Inger Køedt 1915-2021: Introduction to her Celebration of Life

Hello, I am Lise Kreps, Inger’s only grandchild. I’d like to tell you a bit about her life.

Inger Kongsted was born in Denmark in 1915, during World War I, and survived the 1918 Flu epidemic. When King Tut’s tomb was discovered in 1922, Inger enjoyed wearing the fake Egyptian jewelry that was the all the rage for little girls. She grew up loving gardening with her father, swimming, hiking in the woods, and sailing with her friends. When she was fifteen, her beloved father was shot by a burglar in their home- unheard of, at the time; he tragically died in her arms. Through her high school friend Elli, Inger met Elli’s brother Bob Peschcke-Køedt, a dashing young architecture student. They married when Inger was 20. Two years later their daughter Bonnie was born, followed by Anne in 1939.

In 1940, Nazi Germany invaded Denmark.. Bob and Inger both joined the Resistance. Very early in the war, Inger bicycled by a Nazi soldier sitting with his Danish girlfriend. Inger hated the smell of the Nazi compound, and ostentatiously held her nose as she rode past. The soldier immediately threw her in jail overnight. The Danish police were still officially in charge, so they were able to pick up this “lawbreaker” and take her home in the morning, with a warning not to be so foolhardy next time.

Three years later, when the Nazis decided to round up the Danish Jews, Inger and Bob joined many other Danes in the rescue. Their family summerhouse was on the Danish coast near neutral Sweden – you can see their lights, only a few kilometres across the Sound. Inger was pregnant and caring for their two little girls, but she and Bob opened their home in Copenhagen to their Jewish countrymen, harbouring them until they could escape by boat to Sweden. Later, Inger and the little girls laid low in the summerhouse while Bob went underground to hide from the Nazis. As Inger said later, she was scared, but it was just “what had to be done.” The innocent Jewish families, trembling from fear as they fled for their lives, made a lifelong impression on Bonnie, age six. Peter was born the next spring, in 1944.

After the war, Inger and Bob were keen for a new adventure in California, where Bob had been born when his father was a visiting music professor. Bob’s sister and aunt were already living there, and Bob & Inger’s friends the Raffle family sponsored them. Bob always swore at the Danish rain, and longed for sunnier days. Inger recalled how excited she was on their last night in their packed-up house in Copenhagen, before the family boarded the freighter ship for a month-long trip through the Panama Canal, finally arriving in Palo Alto, California in June 1951. Only Bob spoke much English, and the family had very little money, but their optimistic spirit carried them through. Bob’s brother Bibber and his wife Ditter joined them a few years later and raised their children Lisa, Nina, and Christian there.

In 1956 Bob got a job inspecting the construction of Colter Bay Resort on Jackson Lake. Inger, Peter and Bob moved into staff housing at Jackson Lake Lodge. Anne, Bonnie, and Bonnie’s husband Rodney worked summers at the Lodge, and Bonnie and Rodney were married there. Later, Inger and Bob lived for two years at Anchor Ranch, where Inger was the dude ranch cook. When the Mangy Moose opened in 1967, Inger was its first menu planner and cook – and she enjoyed the free downhill ski passes. She always said cooking for the Mangy Moose was a lot easier than cooking for dudes.

After her husband Olaus passed away, their friend Mardy Murie asked if they would like to rent one of the log houses on her Murie Ranch in Moose. So they became Mardy’s next-door neighbours and good friends for nearly 40 years, moving into what is now known as the Estes Cabin. Inger encouraged Mardy to become an environmental lobbyist in her own right. Bob set up his architectural design studio in a tiny cabin next to their home, and created many houses throughout Jackson Hole. He was especially pleased that he finally convinced Jack Dornan to add the picture window, with a view of the Tetons, to his bar in Moose.

Inger liked to put out crusts of her delicious homemade bread for the friendly resident porcupine, “Porky” – made famous by Tom Mangelsen’s photo “Inger’s Window.” Porky turned up her soft little nose at store-bought bread. Mardy called Porky a “darned nuisance” because she liked to nibble on Mardy’s salty linoleum front porch, but eventually even Mardy warmed a bit to Porky’s charms.

Inger’s three children and I, and later my daughter Sarah, visited many summers and Christmases over the years. In 1972 Bonnie, made a film about Inger, Portrait of My Mother, to show that “older women” could still lead interesting lives. Mardy and Barb Barker also appear in the film. Inger was 57 at the time – and made chopping wood look effortless. (Watch the trailer below

or watch the whole movie on Youtube.)

After living in Canada for a number of years, both Bonnie and Peter moved back to Jackson Hole. After Bob’s death in 1992, Bonnie renamed his studio “Moviewood.” There, she and Charlie Craighead made their feature film Arctic Dance: the Mardy Murie Story. Inger and Bonnie then moved to the log house in Jackson, with less snow to shovel.

Peter and Inger loved backcountry ski trips, and sometimes slept in igloos they buiIt. Inger was 62 when she and Peter climbed the Grand Teton – over 13,000 feet high. Looking down the thousands of feet sheer drop from “Wall Street,” Inger said, “Peter, this is the dumbest place you have ever brought me!” But she made it to the top with Peter, an expert climber and skier. Peter died of cancer in 2010.

Inger visited Denmark with Anne and Anne’s spouse Ellen, to help Ellen research her book Darkness Over Denmark about the Danish Resistance, which includes stories and photos of Inger and her family. Back in Wyoming, Inger spoke to schools and Jewish groups, and gave a newspaper interview at age 95, as she felt very strongly that fascism should never be forgotten or allowed to rise again.

Inger was always very active in the Valley. In the early 1960s, she ran a coffee shop in Jackson – a favorite place for folk singers and young people. She loved the Climbers’ Ranch Teton Tea Parties, and later the Hootenannies. Among her many activities, she started the Jackson Hole foreign student exchange program, worked on recycling and affordable housing, helped bring the Anne Frank exhibit to Jackson Hole, sat on the board of Teton Science School, and helped to start the Murie Center here to continue Mardy’s and Olaus’ legacies.

Inger loved the Valley and its people, and always made many friends of all ages. You couldn’t go anywhere in Jackson with her, without someone greeting her, “Hi, Inger!” For decades, she met regularly with her friends the Lunch Ladies. For her 90th birthday, her friends bought her new cross-country skis. Bonnie remarked seriously, “Now I’ll really have to race to keep up with her!” At 93, she campaigned in Jackson with a sign reading “Great-grandmas for Obama!” A big party in her home celebrated her 100th birthday, and that summer she went river rafting with her friend Patty Ewing. At 103, Inger’s recipes were published by her friends Reade Dornan and Annie Newcombe. And for her 105th birthday Bill Briggs and other friends gave her a special bluegrass concert. She had a great sense of humour. When asked the secret of living to 105, she replied confidently, “Dark chocolate and red wine!” In the last years of her life, so many of Inger’s friends helped her, and we her family are tremendously grateful to all of you.

During the pandemic, Inger’s nurse Sylvia Vroman and her husband Jerry kindly cared for her in their own home. When Juliet and I married on Christmas Eve 2020 in Canada, Sylvia helped Inger watch the wedding on Zoom. Inger still recognized the Danish bridal waltz, played at her own wedding 85 years before. Sylvia was with Inger when she passed away peacefully on August 16th, 2021, at the ripe old age of 106. Inger had no faith in any religion or afterlife; she was inquisitive and philosophical, but very pragmatic and down to earth. Yet, shortly before she died, she said each of her deceased family members visited her in turn, and she saw a light shining through a half open door, up high… We can only hope that, someday, Inger may greet us on the other side.

Anne is still in New York City, where she has lived for over 60 years. Nine years ago, Bonnie moved back to British Columbia to be near me and Sarah. Unfortunately neither Anne’s nor Bonnie’s health allowed them to travel here today. But Inger and all of you are in their hearts. Thank you all for being here with us today, in person and on Zoom.

I’ve outlined the facts of Inger’s life, but facts cannot convey her wonderful spirit. For that, we need all the terrific stories her friends and family know from her century-plus of living life to the fullest.

I’ll begin, with the Hairbrush Story. When I was 15 and visiting Inger and Bob, my hair was as long as it is now. I spent all day looking for my hairbrush, before I found it in the freezer – where I left it when I took out the frozen orange juice at breakfast. Inger, who was then only 62, told me, “Remember this, because when you are 80 you’re going to think you’re losing your marbles. But really, you were always like this.” Too true!

Now it’s someone else’s turn to share a memory of Inger.

(With thanks to Anne Køedt for writing Inger’s bio for the cookbook, and allowing me to crib from it.)

Sep 15, 2022