyed by visitors to her Coffeehouse there in the 1990s.
Lisa Gavon | R-C Alpine Bureau

“You not only have permission to speak, you are encouraged to!” extolled Marsha Bennett during the seven-year period when Auntie M’s Coffeehouse was both the oasis and hub for the free exchange of ideas among patrons in downtown Gardnerville.

“It was a spontaneous place. Do you have a difference of opinion? Speak up! There was no editing of conversations, unless someone was being hurtful or vicious,” reported Marsha, “It was the spot to be authentic about who you were and what you thought with no judgement.”

At this particular intersection of time and place, a special synergy was created that could never be repeated. The quintessential nature of the location allowed a special slice of freedom for the people who were regulars or visitors to the charming venue, and that is what Marsha is all about.

It turns out that people were starving for this sort of intellectual interchange, and although it was not “on the menu,” it happened naturally. The place created an atmosphere of excitement about the future and what was coming next.

Born in Miles City, Mont., her family moved to California to follow a new job for her father when she was 13. Foreshadowing her life’s motivation, Marsha pitched a tent in her backyard, living in it for her last two years of high school. “It was a beacon of sanity,” she said. It also defined her independent spirit, which is a necessary component for people living in Markleeville.

After high school, she attended Mt. Diablo Junior College before getting her degree in social work from San Francisco State. She married and had her paternal twin boys while still in school. Today, Josh lives in Seattle, and Todd in the Bay Area. Marsha has one grandson there.

Early on she showed a gift for redefining herself and “making a new start.” Moving on her own to Gardnerville in 1974, she got a job with the State of Nevada in Carson City and settled in to raise her sons. She was president of the National Association of Disability Examiners for two years.

Marsha’s character leaves her with a low tolerance for injustice, and the strength to stand up for what is right. She ended up leaving her job, and stepping out into the world with no idea where she was going to land. For most, this would be an unsettling feeling. Marsha thrives on that “time between,” however. For her, these significant steppingstones contain endless possibilities.

Her calm nature made her ideally suited to work dispatch for Douglas County. She stayed working there until Todd and Josh graduated from Douglas High School in 1989.

Driving down Main Street one day, she noticed a little “For Rent” sign in the window of the historic Dangberg House. Fritz and Meta Dangberg were married in 1897, purchased the home from Dr. Franklin, started a freight business, and eventually raised four children there. They took care of the barn and two acres, including horses, cows, chickens, and the home with a simple hand pump. Dangberg changed businesses when necessary, and the building itself exuded a rich feeling of the past.

Currently the house holds a nail salon, but for a period, it even housed a rectory for the church. When Marsha took it over, a period of intense magic began. On a visit to her mother in Seattle, Marsha had noticed a proliferation of coffee carts in Seattle. She paid a successful entrepreneur $1,000 to teach her “everything she knew”.

Her nieces, both with delightful British accents, called her “Auntie M,” so the name was easily chosen. Marsha’s favorite movie had always been “The Wizard of Oz,” so it was apropos. After all, she was on her own “yellow brick road,” of sorts, never knowing what was around the next bend, but willing to embrace the adventure of it all.

She came on camping and hiking trips during high school to Alpine County. Marsha had fallen in love with the rivers and the wildness of the land, enthralled by the palpable sense of naturalness that seemed to open up in every forested canyon. Once the Gardnerville shop was established, she made Alpine her home base.

Finding out that the old “Frosty” building was available, she bought it, closing out the Gardnerville chapter of her life. Marsha remodeled extensively, got out a coffee cart and opened her heart and her mind to this small community. The day she was ready to move into the building and start her business, the bear got in and went wild with the syrups. It was a big mess, but Marsha was undeterred.

She lived on the river in Woodfords, but eventually bought the building next door and set it up as a bed and breakfast. As it was in Gardnerville, many of the local teenagers had their first jobs there.

Within a year, she was hosting salmon dinners out on the deck in addition to the shop. These were star-filled nights brimming with warmth, good food, and enchantment. It was not the same give-and-take on new concepts and ideas as Gardnerville had been. It was lovely in quite a different way: friendly and inviting; people felt accepted and at ease.

She traveled extensively to Spain, Portugal, and Amsterdam. Marsha loved the new perspectives and the broadening of her horizons, but home was always in Alpine. “These experiences were my beacon and my salvation,” states Marsha, “I have never been dependent on anyone else, and they allowed me to have even more self-determination and independence in my life.”

When the Alpine Auntie M’s closed around 2004, Marsha lived with her brother in Montana for a time, opening up a little second-hand shop called “The Tin Cup.” She stayed with the family when her grandson was first born.

Now, though she may travel and visit, she is most at peace on the banks of Markleeville Creek, surrounded by the intrinsic logic that the laws of nature make manifest all around her.

Marsha is willing to try new things and has no problem thinking “outside the box.”

As a matter of fact, she doesn’t even have a box. That is why she is able to respond to the constant changes that are part and parcel of a small mountain community with both equanimity and true joy.


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