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Podcast Series

What Did We Get Ourselves Into?

There is an old adage that “it takes a village to raise a child.” This is also true for the United States Forest Service, a sprawling outfit that employs 30,000 people spread over nine regions and across 600 ranger districts ranging anywhere from 50,000 to more than 1 million acres. This expansive organization has always required the help of an army of unpaid wives, sons, and daughters.

”What Did We Get Ourselves Into?” tells the stories of those intrepid women who gave their lives to “the outfit” without any expectation of notoriety or reward. Over the course of several episodes, listeners will hear stories of rugged terrain, unforgiving dirt roads, spartan housing accommodations, difficult childbirths, wild animal encounters, and much more. They will be taken inside a world that time has left behind, a world powered by loud diesel generators, crank telephones, and wood stoves. And amidst all these obstacles and inconveniences, Forest Service wives stood resilient, ready to overcome any challenge with a stoic determination and can-do attitude. “What Did We Get Ourselves Into?” is essential listening that acknowledges those ordinary families who made extraordinary efforts to achieve “The Greatest Good.”

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Episode 6

For our sixth and final episode of this series, we turn to the remarkable story of Joanne McElfresh. Joanne was born in 1934 and bounced around the country as an army brat before returning to Missoula to attend the University of Montana, where she earned a forestry degree, a rare feat for a woman at that time. In 1957, Joanne joined the agency, becoming the first female forester ever hired by the United States Forest Service.

Along the way, she also became a forest service wife, marrying fellow forester Richard McElfresh. Joanne spent decades working on the ground across Montana’s National Forests as a respected forester, aerial photography analyst, and timber management specialist. Still a Montana resident to this day, we were lucky enough to conduct what we believe is the first oral history interview with Joanne in February 2022. She was exactly what you would expect from such a trailblazer: candid, forthright, and hilarious. Through her interview, you will hear what it was like to break into the outfit in the 1950s,  and how she opened the door for herself and future women who proved that they belonged in the forest, right alongside their male colleagues.

Episode 5

In our fifth installment of “What Did We Get Ourselves Into?” we look at the world through the eyes of Joyce O’Neal, a southern belle who married her childhood sweetheart Sonny and began a lifelong journey through the outfit. As husband and wife, they grew alongside the forests that Sonny called home. They persevered together through tragedies and hardships but always found a way to laugh in spite of it all.

Episode 4

In our fourth episode, we take a journey alongside Carl and Vicki Pence, two Idaho natives who ventured hand-in-hand through the peaks and valleys of life. Over a forty-year career together in the Forest Service, Carl and Vicki survived historic blizzards, menacing wildfires, and moments of intense grief. Still smitten all these decades later, they are living examples of the transformative power of love.

Episode 3

In Episode Three we look at the world through the eyes of Carma Bosworth. From her small-town beginnings, Carma went on to travel the Mountain West with her husband Dale, a second-generation forester who would go on to become Chief of the whole outfit. Throughout his 41-year stint in the Forest Service, Carma stood with Dale as they rose through the ranks and moved over a dozen times.

Episode 2

In the second episode of “What Did We Get Ourselves Into?” we explore the life of Linda Hicks, who married into the Forest Service in 1967 and started a journey that swept her from the banks of the Red River in Shreveport, Louisiana to the mountains of Missoula, Montana, and everywhere in between. Along the way she lived in cabins without electricity, trailers stalked daily by grizzly bears, and endured a series of hardships that would test even the strongest pioneers of the early West.

Episode 1

In the debut episode of “What Did We Get Ourselves Into?” NMFSH Oral Historian James Wall interviews Dr. Rachel Kline about her forthcoming history of the role of women in the United States Forest Service and the experiences of the early wives who “married the outfit.”

Watch for new issues to be released monthly!

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