On July 21, 2011, Lois Renk Wythe passed away in her sleep following several years of intense pain due to cellulitis and complications. Lois Lorrain was born August 15, 1921 in Boise, Idaho to Claude and Gladys High. She graduated from Boise High School, attended Boise State University, and graduated from Washington State University where she majored in English literature.
Her parents were rather rugged individuals, pioneers in the state of Idaho. Her mother, Gladys High, came to Idaho in a covered wagon as a baby in her mother’s arms. The family settled and developed a ranch in Long Valley near the village of Donnelly. Lois’ father, Claude High, came to Long Valley as a teenager to escape a dreary home life in the Midwest. While working in the logging camps, he took courses at night school in accounting and other business subjects to work his way up in the company.
Following World War I, Claude and Gladys moved to Boise where Lois Lorrain was born. The depression years were difficult, and Claude worked several jobs to make ends meet – operating a building supply business, milking several cows, building spec houses, and sponsoring a radio show featuring a western music show.
Claude loved the state of Idaho and instilled that love in his daughter. The family took many excursions around the state, Claude clicking his camera as they went along and amassing a huge pile of color slides. Lois owned a horse, and she took long rides into the hills above Boise.
During her high school years, Lois' father insisted that she learn skills that would enable her to survive hard times. She learned accounting and became highly proficient in typing and shorthand.It was while working in her uncle’s insurance and real estate office that she became acutely aware of business ethics. Her uncle made it a practice to carefully read aloud to his clients the entire contracts, including all the fine print, making sure that they understood all implications.
Early in her senior year, Lois was playing basketball when she leaped for the ball and landed on her right heel, tearing all the tendons in her ankle. She spent the rest of the year on crutches, missing all the fun of dances and athletics. Worse yet, she was plagued the rest of her life suffering intermittent, painful problems in her right leg.
Lois spent her summer vacations working on her grandparent’s farm in Long Valley and being a counselor and lifeguard at a girls camp on Payette Lake. During her teen years, Lois became involved in various causes. She volunteered for the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, Americans who went to Spain to help fight the fascist Franco regime, but she was rejected - too young.
After two years at Boise State College, Lois studied English literature and recreational leadership at Washington State University. Lois graduated with high honors and was awarded a Phi Beta Kapa key. Following graduation, Lois worked as a recreation director at the secret Hanford project.
One evening she was the terrified victim of attempted rape, which was made worse by her ostracism by the people of Prosser for being attacked.
The tragedy of death became part of Lois’ life all too often. Upon graduation from high school, many of the boys in her class accepted the offer of the heavy construction company, Morrison-Knudson, to pay for their college education if they would put in a year’s work in the construction of military facilities on Wake Island. They were wiped out when the Japanese invaded Wake. While at Hanford, Lois was called to help at the scene of an accident where a bus full of workers broke through the deck of a bridge and fell into a den full of rattlesnakes.Later, her fiancée, an aircrew member on a B-17, went down over Germany. While serving in the Army in Mississippi, her brother came down with some sort of sickness. He was made a guinea pig by being treated with one of the antibiotics that were being developed at the time. He was sent home to die.
During World War II, Lois married Eldred Renk. While Eldred was in the Philippines, Lois gave birth to son Robert. When the war ended, Eldred moved this family to Seattle where he studied languages at the University of Washington. Lois assisted him by typing the thesis for his doctorate, a meticulous job that allowed no erasing. The subject of his thesis was the true history of the Mexican Revolution, not the official version put out by the government. Eldred reasoned that he would have to mix with the paisanos to learn what really happened. They sang about their experiences in their corridos.
The Renk family spent a year in Mexico. Being of dark complexion, Eldred could dress to look like a peasant, and he was so fluent in languages that he quickly learned to speak the various dialects. He would wander into the pulcharias where the corridos were being sung. There he would memorize the songs. Then he would plant his cigarette on the end of a guitar string and accompany himself in singing what he had just heard. Upon receiving his PhD, Eldred was awarded a Phi Beta Kappa key which was given to him by his wife, a Phi Beta Kappa herself.
The family then moved to Fresno and later to Carmel, California, where Eldred taught in the nearby colleges. While in Carmel, Eldred and Lois were about to open a foreign language school when Eldred died of a heart attack.
Several months later while visiting her folks at their McCall summer home, Lois drove up to the small Coffee Cup Lake. The snow on the road around the lake had not completely melted, thus blocking the road. So Lois got out and started walking. Then a young deer leaped down from the bank and walked along with Lois. Soon they were joined by a red fox, and then a squirrel. Later, the animals wandered off one by one, finally leaving Lois alone. She sat down on a log and cried for a couple hours, something she had not been able to do since Eldred died. Lois loved all creatures, and they seemed to love her. One cold day while walking out on Point Lobos, a swarm of Monarch butterflies settled on her, covering her from head to toe.
With only $300 in the bank and a 15 year old son to support, Lois had to act fast to start making money. Having worked selling real estate in Fresno, she got a job in Carmel while she set about getting her broker’s license, using skills learned while working in her uncle’s insurance and real estate office. Since she considered an old Nash Rambler too dinky to drive prospective customers around to the various properties, she conned the local Mercedes Benz dealer into financing the purchase of a big, luxury sedan. It would help him sell his cars.
Lois opened her Real Estate By The Sea in Carmel By The Sea in 1961, and she quickly became well known for the way she ran her operation. Her high ethical standards led to her recognition as top realtor in the area and to her election as District Governor of the Association. In addition, Lois served on the important Carmel Cultural Commission. Lois did only marginal advertising of her listed properties. Lois sold Carmel. In her weekly column she told about her walks along the beach, of the squirrels crossing the street by running along the overhead utility wires, of the sound of the wind whispering in the pine trees. The column ran not only in he local newspapers but she advertised in the New York Times. Many times, a gentleman from the east would appear in her office and unfold a rather tattered clipping from an old newspaper, a Lines From Lois.
As many of these older men started to pass away, they left wives who were not used to dealing with legal or financial matters. The widows didn’t know what ther financial assets might be or how to go about finding them. They didn’t even know how to balance their checkbooks. So, one by one they appeared before Lois to list for sale their only visible assets, their homes. While other realtors would jump at the chance to get the listing, Lois would calm down the ladies with ”Now my dear, you are not ready to sell your home, but this is what I want you to do. Lois would send them to various consultants who would work with the women to dig out the facts on their financial situations – an accountant, attorney, and others who could ascertain the the best course of action for the particular ladies. Lois even set up seminars to teach the ladies about various financial matters. Word got around that here was an honest realtor, and Real Estate By The Sea became the number one office in the area.
When Proposition 13, a measure outlawing the practice of discriminating against persons of color or national origin in the selling of property, was up for election, the entire real estate profession was opposed, all that is except for Lois and one other lady realtor.
This is how Lois met the architect who would ultimately become her second husband. Joseph Wythe visited her office to express his support for her stand. Later, she steered a couple of commissions his way, and he planned the remodeling of her Tidepool, a lovely little redwood board and bat cottage where she could retreat from the storms of her profession.
Ten yeas later, Joe contacted Lois to handle a real estate project for him. Things arranged themselves and soon there was a romance going. Unfortunately, Lois was soon to be struck with a terribly painful series of sciatica attacks. Joe moved his drawing board into Tidepool to nurse her through the attacks. When Lois had recovered several months later, they were married in Tidepool in 1973.
Lois had a client who was one of the richest women in America. She had purchased a magnificent dwelling overlooking the ocean. Not having anything better to do, she amused herself by picking apart the building, imagining deficiencies in the most unlikely places. Lois spent the better part of a year investigating the complaints by hiring engineers and other consultants. Finally the woman tired of that game, sold the house, and moved on to irritate someone else. When it was all over, Joe told Lois “We don’t need all of this. Why don’t we go back to your Idaho?”
Having recently visited her WSU roommate in Priest River, Joe and Lois liked the Idaho Panhandle and decided to relocate here. Joe went up to investigate where it might be feasible to set up an architectural practice. After studying the various towns and Spokane, he focused on Sandpoint. Not only was it situated in a spectacularly beautiful area and the people were exceptionally friendly, Sandpoint had the same relationship to Spokane that Carmel had to the San Francisco Bay Area. Both were too distant from the metropolitan areas to be bedroom communities, but both were in recreational areas within two and a half hours driving distance from those metropolitan areas. At that time the major activity there was the lumber industry.
As far as the profession of architecture was concerned, there were as yet no licensed architects in town. After reporting back to Lois, she went up to check Joe's observations, and if she concurred, she would begin the search for the property where they could build their dream home, a place near a lake, pond, river, or stream where they could watch wildlife come to the water.
In her search for the ideal property, Lois came to the desk of one young salesman who was a bit more professional than the rest. Telling him that we wanted a farm he asked "What kind of a farm?" Noticing that many of the vehicles going down the street were macho pickups with gun racks in the back windows, Lois was not about to reveal that she wanted to set up a wild life sanctuary, so she dodged the question. But the lad persevered until Lois finally told him "We're going to raise unicorns. "Oh!” he responded, “In that case you will need a property with a high fence around it,” as he began thumbing through his litsing book. When Lois called home that night, she said that she had not found our property, but she knew what we were going to call it. Thus the home eventually became known as Unicorn Farm.
Lois and Joe returned to her home state of Idaho in 1977, settling into a temporary residence in Sandpoint they called “Intermezzo.” One day in 1978, Lois asked Joe what he would like to do to celebrate Fathers Day. Responding, “Since you have been fussing about no local Quaker group here, why don’t we just sit down and start one.” Thus, the first Sandpoint Friends Meeting was held in the Intermezzo living room.
Joe and Lois were also joined by others in founding the Pend Oreille Arts Council and the Panhandle Environmental League.
Lois operated her real estate office, North Country Lifestyles, for a few years, but she decided she would rather put her efforts elsewhere in doing the things tht she liked. During this period, a number of realtors here that took her North Idaho College classes.
The small back yard at Intermezzo was surrounded on three sides by buildings painted white which reflected sunlight into the space, perfect for warming a vegetable garden. Here Lois began her experience in gardening by developing raised beds to produce bountiful harvests of organic vegetables in a small space. Upon moving to the farm on Rapid Lightning Creek called “The Peaceable Kingdom,” Lois expanded her raised bed gardens. In addition to vegetables, fruits, and berries, she developed gardens of culinary and decorative herbs. In her gardening, she saw the need for a place where gardeners and small farmers could sell their produce, and she established the Sandpoint Farmers Market.
She sold her herbs from a shop on the Cedar Street Bridge, but later built a log cabin in her gardens where she could do both growing and selling. In addition, picnic tables were installed on the nearby lawn and walking trails were groomed along the creek and into the woods. The shop and gardens became an attraction to locals and visitors alike. When families came to Sandpoint, the husbands would often go fishing, leaving the wives with little to do but go shopping. After that, they would go out to the Peaceable Kingdom for a pleasant day in the country. The place became so popular that a tour bus company requested permission to bring their passengers there; that’s where Lois drew the line.
Lois became a Master Gardener and was instrumental in getting an organic gardening section added to the course.
Her interest in growing things led Lois to found the Kinnikinick Chapter of the Idaho Native Plants Society, later to become the Kinnikinick Native Plants Society. Her suggestion to develop a native plant arboretum was quickly adopted, and the outstanding facility in Lakeview Park was dedicated in her honor.
In recognition of her contributions to the community, Lois was chosen to be a Woman Of Wisdom in 2001.
Her love of literature and poetry led Lois to do some writing of her own. She published Lines From Lois, a popular, quarterly newsletter featuring items of interest to Lois and, incidentally, everyone else. However, it was for her classes and workshops in gardening and herbal lore that Lois will be especially remembered. The collection of handouts for those sessions became veritable encyclopedias of information about herbs and gardening.
Newcomers to the community and locals came to her delightful studio/herbshop at The Peaceable Kingdom and later to another at the beautiful Unicorn Farm on the Lower Pack River Road. Lifetime bonds of friendship were developed among those attending her classes and with Lois. This she considered her finest gift to the community.
Lois planted a Linden tree at Hattie’s Happy Hearts Country Kindergarten Preschool, a Waldorf inspired school. Her ashes were spread there, as well as in the Arboretum, at the Unicorn Farm, and under a lovely ash tree filled with luscious orange berries that she and Joe donated to the Sandpoint Friends Meeting House.
Her son, Robert, preceded Lois in death.
Lois is survived by husband Joseph Henry Wythe, grandson Joshua (Peggy) Ramey-Renk, daughter-in-law Joanne Cottrell, sister-in-law Rose Turner, brother-in-law Richard (Lila May) Renk, numerous nephews and nieces including locals Tom (Nancy) Renk, Kathy (Chuck) Chehock, and Roselle Caesar. Memorial services for Lois were held at the First Christian Church in Sandpoint.