Wouldn't you know the day Mildred Hedrick got the good news was the one day in her 73-year history on which she was physically incapable of talking?
"Yep, I had the flu," Mildred confirms, "lost my voice entirely and all I could do was shake my hands at everyone and stomp on the floor, and naturally, they thought I was trying to be funny."
But this was also the only day anyone can remember that Mildred was not trying to be funny at all. Actually, she was intensely moved, as was her husband, Ed.
"We were overwhelmed!" Mildred recalls. "We sat there and cried. I mean it. Ed's 77 and I'm 73, and to get recognition like this! This is important!"
As any snowmobiler with a grasp of pomp and circumstance could tell you, it is not every day that one gets inducted into the International Snowmobile Hall of Fame. It is once in a lifetime.
"But who deserves it more?" asks Mary Jacobi, public relations director for the Mile-Hi Snowmobile Club of Denver. "Mildred's arthritis has made it tough for her to snowmobile in the past couple of years, and Ed's eyesight is going, but they still work like Trojans. They've done everything for this sport."
In twenty years of active snowmobiling--which the Hedricks prefer to call snowbashing--everything has included making peace with cross-country skiers, marking national forest trails, holding rowdy outdoor cookouts and riding, riding, riding. "We've really started to enjoy ourselves now that we're all crippled up," Mildred told Westword during a 1988 ride. "What's so great about it? I could hardly describe it. The very first snow with no marks on it, and you're floating across it; you feel free."
A typical sentiment for a dedicated snowmobiler--or, at least, that's what Elmer Cone of Grand Rapids, Minnesota (population 7,000), would tell you. Cone founded the International Hall of Fame three years ago after almost three decades of working in snow country parks and rec. "I'd been building trails and that, see?" he relates. "I worked with cross-country skiers and all types, okay, but with the snowmobilers, they done everything all by themselves, never asked for money, volunteering all the time, see. I thought to myself, geez, somewhere along the line we gotta recognize these people. And I thought, geez, we all have the same problems. Let's see if we can't do this internationally."
Cone contacted 37 state snowmobiling organizations, asking for nominations to the Hall of Fame. The plan was to have a panel of judges select the top three nominees each year--and fete them at a weekend-long seminar in Grand Rapids. Naturally, the Mile-Hi club immediately began lobbying in favor of the Hedricks.
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"But it took some doing," Jacobi says. "They accepted only individuals. We were told Ed and Mildred as a couple would be considered ineligible."
What to do? Ed and Mildred, as their friends well know, are nothing if not a unit. "Finally this year, I came up with the perfect phrase," Jacobi says. "I told them, `It would be an insult to separate them or their accomplishments.'" The judges agreed, and the nomination came through--in no small part because of the photo scrapbook put together by Ellen Shackleford of the Mile-Hi club.
"I showed everything they had done to help snowmobiling," Shackleford says. "I had a picture of them marking trails and one where they were pulling a caravan of sleds full of food for a cookout. One with Ed snowmobiling past a camel. One with me and Mildred jumping around inside some garbage sacks."
"She called it The Colorful Life of Mildred," Mildred says, "and it's beautiful. And the trophy we're getting, oh, it's beautiful, too--shaped kind of like an iceberg. What an honor."
And that's only the beginning. "We will put them up at the Saw Mill Inn," Elmer Cone says. "They will be treated with royalty."
On February 26 Ed and Mildred--as the collective twentieth inductee into the Hall of Fame--will be flown, free of charge, to Grand Rapids. Along with 200 attendees from all over the snow states, they will enjoy a display of snow-grooming equipment, an outdoor barbecue, a get-acquainted hour and "tours to a mine or something, some kind of a wonderful outing or tour," Mildred says. "But the best part is, we'll get to try out some new snowmobiles. In Minnesota! We've never ridden in Minnesota before. Can you imagine?"
Can you imagine doing it with cataracts--which both Hedricks have--and crippling arthritis? "Well, you can't just stop snowmobiling," Mildred says, aghast. "You can slow down, but you can't stop. Why, this weekend we're going up on Rabbit Ears Pass. It'll probably be forty below. You know what we say? No problem.