The sun sometimes rose twice a day for friends of Anne Whitbeck—once to bring morning light, and again when she arrived.
Aunt Annie kept the promise she made at her nephews’ birth, always doing her best to be their own fun-loving Auntie Mame.
To the members of her Boulder recovery community, she was the person who reached out to struggling newcomers, then became a trustworthy, supportive, and loving friend.
The residents of Silver Gate, Montana, tucked between the Beartooth Mountains of Montana and Yellowstone National Park, lovingly called Anne the “mayor” of Silver Gate.
She was a tireless advocate and ambassador for the wolves that were reintroduced to Yellowstone in 1995—the first wolves to live in the park since the last pack had been destroyed 70 years earlier—and a dedicated birder who introduced her passion to countless neophytes.
Outdoor recreationists in Boulder remember Anne as the friendly, fun, informative manager of Gerry Mountaineering/Mountain Sports for nearly three decades.
And for the rest of the world, of course, she always had a wink.
Anne Hardison Whitbeck died March 8, 2017 at Boulder Community Health Foothills Hospital, of respiratory failure, due to chronic pulmonary obstructive disease. She was 78.
Anne was born March 20, 1938 in Summit, New Jersey to Dorothy Hardison Whitbeck and John MacNair Whitbeck, Sr.
Always full of life, as a rambunctious teenager she was sent to the Grier School for Girls in Birmingham, Pennsylvania. She went on to graduate from Colby Junior College, a girls’ school in New London, New Hampshire, in 1958.
She came to Boulder for the first time in 1959, to be a bridesmaid in her brother John’s wedding to Helen. She liked it so much that she went back to New Jersey, packed up her gear, and moved in with the newlyweds. John and Helen joke that a bridesmaid joined them for the honeymoon.
Then, like so many Colorado émigrés, she decided to become a ski bum, living and working in Aspen. After two years of that life, she moved to Denver to work for an advertising agency, and in 1965, she finally “came home” to Boulder.
Anne first worked for Jack Beattie at Alpine House before taking a job as manager of Gerry Mountaineering (which later became Mountain Sports) - the job her brother John had just vacated to take the same position at Holubar Mountaineering. For the next several decades, they were competitors, but always of the friendliest sort.
On June 9, 1973, Anne married Noel Young, becoming the beloved stepmother to his daughters, Erika and Lynne, and son, Barry. Anne and Noel owned and operated the Montgomery House Frame Shop and Art Gallery at 741 Pearl Street for many years. They shared a love of Mendocino County, California, where Anne loved the wildflowers, especially the cheerful white-and-yellow Shasta daisies.
Anne shared her enthusiasm for mountains and wilderness with the children, and she and Noel took them on frequent camping and backpacking expeditions.
“I never owned a pair of hiking boots until she bought me some,” Erika recalls.
The couple later divorced, but Anne maintained close relationships with the children for the rest of her life.
In the 1990s, Anne fell in love with the Yellowstone wolves, buying a cabin in Silver Gate, her adopted “spiritual home," so she could spend two months each spring and autumn living next to the park. She assisted in research efforts and became an angel to the volunteers and scientists supporting the reintroduction effort, often bringing them meals in the field. Perhaps most important, she was a tireless ambassador for the wolves, actively encouraging tourists to view their remarkable lives through her spotting scope.
“No matter how cold the morning, how windy the day, how long the watch, Anne was always there for all of us with a smile and a hug,” recalls Jim Halfpenny, author, wilderness instructor, expert tracker, and former director of CU Boulder’s Mountain Research Station.
“I once commented on the massive quantity of food she kept tucked away in her Montana cabin,” Jeff remembers, “and Annie responded, ‘Who else would feed the wolf watchers?’ In a world of too many takers, on March 8 we lost a giver!”
In Boulder, Anne was known for her amazing dinner parties, infectious passion for birding, and volunteer work for Community Foodshare and other organizations. She adored her “kitties” and loved being a beloved auntie.
“To me, Annie was a second mother and dear friend,” says nephew John Whitbeck.
Late in life, Anne made a decision to stop drinking and became actively involved in her recovery community. She made a habit of approaching struggling newcomers and inviting them to breakfast, then continually supporting them in their own recovery while becoming a friend who attended their children’s performances or introduced them to birding. Whenever anyone from the community called, Anne was there for them. She would have celebrated 14 years of sobriety on April 1.
Anne spent the last years of her life on oxygen, battling chronic respiratory illness. She was frank about the fact that smoking had caused the disease and offered her experience, strength, and hope in warning people about the dangers of tobacco use.
Kind, generous, bubbly, passionate, and helpful, Anne is missed by all who knew her.
“Annie was an adopter and a rescuer of people and animals for an hour, a day, a lifetime,” nephew Jeff Whitbeck recalls. “She gave her time, she gave food, she shared her knowledge, and she gave an unquantifiable amount of moral support to friends, strangers, cats, wolves, and owls, without any expectation of repayment.”
She is survived by her brother John Whitbeck and his wife, Helen; nephews John and Jeff Whitbeck; stepdaughters Erika Snyder and Lynne Medvetz; countless friends; and her beloved cats, Jackson and Oreo, who are looking for a home.
She was preceded in death by her parents, and her stepson, Barry Young.
Contributions in her memory may be made to the Wolf Fund at yellowstone.org or Yellowstone Forever, P.O. Box 117, Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190.
A celebration of Anne’s life will be announced at a future date.