Heart of the Treasure Valley: There’s no place like home

A lifetime of travel gave Mary Phipps perspective beyond her 16 years

kjones@idahostatesman.comDecember 1, 2013 

  • WATCH MARY IN A PLAY

    “I have a witch’s laugh,” jokes Mary Phipps, who will star as the Wicked Witch of the West in a play put on by the Championeers of Champions College in Fruitland. The play features Mary, two of her brothers and a cast of 120 kids. Check out the performances on Dec. 6, 7, 13 and 14. For information or tickets: (208) 452-6228 or ChampionsEventCenter.com.

  • Rosemary Powell, whom you met in an Oct. 6 Heart of the Treasure Valley called “Accidental Pioneer,” died in her sleep on Nov. 9. It was the way she wanted to go. Rosemary, 93, was among the first women in the military and among the women who wanted to work outside of the home after the war. In following her dreams, she paved the way for roles that today’s women take for granted. She was a force of nature. Thank you, Rosemary.

    Read her story at IdahoStatesman.com/Heart.

    Search for Rosemary Reed at IdahoStatesman.com/obituaries

One hundred years ago, her great-great-grandparents followed a rugged wagon trail into the Boise Foothills and filed a homestead claim on the rolling hills beneath Stack Rock. They cleared sagebrush from the hard meadows, raised children and cattle, turkeys and chickens, harvested hay, savored the solitude and scenic vistas — and called the ranch home.

Their descendents still do that. Two years ago, a great-great-granddaughter gathered with 300 other people, all related in various ways, to celebrate the Ourada Ranch’s Century Farm designation — 100 years of farming by one family.

This young girl, Mary Phipps, has lived in a dozen places in her 16 years: in Idaho, the southern U.S. and the Middle East. She never lived at the ranch — but in her heart, that doesn’t matter.

She says: “What the ranch does for me is gives me a place of comfortability … a place where I can have a foundation. (Living all over) has been a ridiculously amazing experience … (But) I don’t have that little home piece. ….

“So I’m glad for the ranch. It has a sense of home … a feeling of belonging there.”

Mary has seen the pyramids — five times. She has marveled at the great port of Alexandria from one of its skyscrapers and not only knows where the country of Qatar is, but has lived there — Egypt as well. She has swum in the Mediterranean and wandered ancient catacombs.

A junior at Fruitland High School, Mary has seen more of the world than many adults.

“I like Fruitland. When I think about it, it’s where I grew up. It’s where I have friends specifically that know me. But there are so many more friends out there to be made. There are so many more things to see and so much more to experience.”

Mary is the middle child and eldest daughter of eight siblings. Her father, a civil engineer, has a job that began the family’s bigger travels —first to Boise, then New Orleans; to Qatar, Cambridge, Payette and Fruitland; to Egypt and back to Fruitland.

“I have friends who say they’ve only ever been to Washington, Oregon, Idaho. And I feel like they’re missing out big-time.”

Still, reality has its challenges. The family lived together in Egypt for three years, but Mary’s father still works in the Middle East — Egypt, Iraq, Dubai — as a government contractor for the Air Force. He comes home twice a year for two weeks at a time.

“I have a different world view … and I am so thankful for it. But at the same time, I want my dad to be here. I want us to be a normal family.

“I do want these things, but I do not regret living the life I have already lived.”

Mary experienced the Middle East’s caste system, explored the markets, watched the sun set over the Mediterranean. She still has friends she made in Egypt. She learned to read and speak a smattering of Arabic; she was exposed to Islamic culture and to history so old that it boggles the mind.

“Every place has their different culture. … You learn really fast that we’re more the same than different.”

Mary has a keen sensitivity that makes her aware of others’ suffering, and some of the things she experienced and saw in her travels pained her deeply. In Egypt, when she was 10 years old, she walked 12 miles in a walkathon fundraiser for homeless children.

“I found this awesome quote: ‘You may think that you’re insignificant and you have no voice, but just think of the impact that one mosquito has on a room.’ I’m trying to be a mosquito.

“ … I didn’t lead an ordinary life. When adults see someone like me speaking out for horrible things that are going on around the world, they might see it in a different (perspective).”

The family returned to Fruitland three years ago. The yearning to belong was accentuated in this move, the transition from Egypt back to normal Idaho middle-school life. As Mary was off having her life adventures, so were her friends — and they were vastly different experiences. In spite of her exotic travels, she missed other things — little things that represented everything in a middle-school girl’s life.

“I was jealous of (my friends) because I had never had a boyfriend before. I had not even held a boy’s hand before. I was jealous of them, definitely; I wanted those experiences now.

“I just wanted to be like everybody else.”

Her friends had a hard time understanding what Mary had experienced, too.

“I was crying really hard the day the riots (in Egypt) happened because my dad was still there and I was really scared. … I still have many friends there (so) when they shut down Facebook — that was terrible. Nobody sympathized with me at school because they didn’t get it. …

“They don’t know what life is beyond Fruitland. They don’t know the way other people live. They don’t know what it’s like to see children sleeping on the streets. … ”

In fact, the tenuous sense of belonging made eighth grade a very difficult year, so much so that Mary sunk into a deep depression.

“I had very poor self-esteem; I never felt like I was good enough. … I didn’t know what people thought of me. …I wasn’t the friend that I am now to them, and neither were they to me.”

The turning point was a song on the radio. It was a Christian radio station, and the song’s words said, “I’ll praise you in this storm. … ” It felt like a big storm to Mary.

“I know what it’s like to feel empty — and I didn’t know I was empty then. It’s now that I’m filled with the Holy Spirit that I can look back. … ”

This dark time in her life was formative in other ways.

Although she was not bullied, Mary is now organizing an anti-bullying program at school — part of a national effort called Girl Talk, through which high school girls mentor middle school girls.

“I use my middle school experience and think about how it would have been different if I didn’t have Jesus and what could have happened to me and how a mentor could have helped me. … I won’t be able to talk about Jesus … (but) I’ll share how I felt and how seeing all these studies they have on the Girl Talk website that show so many girls feel this way — and I would never wish that upon anybody.

“As a high school student, I’m going to try and make sure nobody feels like that … empty and like there is nobody out there for you.”

She claims that she was once shy, but out of that dark time of isolation — as well as her worldly experiences — she makes a point of being one of the first to greet newcomers.

“I really want people to know that I am their friend, even if I don’t know them, so I purposefully try not to be shy. ...

“Because I know what it’s like to be the new kid. It stinks. … I want to be the one that’s there for them because that’s what I would want. ... ”

Some of this purpose of hers is born of travel, because the flip-side of the excitement is the uncertainty.

“I just wanted a home. I did have a home with my family; it just wasn’t the same. Moving from place to place, even though it was an amazing experience, it was hard on me as a child, growing up trying to figure out who I am.”

That’s where her family roots help anchor her. When Mary’s grandmother married, she moved from the Ourada Ranch to her husband’s family home in Usk, a tiny town north of Spokane. It’s where Mary’s mother grew up and where Mary and her siblings go on summer vacations.

Mary’s plans for her future, at least as far as she can see from here, branch up from her roots. She might go into the Air Force (the military is a family tradition), but either way, she plans to study biochemistry, chemistry and neuroscience before specializing in gastroenterology and doing cancer research.

“I really, really want to help people. That’s the reason why I even looked into a medical career because I want to help people so much. I went from wanting to be an artist to an author to a gastroenterologist. …

“And then I want to come back here and settle near the Ourada Ranch in Hidden Springs. (I’ll design a house) that can be almost like a family heirloom, like my grandparents’ house in Usk.”

That’s a long way away. But in the meantime, Mary is committed to being of service to others. This gives her a sense of direction, something like her own North Star, and it points to the places she calls home, in her heart and in her soul.

“ … I love the sense of accomplishment that I have when I help people, and I love making people happy; letting them know that I am there, that they are loved, that they are cared about. …

“Like at the Ourada Ranch, where everybody is cared about and nobody is more important than the other. …

“The feeling of belonging and (the feeling that) you’re special.”

Know someone living “from the heart”? Idaho Statesman photojournalist Katherine Jones spotlights someone in the Treasure Valley who influences our lives not only by what they do, but how and why they do it. Do you know someone we should know? Call 377-6414 or email kjones@idahostatesman.com.

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