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Citizens of the Year

Some parting words from the class of 2015


Each week, Boise Weekly presents a long-form question-and-answer session with persons of note from the Treasure Valley and beyond. Among our "Citizen" interviews in 2015, the advocates, athletes, caregivers, performers, teachers and more were an impressive bunch, so before we usher in the new year, we would be remiss if we didn't look back at some of 2015's luminaries.

We met one of the coolest guys in town, Tim Johnson, on one of the hottest days of the year. It was a particularly sweltering July afternoon when we stepped into the offices of Boise Cold Storage, where Johnson told us his staff likes to keep the thermostat set to what he officially called "too damn cold." Among the things we learned is that smack dab in the middle of Boise Cold Storage, founded in 1903, is a 630-foot-deep artesian well.

"When we took over the business they had all of this equipment introducing chemicals to keep the cooling towers clean," said Johnson. "We thought that was crazy. We shut them down; ripped out all of the chemical treatments. The only thing we use city water for is to hose off our loading docks but when we're producing ice, it's crystal-clean artesian water."

Someone else who spent a lot of time on ice—and snow—is Hailey Duke. On another warm summer day, we talked with the Olympic skier and Boise native about her decision to step away from the World Cup circuit and go back to college.

"Sometimes you're on the cool list, sometimes you're not," said Duke. "I've done exactly what I wanted to do... and then some... and then some more. And I was finally good with that."

When we spoke to Oscar nominee Bruce Dern last winter, he was in the Colorado mountains on the set of director Quentin Tarantino's new film, The Hateful Eight, which is currently one of the most buzzed about movies in Hollywood.

"We're shooting at 10,400 feet, right above Telluride, Colo.," Dern said. "It's actually more like an opera and, as far as I'm concerned, Quentin finally has the huge canvas that he has always deserved."

Dern was one of a long list of performers we spoke with in 2015, some of them veterans, some of them newcomers, like 11-year-old Giovanna Layne, a Cleveland, Ohio, native who spent her summer in Boise as the leading lady in Idaho Shakespeare Festival's musical The Secret Garden.

"I've never really been away from home before, except on a family trip," said Layne. "I think I've done 13 shows. I don't really keep track. When they're over, they're over. But they have already taken me quite far. If that continues, I can see this as a career."

We spoke with another musical performer, Cecilia Violetta Lopez, who had a career-changing 2015. Shortly after we talked to Lopez in February, she was offered a contract with the Metropolitan Opera to cover the role of Sylviane in the Met's spring production of The Merry Widow. She appeared this year in other productions in New York, Virginia and Minnesota, and she's scheduled to return to her home state on Jan. 29 and Jan. 31, 2016 when she'll sing the role of Violetta Valery for Opera Idaho's production of La Traviata.

"The first time I heard opera was when I watched Sesame Street as a kid—and that's how I learned English. Sesame Street used to have opera singers make cameo appearances back then," Lopez said, adding that it wasn't until many years later, while attending college, that her husband told her, "You should pursue a career in music. That's what you love to do. Why don't you do it?"

Another singer, Ingrid Michaelson, found modest success with her debut album in 2005. When her songs started popping up in episodes of ABC's hit drama Grey's Anatomy, however, she found what she called "crazy success."

"You're never really prepared," Michaelson said. "You think you are, but everything ebbs and flows. There was a huge buzz that happened immediately, and then it came down a bit, and then it was back up again. It was a surreal experience."

Author Elizabeth Gilbert also talked about the ups and downs of her professional life, especially following the publication of her wildly successful 2006 memoir Eat, Pray, Love.

"It goes from one end of the spectrum, where people write letters saying 'I detest you,' to letters saying 'You've written my bible,'" said Gilbert. "But somewhere in the middle, people said, 'Wow, I had forgotten that my life belonged to me, and thank you for reminding me that my life is mine.' The book became a giant screen on which people projected their own emotions, feelings and opinions."

Feelings and opinions were the order of the day through much of January, February and March, as the Idaho Legislature was up to its usual shenanigans, but we were impressed by three freshmen lawmakers: Democratic House members Paulette Jordan, of Plummer; John McCrostie, of Garden City; and Melissa Wintrow, of Boise.

"I wasn't veering into politics purposefully," said Jordan. "There was a need. When you have ideas, people want you to play those ideas out."

In spite of being part of a slim minority at the Statehouse, McCrostie remained optimistic about the future for Idaho Democrats.

"Democrats were able to get one more seat in the Legislature in spite of Republicans taking all of the top state offices," he said. "I really think there are some more seats that we take from the GOP."

Shortly after taking over a House seat in Boise's District 19, Wintrow said, "If there's a theme in my life, it's advocacy. Even as a child, when I saw someone being picked on, I would step in. Unfortunately, in my early life, I had a tussle or two.

"I think Democrats have a more collectivistic notion, and Republicans have a more individualistic notion of responsibility. Our social-mindedness is different in how we choose to create a community."

Some of most influential people in Gem State politics in 2015 weren't members of the Idaho House or Senate. John Reuter, for example, a preeminent environmental activist, fundraiser and all-around political animal, stepped down as executive director of Conservation Voters for Idaho. He shared some parting thoughts as he left his CVI post to move to Seattle, where he's now the director of Local and Bipartisan Strategies for the League of Conservation Voters.

"A mentor taught me that game-changing gifts require a game-changing program," said Reuter when asked about the key to successful fundraising. "If you want people to invest, then you have to have a vision and a plan to get there. You're building a community, not just raking in money at fundraisers. The real question is: How do you build a community that shares a united sense of values? The money usually follows."

One of the most sobering conversations we had in 2015 was with Boise State University political scientist Dr. Michael Allen, as he discussed the growth of the terror exported by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, aka ISIS.

"They're quite savvy with social media and they certainly have a sense of how much they're being covered by Western media. Look at how their escalated atrocities get so much free coverage," Allen said. "I would be very interested to learn more about the levels of support that they're gaining in places that they've taken over, but there's not a lot of media that is present. They capture reporters, or kidnap them."

In a lengthy conversation in July, Boise Police Chief Bill Bones spoke about his 22 years in the Boise Police Department, the need to encourage more women and minorities to join his ranks, and his desire to equip all of his patrol officers with body cameras—which will become a reality this coming spring.

"I'm asked about them all the time. And more than a few people are shocked when I say I absolutely love them. They're an incredible tool for accountability and training," said Bones, adding that he shares the public's concerns when it comes to privacy protections. "Idaho is one of the states that hasn't been too progressive on this. Yes, we should release information, but we shouldn't be compromising the privacy of someone caught in a bathrobe when they answer the door."

Saving the best for last, two of the nicest people we spent time with in 2015 were a pair of individuals that we had been trying to agree to long-form conversations for quite some time.

We had the rare opportunity to sit down with Bruce Reichert, host and executive producer of Idaho Public Television's Outdoor Idaho, and we asked him to share his insight into the current national strategy to let wildfires burn in the shadow of one of the worst wildfire seasons in history.

"I live among large ponderosa pines and Douglas firs. I'm a big believer in managing forests," said Reichert, who still commutes to Boise from his cabin in Idaho City. "I have a hunch, especially after this past year, that it's going to become a lot harder for Idaho's environmental community to push for leaving forests alone from management."

Unfortunately, the occasions for our conversation with Jim Everett was his retirement as CEO of the Treasure Valley YMCA. After first walking through the Boise Y's doors in 1977 to become a swim coach, Everett exited through those same doors in December as the man who helped grow the Y's membership base from about 3,000 to 53,000. Additionally, it is estimated that as many as 100,000 people access the Y's community programs each year.

"If I have half as much fun in the next 30 years as the last 30, I'll be a lucky man," said Everett. "I always thought I had the best job in the world, but it turns out that the best in the world is being grandpa."

To all of our 2015 citizens and every Idahoan who embraces citizenship as a privilege, our wish is for a happy, healthy and engaging new year.