Jeanne Reuter: Making a positive impact on children
R-C Alpine Bureau
It was a whirlwind year of ribbon-cutting and social appearances when Jeanne Reuter was chosen as Miss San Francisco in 1955. Even with all her responsibilities in the city, her mind was on the Sierra Nevada mountains. Raised in Marin County, California, she had only been skiing a handful of times, but she loved it and wanted to be better. Now, at age 83, she has lived the majority of her life at Kirkwood, and is already looking forward to skiing on the slopes this winter.
At 7,690 feet in elevation, Kirkwood, California is remote and can be cut off from the outside world by avalanches or avalanche danger, both at the Spur or on Red Lake Grade. The snow depths are what make it such a phenomenal place to ski, but they also make it a tough place to live and work. It represents the intersection of Alpine, Amador, and El Dorado Counties. There are roughly 158 year round residents according to the 2010 census, and getting supplies, going to appointments, or simply getting your hair cut, takes a lot of advance planning. Jeanne is self-reliant, strong, adaptable, and resilient. She also has a deep love for the wildness of the land, making her the perfect Kirkwood Mountain resident.
Jeanne Reuter was born in Seattle, Washington but grew up in Marin County. She attended Tamalpais High School and received her teaching credential at San Francisco State. Her first job was instructing lower grades in a two room school house on Donner Summit with about a dozen students. The following year she moved to a school in Truckee with 40 children in the third grade. Even at that stage in her life, she was already demonstrating her versatility.
She spent a year in Oslo, Norway studying the Norwegian language, history, and educational philosophy in a six week intensive, and then working the rest of her stay. When she returned home to Truckee she taught fourth grade before getting a job at the Olympics being held that year in nearby Squaw Valley. It was here that she met the love of her life, Dick Reuter, while she was skiing on the hill. Dick was on Ski Patrol and immediately asked her to go out with him. This was at the end of February, and they were married in June. Jeanne said they both wanted to be married, and found the right person at the right time.
Jeanne and Dick were married 51 years when he passed. For their 48th anniversary, Jeanne wore the wedding dress her mother had made for her, and it still fit perfectly for the party. Their wedding was at the Queen of the Snows Church at Squaw Valley, and her friends joked that she had just joined the “Squaw Valley Matron’s Society.” The church had no instruments, and they wanted music, so they borrowed an organ from the local mortician in Truckee. They were both completely committed to their vows, and that laid the foundation for a long and successful marriage.
There followed four children: Eric, Carolyn, Ernest, and Sheila. Jeanne became a devoted and nurturing mother, and later, grandmother. She has always had a special place in her heart for babies, and focused on studying Early Childhood Education and separation anxiety in infants. After her own children were grown, Jeanne received her Masters Degree from Sacramento State in these subjects, eventually teaching classes at Lake Tahoe and Western Nevada Community Colleges.
The older children started their school years traveling by bus to Tahoe City, but all this changed when Dick was offered a job to become Mountain Manager at a brand new ski resort. On July 4th weekend in 1972, the whole family went and camped at the bottom of what was to become Chair 4 at Kirkwood Mountain Ski Resort. Dick became fast friends with Bud Klein and the rest of the investor’s group, and was given free range to design the mountain as he saw fit. Chair 11 is named after Dick. They call it “The Reut”.
Their oldest went to the old stone school in the center of Woodfords with fellow student Gary Price. Jeanne met his mother Jeannine Price waiting to pick up her son. Commuting was difficult, and Price and she spent daytime hours together after that. Jeanne and Dick’s oldest daughter attended a portable classroom at the current Diamond Valley School site. Their two youngest went to the old Fredericksburg School for Kindergarten until grade two. That building burnt down in the Fredericksburg Fire in 1987.
There was no school at Kirkwood, and only one other child who lived there. In 1973-74, the school district at Sutter Creek agreed to bring a portable classroom there, and hire Jeanne as the teacher. She had her own 4 children, the one other little boy who lived there, and the children of some of the seasonal workers from South Lake Tahoe. There were a total of 12 children, at all grade levels. The door opened outward, so in bad storms they would have been buried, if it wasn’t for Dick coming to plow them out. The following year, the teacher was Susie King. The Reuter’s invited their niece and another summer resident’s son to live with them, so they would have the requisite 10 child minimum.
Alpine Unified School District, under the direction of James Parsons, agreed to open a one room schoolhouse in the basement of Sun Meadows in 1988. Son Eric was the first 8th grade graduate of the Kirkwood School back in 1975, and came back to be the guest speaker for the very last 8th grade graduating class ceremonies in 2003. There were 5 eighth graders then, and the school closed that year. All the instructors, including Jeanne, had both cross-country and downhill skiing in their curriculum.
Jeanne took a job as school bus driver, shuttling the children through every imaginable storm condition. She had to put chains on the bus, then take them off at the bottom of the grade. Fellow driver Gary Coyan made her a portable wooden lift to make this onerous and repetitive task somewhat easier. All their children were very fast skiers, and when they were in high school, they often lived with their coaches to attend school. The girls were both on the racing teams, but the boys took football, basketball, and track.
Driving 50 miles to Carson City, Jeanne sang Barbershop harmony with the Sierra Sage Sweet Adelines, participating in two competitions. Although this required long drives at night, it was an enjoyable chapter in her life. Dick retired as Mountain Manger in 1990, but continued to work as as a tree-faller until he was 84 years old. Jeanne became a VISTA volunteer, and served as a “promise fellow” for Americorp. She went to conferences, gave workshops, wrote grants, and worked on the COW (Classroom on Wheels). The idea was to create an environment where children would have a good caregiver, food, schooling, a safe place to be, and finally, the opportunity for them to give back to their community.
Jeanne was a member of the Association for the Education of Young Children, and has a great knowledge base to help babies and provide for them. She has a strong desire to pour out all her experience to help the little ones. Up until two years ago, she did childcare in her home, keeping a journal for each child. Now she babysits in the child’s home, providing the same consistent and loving care she always has.
She has volunteered in hospitals, was a leader for the Girl Scouts, and just recently adopted a 3 mile section of Highway 88. Jeanne meets whatever challenges that come along and has an attitude of thankfulness. When life changes, she adapts. Jeanne Reuter has made a very positive impact on the children of this unique high mountain community.