Verne Huser sailing on Due West

RIP Dad—The World Lost A Great River Man…

The world lost a great river man when Heidi’s Dad, Verne Carl Huser, left this planet on the night of the Beaver Full Moon, Nov. 18, 2021. Verne passed away peacefully in the presence of family in Salt Lake City, Utah, a few months shy of his 91st birthday. He was a longtime river runner, educator, and wilderness advocate who enlightened thousands of people on the importance of our natural resources and the priceless value of wilderness.

Verne in the original “Spanky & Our Gang” of Schulenberg, Tx; with his dog Bing; and as a Cub Scout.

Verne was born and raised in Schulenburg, Texas, and as a boy, he was in cub scouts and boy scouts and loved nature, being outdoors, and animals. At one point he even had a pet raccoon! He was 9 years old during WWII when his dad Carl went to work in the shipyards in Orange, Texas, which boomed from a population of 7,500 to 60,000 in a few years. His mom Emily also went along to Orange to teach school for a year, and they left Verne with family friends (the mayor of Schulenburg) to finish his schooling.

In high school Verne worked at the Cotton Compress in Schulenburg, driving a forklift. One day he was on his lunch break, drinking a Coke, and talking to a little five-year-old black boy named Henry Pederson (the son of a co-worker). Dad asked Henry if he wanted a Coke? Henry said “What’s a Coke?” So dad bought Henry a Coke for 5¢, opened it up, and handed it to him. Henry took a swig of the Coke and Dad asked “How’ ya like it?” And Henry replied, “It tastes like yo foot’s asleep!” Verne loved telling that story and the ensuing laughter.

Verne lettered in high school track and football; high school senior photo; and his Army enlistment photo from 1953

Verne earned a BS in Physical Education with a minor in English from the University of Texas, Austin, where he was the athletic trainer for the UT Austin baseball team when they won the College World Series in 1952. He was drafted into US Army during the Korean War era, and as luck would have it, the Korean War ended the same day Verne finished Basic Training at Fort Bliss, TX. So he was sent to England for a 16-month tour of duty. After the Army, Verne took advantage of the G.I. Bill to get his Masters in Education at Harden Simmons University, Abilene, TX. He was recruited to Hardin Simmons by Sammy Baugh (former All American Redskins Quarterback 1937-1953) who was then head football coach at HSU. Verne had been a member of the National Athletic Trainers Association and had met Sammy Baugh previously at a conference, and Sammy was impressed by Verne. Verne spent two seasons as Sammy Baugh’s head trainer at HSU.

“He was born in the summer of his 27th year
Coming home to a place he’d never been before…”

— John Denver

Like the John Denver song Rocky Mountain High, Verne always said he was born in the summer of his 27th year (1958), when he worked at the Jackson Lake Lodge. He fell in love with the Tetons and became completely enamored with river running. He returned to Jackson Hole in the summer of ‘59 to guide for Grand Teton Lodge Company float trips and continued river guiding in the Grand Teton’s off and on through the early ‘70s. Verne loved being outdoors anytime he could and being a school teacher allowed him summers off to work and play in nature. He spent the summer of 1966 as a Park Ranger at Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado when Heidi was 2.5 years old. And hiking in the Rocky Mountains are some of Heidi’s earliest memories. But Verne missed his Tetons and returned to float the Snake River in Jackson Hole, the next summer. 

Verne on his Fullbright to Greece in the early 1960s; Greek Folk dancing in California (Heidi eating her first Greek olives, forever addicted!); and Backpacking with Heidi at Rocky Mountain National Park.

Verne earned a Fulbright scholarship in Greece in the early 1960s where he spent a year teaching in Thessaloníki with Heidi’s mom Jean. Verne learned Greek folk dancing while there and bought the traditional costumes and taught Greek folk dancing in California when they returned. Verne and Jean have two children, Heidi and her brother Paul Huser (Bozeman, MT). Verne taught high school English and Drama and coached track and field in the 1960s at Santa Ynez Valley Union High and Dunn School in southern California, then in the 1970s at Jackson Hole High School in Wyoming, and in Halfway, Oregon, before a career change to environmental mediation.

Verne Huser, founder and head guide of Huser-Karp Float Trips in Seattle, guiding clients on a Western Washington river in the 1980s.

Affectionately known as the “Hyphen” in the Barker-Ewing name, Verne became the first river guide for Barker-Ewing Float Trips in 1967 and continued to float with Dick Barker and Frank Ewing at Barker-Ewing for many seasons in the ‘60s and ‘70s, returning to guide for a couple of summers in the mid-’90s. Verne was a pioneer river runner who rafted, canoed, or kayaked many western rivers including the Snake, Salmon, Rogue, Colorado, and Tatshenshini Rivers among others. As a partner in Huser-Karp Float Trips in Western Washington, he guided trips on the Skykomish, Wenatchee, and Skagit Rivers. Verne rowed the entire Grand Canyon with family and friends for the last time at age 75.

Verne & Willa early 1970s; Willa, David, and Misty camping; Paul, Heidi, and cousin Maki on a trip to the Southwest.

Verne married his second wife Willa Runyon in 1972 and helped raise her son David Sonnenreich. Verne raised his kids hiking, backpacking, camping, canoeing, white water rafting, and always with a keen respect for mother nature. In fact, Heidi took her first whitewater trip down the Main Salmon in Idaho (“the River of No Return”) when she was 8, and again at age 12. Heidi was never the whitewater fan that her brother Paul or Dad Verne were, and always felt safer on a sailboat than in a raft in a rapid! Interestingly, when we sailed Due West to Hawaii in 1996, Verne expressed concern about Heidi’s safety, to which she replied, “Dad, at least if I fall overboard I won’t hit my head on a rock!” But the photo at the top is the one sailing trip that Verne & Willa took with us in Seattle, and they enjoyed it a lot.

A lifelong birder (the lazuli bunting was his favorite bird), naturalist, natural historian, and environmental advocate (in particular wildlife habitats), Verne loved his environmental work as the Executive Director of the Utah Environment Center; Environmental Communication Specialist for Kennecott Copper; and as an Environmental Mediator with the Office of Environmental Mediation at the University of Washington, as well as mediation work in New Mexico, where he helped mediate disputes between indigenous tribes and local governments. Verne made many friends among the various Native American tribes he worked with and loved joining in their ceremonies and festivals in the Pacific Northwest and desert Southwest. Verne also spent several summers as a Naturalist for Lindblad cruises to Alaska and on the Columbia and Missouri Rivers, where he was an authority on the watercraft and river passages of the Lewis and Clark expedition.

A man outstanding in his field… and rowing the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon at age 75.

Throughout all his other adventures, Verne was a writer and photographer at heart. He began his writing career editing his high school newspaper in Schulenburg, Texas, covering the local sports scene, (where he played football and ran track), and for the big city newspapers nearby in San Antonio and Houston. He was a freelance writer and photographer for Sports Illustrated as well as many western and national newspapers and magazines including High Country News. In 1972 Verne published his first book, Snake River Guide. His other books include River Running, Canyon Country Paddles, River Camping, River Reflections: An Anthology of River Writings, Rivers of Texas, On the River with Lewis & Clark, Paddle Routes of Western Washington, and Bouncy the Giraffe, a children’s book he wrote for Heidi and Paul when they were kids.

In the 1990s Verne returned to teaching high school English at the Albuquerque Academy, in New Mexico. He was also instrumental in starting the Bernalillo County Master Naturalist Program and worked as a volunteer leading nature walks and bird walks at the Open Spaces Visitor Center and at the Rio Grande Nature Center State Park, in Albuquerque, NM. Verne was a tireless advocate for environmental causes. He worked with many state legislatures to protect wild and scenic rivers and open spaces. And he was particularly instrumental in the effort to create the Petroglyph National Monument in Albuquerque. Verne and Willa spent 50 years living in Utah, Wyoming, Washington, and New Mexico.

Through all his high school teaching, coaching, river trips, and nature walks he touched thousands of people’s lives for the better. But the one thing Verne may be most well known for amongst his friends and family is the world’s best (or WORST!) punster! All the world was a pun to Verne… and he loved spending time with his grandchildren teaching them about nature and always with a good pun… or a bad joke.

“What’s the difference between a buffalo and bison?”

“A bison’s what ya wash ya fayce in”.

Or “What do you get when you cross an elephant and a rhino?”

“Eleph i know!”

And another of Verne’s favorite was the Pelican limerick…

What a strange bird, the pelican,
His bill can hold more than his belly can,
He can hold in his beak,
Enough food for a week,
I don’t know how the hell he can

We are grateful we were able to spend some quality time with Verne in the last few years before his passing…
Breakfast at Dornan’s Chuckwagon, Moose, Wyoming; Birding in Tuscon’s Madera Canyon; and at Verne’s 90th Birthday in Albuquerque last spring.

Verne is survived by his loving wife Willa Huser (Salt Lake City), Heidi & Kirk, and sons Paul (Bozeman) and David (Salt Lake City), and their families including four grandkids, as well as many nieces, nephews, great-nieces, great-nephews, and cousins.

Red Butte Gardens, Salt Lake City, Utah

A memorial bench will be dedicated to Verne later this spring at Red Butte Gardens, Salt Lake City, Utah. If you’d like to contribute to the bench, please mark your donation “in memory of Verne Huser”. Donations may be mailed to: Red Butte Garden, Attn: Development Department, 300 Wakara Way, Salt Lake City UT 84108, given in person, over the phone at (801) 581-3341 or online at https://redbuttegarden.org/memorials-and-tributes/

We know that Verne is now floating rivers in the great beyond. A memorial will be held next September in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in conjunction with Barker-Ewing Float Trip’s 60th Anniversary.

Darcy Cruwys & Paul Huser, Red Butte Gardens, sitting on a similar bench to one that will be dedicated for Verne.

8 Comments

  1. Deborah Libby on December 24, 2021 at 8:41 pm

    What a beautiful tribute, Heidi. I’m so sorry for your loss.

    • admin-heidi on December 24, 2021 at 9:05 pm

      Thanks so much Deborah, happy Christmas!

  2. Mary & Giff on December 24, 2021 at 9:50 pm

    Heidi, You have an amazing gift with words and storytelling. The tribute to your Dad tells a story of a life well lived. He must have been very proud of you. Giff and I send our heartfelt sympathies over the loss of your Dear Dad. Be well, be safe and we wish you and Kirk a bright and peaceful Holiday.

    • admin-heidi on December 24, 2021 at 10:04 pm

      Thanks so much for your sweet words, Mary & Giff. Happy Christmas to you!!

  3. Jill Peterson on December 24, 2021 at 11:40 pm

    Heidi, your dad sounds amazing. He lived such an adventurous life.

    A life well lived ❤️❤️ I’m sure he was so proud of you and Kirk.

    Live bravely and well,

    Hugs, jill

    • Heidi on January 1, 2022 at 7:50 pm

      Thanks so much Jill, he was a great guy, I feel so lucky to have had him for a Dad!

  4. Sal Chinnici on December 27, 2021 at 3:56 pm

    A great story of a great man! Happy to have met him years ago. Hugs all around!!

    • Heidi & Kirk on January 1, 2022 at 7:47 pm

      Thanks so much Sal, so glad you had the opportunity to Dad! xo

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