Donna Marie Ellis Soest, 94, a 73-year resident of Jackson Hole, died Aug. 5 at her ranch home with family. Her family provided the following.
Donna Marie Ellis was born in Marshalltown, Iowa, on Dec. 17, 1925, to Sara (Miller) and Victor Ellis. She grew up in Big Thompson Canyon, Colorado, where she and her siblings, Jim, Dorothy and JoAnn, played outdoors amid the gorgeous scenery of Weldon’s Ranch and Granny’s Mountain.
In 1936 the Ellis family moved to Fort Collins, Colorado, where Donna attended high school and Colorado A&M (now Colorado State University). Donna took many home economics classes and worked in the high-altitude cooking lab while enjoying college life in the post-Depression years. While participating in “independent” social activities, she met her husband-to-be, Hugh Soest, who was a transfer student from the University of Wyoming. They both had summer jobs in Yellowstone National Park in their college years — Hugh as a firefighter and Donna in hospitality at Canyon Lodge. They were married on Easter Sunday in Fort Collins in 1947 and soon thereafter moved to Jackson Hole with several friends from Laramie.
The couple founded Jackson Lumber, then purchased a sawmill to supply the lumber store. In 1955 they bought Twin Creek Ranch and set about converting it from a registered cattle operation to a family farm and dude ranch. Donna honed her creative homemaking skills remodeling numerous log cabins into comfortable rentals for visitors who frequently became good friends. Both daughters, Susan and Sandra, were born in Jackson and raised on the ranch. Donna jokingly said she “earned her Mrs. degree” in college, but her home economics studies were exceedingly useful as a mother, guest ranch operator and businesswoman. She was a gracious hostess and a fine example of a life well-lived.
Throughout her life Donna loved to entertain and cook. She always preferred to cook with fresh, wholesome ingredients and is renowned in her family for her bread and pies. The final month of her life, she was preparing her own meals and enjoying her cookbooks with reading help from her caregivers and family.
Her sewing expertise yielded many clothes for her family, as well as dozens of her fabric “LaLa bears.” Her other passions included flower and vegetable gardening (with hundreds of boxes of frozen peas), and she had a vast knowledge of nutrition and skills for living a healthy lifestyle. Still able to live independently at 94, she was an exemplary role model.
Early years in Jackson Hole found Donna participating in a variety of community events: teaching first aid for the Red Cross, skiing at Snow King and sewing and cooking to local 4-H’ers. Later she was active in Business and Professional Women, the Soroptimists, Cowbelles, the Farm Bureau and the St. John’s Hospital Auxiliary.
Donna joined Hugh on the advisory board of Up With People, an international organization that provided educational opportunities for young people to travel the world with a musical message of peace and hope. Whenever the group visited Jackson Hole the couple enjoyed hosting students. Cast members recall Hugh and Donna as a welcome “second set of parents” when they had an opportunity to join the cast tours.
Donna expanded her artistic endeavors in the late 1960s with local artist Margaret Feuz, first with oil paints, then watercolors, which became her preferred medium. She enjoyed painting a wide variety of subjects including flowers, landscapes, still life, cabins, and scenes from Jackson Hole in all seasons. When they wintered in Arizona, Donna continued to paint the colorful Southwest scenery, her gardens, and native motifs. She won a number of grand champion prizes at the Teton County Fair and sold her pieces at local art galleries. In recent years she created greeting cards from her watercolors.
The couple spent many winters in the Elgin/Sonoita area of southeastern Arizona, where Donna continued to paint and garden where there was no snow. Many friendships were enjoyed as they participated in the Elgin Club, a local group that held cookouts, dances and dinners and hosted at the local horse races and rummage sales in support of the area’s fire and emergency services. She joined the Arizona Cowbelles and participated in their annual Rhinestone Roundup fundraiser, and she and Hugh continued their involvement in Tucson-based Up With People. She and Hugh were active in the Sonoita Hills Community Church and the local Ducks Unlimited organization.
Now Donna has joined her beloved husband, Hugh, in heaven. She is survived by her sister, JoAnn Rumley, of Estes Park, Colorado, and daughters Susan Johansson, of Star Valley Ranch, and Sandra Rodeck (Larry), of Jackson. She is also survived by grandchildren Christine Johansson, of Pinole, California; Malcolm (Amy) Rodeck and their children, Noah and Olivia, of Helena, Montana; and Cameron (Marissa) Rodeck and Sara Rodeck, both of Colorado Springs Colorado.
Private family services will be held. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to First Baptist Church, Turning Point of Jackson Hole and the Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum.
Those who wish to express their condolences to the family may send them to 469 Vista Drive No. 7085, Star Valley Ranch, WY 83127.