The Lloyd Jensen Collection of Vardis Fisher Novels, Research Materials and Memoriabilia
A commentary on the collection
Lloyd Jensen and Vardis Fisher, friends and neighbors in Hagerman, Idaho
Robert Lloyd Jensen was born July 24, 1914, at Joplin Montana, a son of Henry and Erma Jensen. The family moved to Gooding< Idaho, in 1917, and then to the Hagerman valley in 1925 to the Triple J Ranch at the north end of the valley bordered by the Snake River and Malad River. He graduated from Hagerman High in 1932 and was married to Erma Kiser in 1937. They operated Lloyd's Café in Hagerman from 1937 to 1944. They were divorced in 1944. After service two years in the Army Air Corps, he was discharged in 1946 and took over the Rock Lodge Motel and Store from his father. He lived there for 13 years with his family in the home he and his second wife Charlotte built on Billingsley Creek. In 1960 he moved to Elko, Nevada, where he owned and operated a Phillips 66 truck stop and café and was a building contractor. He then moved back to Hagerman in 1966. Charlotte died that same year. He was a real estate broker in the valley for 17 years. He married Mary Sullivan Knox in 1970. They ran Idaho State Bank and established two more branches, including the local bank in Hagerman. They were divorced in 1979. He married Alice Jewett in 1980 and they lived on Gridley Island, south of Hagerman, for over 10 years. He died October 7, 1990, survived by his wife Alice (deceased 2008), son Robert Jensen of Richland, Washington (deceased 2007); four daughters, Sidney Bokovoy of Hagerman; Kaye Jensen Nubel of La Quinta, CA; Charlotte Ray Triplet of Roseville, CA; and Joan Vliet of Hagerman.
It was always Lloyd Jensen's hope that one day Vardis Fisher would be acknowledged for his invaluable contributions to literature. It was this dedication that was the inspiration to assemble and donate the Lloyd Jensen Fisher Collection. Perhaps future generations will come to appreciate the unique wisdom, talents, and insights of Vardis Fisher.
Lloyd Jensen and Vardis Fisher were friends for over 30 years. They became friends shortly after Fisher moved to the Hagerman Valley in the early 1940's. Jensen owned the Rock Lodge north of Hagerman and built a home there on Billingsley Creek. They helped each other build houses and landscape them. They loved to argue with one another and share more than a drink or two. Over the years Lloyd Jensen collected several hundred books, pamphlets, post cards from Fisher, and other memorabilia. He was an avid reader and had read all of Fisher's books. Fans of Fisher often stopped by to buy and sell books, visit with him, and exchange stories. He collected Fisher books and memorabilia until he died in the fall of 1990 at age 76.
There was a time, after Fisher died and his wife Opal left their home in the Hagerman Valley and moved to Boise, that the home and its contents were being vandalized. Jensen worried about the manuscripts and books that were being neglected and destroyed and the importance of all this information to Fisher's legacy. He boxed up the items he was able to salvage and sent them to Opal in Boise in order that his friend's work could be saved for future generations.
To view a list of the contents in the Lloyd Jensen collection, see the finding aid.
Lloyd Jensen remembers Vardis Fisher
Quote from an interview with Tim Woodward on October 12, 1985, and included in his book Tiger On The Road, published 1989, page 216 -218.
Lloyd Jensen, a friend for nearly thirty years, knew him as a man who was always willing to give of his time and energies to help his friends and neighbors. "He and I helped build the old memorial hospital at Hagerman," Jensen recalled. "It was built on some property that had some big poplars on it, and we had to go down there and grub out the stumps. It was a community project, and Vardis must have worked on it for a month. He worked hard, and loved doing it. He helped me out at my house, too, pouring concrete or anything else that had to be done. He loved to work hard and was always willing to help."
Jensen recalled a time when a mutual neighbor casually mentioned to Fisher that he wanted to plant some trees along a driveway leading to his house. A few days later, Fisher was there, shovel in hand. By that evening he had planted the trees that still line both sides of a quarter-mile long driveway.
Jensen also remembered that Fisher "was always taking food to Archie (Teater). Archie eventually became a famous artist, but when he was getting started he damned near starved. He had the idea he could just paint and somehow the money would come in. Fisher was always taking him beef and potatoes and things. If it hadn't been for him, I don't know what Archie would have done."
Years later, Jensen and Fisher came to Teater's aid when he was building his home, the only Frank Lloyd Wright designed house in the state. Teater's wife was supervising the project and had succeeded in running off one contractor after another. When it became apparent that there was no one left who was willing to work on the roof, Teater asked Fisher and Jensen to finish it for him. They did, and also finished building his fireplace. For their efforts, Mrs. Teater paid them a dollar an hour.
In the aftermath of his falling out with J.H. Gipson, Fisher asked Jensen to drive him to the Caxton plant to help get a load of his books that were being stored there. Jensen recalled that the books were shrink-wrapped, three to a package. Some, he said, were deluxe, leather-bound editions, which now would sell for a hundred dollars apiece or more.
"When we got back, Fisher wanted to give me something for my help," Jensen said. "I didn't want him to because he was always helping me with projects, and I was more than glad to do it. Finally he said that if I wouldn't take anything else, he'd at least sell me as many of the books as I wanted at what he said was Caxton's price on them. I ended up buying about a hundred of them."
The price: thirty cents a book.
Telephone interview with Tim Woodward October 12, 1985, and included in his book Tiger On The Road, page 248.
On Sunday the seventh (of July 1968), Fisher's friend and neighbor Lloyd Jensen came to call. Jensen recalled that Fisher had been drinking, and that he seemed to be upset. He said he was worried about some personal problems, and, as Jensen put it, "didn't know what to do. . . He was not a happy man."
He also appeared to be concerned about his wife's financial security.
"He had a little piece of land across the creek from their house, and he arranged to sell it to me," Jensen said. "We were going to set it up with monthly payments and all. The next day, he came by and left a card in my mailbox saying to forget the whole thing, that it was just the whiskey talking. The next night he got very drunk, took a bottle of Valium, and died."
Quote from Tim Woodward in an email to Kaye Jensen Nubel, Feburary 26, 2001. "Your dad was a kind man and one of my best sources when I was writing the biography."
Kaye Jensen Nubel remembers Vardis Fisher
The Fishers often visited Lloyd and Charlotte Jensen at their home on Billingsley Creek. My sister, Charlotte Ray, and I would sit at the top of the stairs and eavesdrop. The discussions would turn into arguments between Dad and Vardis and get louder and louder. They loved to argue on almost any topic. Sometimes Vardis would storm angrily out of the house taking Opal with him. Within a couple of days a post card would arrive and they would be friends again.
In the fall of 1958 when I was a freshman at Idaho State College in Pocatello, Idaho, I had to write a paper for Professor Ebling in Freshman English. I thought a paper on one of Fisher's books would be an interesting project. I doubt I asked Vardis for the information as I was greatly intimidated by the man. I think Dad must have requested it for me. Anyway I was given a manila envelope with all the reviews of his recently published A Tale of Valor about the Lewis and Clark expedition, and an outline to follow in writing my paper. A very generous and thoughtful gesture on his part I must say of which I neglected to take full advantage. I waited until the last minute and put the paper together rather hastily and turned it in. My professor was very impressed that I knew Fisher which probably got me the B+ on the assignment. Next trip home I walked down the long lane to Fisher's home and met him on the way to the house. He looked at me and asked what grade I received. When I told him a B+, he looked me straight in the eye and said, "To hell with you," and walked away. Opal gave me a cold drink and tried to soothe my well deserved hurt feelings.
I received a note from Vardis and Opal upon my engagement to be married:
August 8, 1964
To Donita Kaye Jensen to be transformed presently into Mrs. Vincent Andrew Nubel, one of our favorite younger persons all these years we send our cordial and affectionate best wishes for a happy and successful marriage.
(signed) Vardis Fisher Opal
(copy included in collection)
Opal Fisher visiting at the Jensen ranch, 1970
In 1967 I remember he and Opal joined our family for dinner at my Uncle Bud Jensen's ranch north of Hagerman. My husband Vince and I had recently finished graduate school at the University of Maryland and had a 6-month-old boy, Michael Lloyd. Vardis was full of questions about current university life, the East Coast, and even the Gerber baby food I was feeding my son. He was very charming and interested in our lives.
I recall after Vardis died Opal came to visit the River Ranch in Glenns Ferry, Idaho, where Dad was now living. Opal, my sister Sidney Bokovoy, and I sat on the bank of the Snake River well into the wee hours discussing a multitude of topics. I recall her giving us insights on love, sex, and marriage. She was an intelligent and refined woman who was always gracious and kind. After that visit she sent me a copy of The Golden Rooms by Fisher inscribed: "For dear little Kaye who was always one of Vardis' favorite pets. I wish that he could know that you are using this book in your work--nothing could please him more. With love, Opal King Hill, 17th July 1970."
The last time I saw her I was with Dad and his wife Alice at a dentist in Boise, Idaho. She had become reclusive and was on a rare outing only because of medical necessity. She wasn't well and not long after I heard of her death.
The Lloyd Jensen Fisher Collection will help those who wish to know not only the writer Vardis Fisher and his wife Opal but something about them as friends and neighbors. It is my hope that this collection will renew academic interest in the legacy Vardis Fisher has left behind.
Kaye Jensen Nubel, retired
Speech and Intercultural Communication
Mission Viejo, California
Written by Kaye Jensen Nubel, October 3, 2008
Above: Lloyd Jensen's library. Fisher deluxe editions at top left; other Fisher books on 2nd and 3rd shelves right.
Above right: Last picture of Vardis Fisher at the Jensen ranch, June 1968. Left to right: Jensen's daughter Sidney Bokovoy, Opal Fisher, Lloyd Jensen holding Jon M. Bokovoy, and Vardis Fisher.
Right: A long view of Lloyd Jensen's library at his last home, on Gridley Island, Hagerman, Idaho.
Digital copies of many of the items at Boise State University were donated by the family to the website www.vardisfisher.com and can be viewed at the Lloyd Jensen link.
For a bibliography of Lloyd Jensen's books donated to the Boise State University Library, click here.