Vera Dafoe has been contributing to the Mazamas for 59 years as environmental activist, climb leader, role model, and member of many organizational committees. While she successfully led 152 Mazama climbs and summited 372 mountains, garnering the 16 Peaks, Redman, Parker, and Montague Awards, Vera is most likely known as the founder and curator of the Mazamas Museum. Vera Dafoe retired her ice axe this year at age 90 but is still an active Classics Member of the Mazamas.
Vera became involved with the Mazamas in her early 30s when she and two of her children attended the multi-day Oberteuffer’s Family Camp at the Log Lodge in July 1956. Vera asked Bill Oberteuffer if he thought she could climb Mt. Hood, and he said she could, but needed to get in shape. Twenty-two days after the camp on August 19, 1956, Vera struggled to the summit of Mt. Hood with 43 Mazamas. In 1957 she and Mazamas Pat Willner and Allison Logan Belcher climbed Adams and in 1958, Vera took the Mazama Basic School and summited Mount St. Helens.
Climb Leader and Role Model
Between 1958 and 1966 Vera was climbing more often leading a rope or being an assistant leader. Her first official Mazamas climb was Mt. Hoffman on a Yosemite outing in 1966. In the 37 years between 1966 and 2003 Vera led over 152 Mazama climbs and taught Basic School for many years. She also climbed in the Alps, Dolomites, Cascades, Sierras, Selkirks, Canadian Rockies, Tetons, Olympics, Wallowas, Sawtooths and Sierra Nevada, as evidenced by her impressive eight-page climb resume.
In an oral history interview with Doug Couch she describes her philosophy of leading as follows: “It was extremely important that the first time a person is trying it’s the most important time of all and they should succeed on that first time.” She also feels strongly that women and Explorer Post girls should see positive female role models. During the 1994 Centennial year she was serving on Executive Council and was dismayed that none of the Centennial climbs were being led by women; and so she stepped forth.
In 2003, at age 75, Vera led her last Mazama climb, and in 2005 she and Cloudy Sears—Vera's daughter—ventured on Mt. Dafoe in the Nuit Range of the Coast Mountains of British Columbia. Mt. Dafoe was named by members of the Explorer Post to honor Vera’s “long-term contribution to the success of the Post.” At age 85 in 2012 Vera also joined climbs of Fay Peak, Mt. Pleasant, and First Mother with fellow Classic Ray Sheldon.
Vera gladly served on many Mazamas leadership committees through the years and was known for her insistence to do things right the first time. When Jack Grauer presented the Parker Cup to Vera in 1984 for the, “ ... person judged to have rendered services of the greatest benefit to the club during the year,” he referred to Vera as “the conscience” of the Mazamas. Chris Mackert, former Mazama president, also calls Vera the Mazamas conscience for her integrity, ability to look at things critically and analytically, and her primary concern for the interests of the Mazamas.
Not only has Vera contributed to the Mazamas as a climb leader and role model, but she also created and has been the sole curator of the Mazama Museum since 1970—over 46 years. In her oral history Vera states that she started gathering historical equipment when she noticed there were, "... various pieces around and they were really museum pieces." She cleaned the equipment, washed the clothing, and assigned catalogue numbers using a catalogue system she designed using the best museum standards. Folks began bringing artifacts to the clubrooms (our home prior to the Mazama Mountaineering Center), and the Mazama Museum began. She often requested objects for the museum, and according to long-time library volunteer Tom Dinsmore, Vera wasn’t bashful about asking for items, including posthumous requests.
Eventually items moved from Vera’s basement to the clubrooms on NW 19th street, and in 1985, following a clubroom renovation, Vera finally had two lighted cabinets to display museum items. In that year she had exhibits under four themes: snow climbing equipment such as ice axes, crampons and boots; old camping gear and pack sacks; Mazama awards and emblems; and skiing equipment.
Mazama Archivist Jeff Thomas often shared detective work with Vera and she was especially helpful with locating, obtaining, identifying, and cataloging climbing hardware and other items. Currently the museum has nailed boots, early climbing hardware, 36 alpenstocks, and 196 ice axes, including one given to William D. Hackett by Argentine dictator Juan Peron when Hackett climbed Aconcagua. Those of you who attended the Doug Robinson benefit for the library this fall also saw Ty and Marianne Kearney’s bicycle, which they took to the summit of Mt. Hood in 1946, and the magic lantern slides from C.E. Rusk’s 1910 Denali expedition, using the Mazamas 100 year-old Balopticon lantern slide projector—all part of Vera’s Museum legacy.
Our Library and Historical Collections manager Mathew Brock states that our library, archives, and museum are second only to the American Alpine Club’s and we have one of the “ ... premiere mountain artifact collections in the United States.” Mathew also commented favorably on Vera’s “ ... level of dedication and attention to detail, her professionalism, and her thoroughness and consistency for over 46 years.”
Since 1985, Vera has prepared creative displays of museum items, sometimes including her iconic marmots, and in 2001 she was recognized for her years of dedication with the Redman Cup, which honors a notable artistic contribution to the Mazamas. Barbara Marquam, in presenting the Cup, spoke of Vera’s captivating exhibit in 1999, the year Mallory’s body was found on Everest. Vera’s exhibit replicated photos of the equipment used by Mallory on Everest in 1924, " ... using strikingly similar gear from the Mazama Museum’s extensive collection to link our heritage with one of mountaineering’s most dramatic events. This display, together with more than 50 others Vera has created in 30 years of museum stewardship, showcase unique facets of the Mazamas and mountaineering culture and history. Vera captured our attention, tantalized our curiosity, kindled our imaginations and tickled our funny bones.”
The Redman Cup also honored Vera for her many Bulletin and Annual articles and other publications. Two articles in Off Belay show Vera’s playful, sometimes subversive sense of humor. One describes using “aerator sandals”, a.k.a. crampons, to aerate the lawn. In another, Female Anatomy and the Wind Chill Factor, a three-page, illustrated ”scientific treatise” explores wind chill hazards faced by the female climber, “ ... during the performance of certain bodily functions.”
Vera earned the Montague Bowl for her conservation work both in and out of the Mazamas. Ray Sheldon called Vera a watchdog for environmental issues, and she is a self-described “constructive troublemaker.” Over the years Vera was involved in many environmental issues, such as fighting the expansion of Timberline and Meadows ski areas, protecting Silver Star, the responsible re-opening of Mount St. Helens after the eruption, beginning the Mazamas involvement with the annual beach cleanup, improving the water quality standards in Bull Run, and helping to achieve wilderness designation for the Menagerie area in the Willamette National Forest. There are two Columbia Gorge victories of which she is especially proud: defeating the Port of Cascade Locks’ plan for an aerial tram to the Benson Plateau, and her work as a Gorge Commissioner to federally protect the Columbia River Gorge.
Stewardship is core to Mazama values—conserving the mountain environment, protecting our history, and sustaining a healthy organization. As Mathew Brock states, “Vera has created a lasting legacy of preservation, both historical and environmental.” During this volunteer recognition issue of the Bulletin, we only thought it fitting to thank Vera for her years of leadership in the Mazamas. We hope that you will be able to join us to thank her in person at the Classics Luncheon on January 20.