Kids in trouble in Bonner County lost a friend last week, and the rest of us lost a sprightly and occasionally feisty example of how the range of human potential could be bundled into one small, unconventional woman. Arlis Harvey, for long the driving force behind the county’s Youth Accountability Board (YAB)—died at her home on Rapid Lightning Creek at the age of 84.
The YAB, on which Arlis had served for more than a quarter-century, is a diversion program for first-time youthful offenders. The program keeps youngsters out of the juvenile justice system, giving them an opportunity to consider the consequences of their actions and repay the community with volunteer work while avoiding a juvenile court record. And until recently, it gave them a chance to meet Arlis.
Arlis had a soft spot in her heart for teenagers stemming from her years teaching high-school math, a time she remembered with particular fondness. With no money for college, she went to work right out of high school—as a mathematician. She contributed significantly to the work of the Institute of Paper Chemistry in her hometown of Appleton, Wisconsin, but she really wanted to be a teacher, and eventually, she earned the money she needed to get a college degree so she could become one.
In the early 1970s, Arlis was introduced to mountains at a teacher’s workshop out west, and she liked them. So she retired from teaching and moved to north Idaho, where she built herself a home far up Rapid Lightning Creek. But she missed young people. She made her way into town weekly not only to work with youngsters through YAB but also to tutor them in math at the county’s juvenile detention center.
She will also be remembered for the work she did for the Native Plant Society and its arboretum in Sandpoint. She maintained the moist forest habitat at the arboretum, into which she transplanted numerous plants from her own property. And when heavy work needed to be done, this elfin five-footer enlisted the help of juvenile offenders who had been assigned volunteer work as part of their probation.
But other than enlisting more muscle when it was handy, Arlis’s was famously self-reliant. She taught herself framing, roofing, plumbing, and wiring to build that house on Rapid Lightning—she even dug the basement herself. Decades before, at the age of 9 or 10, she had taught herself to shoot with her older brother’s cast-off single-shot .22, and she was bringing down a deer annually to feed herself well into her eighth decade. When the arboretum needed funds, she got a book out of the library and used it to teach herself how to build outdoor furniture out of saplings. Soon she was selling benches and headboards and donating the proceeds, and after that she was teaching classes so others could follow her lead.
That lead—as much as her other, very significant work in the community—was what I truly valued about knowing Arlis. She did not seem to be bound by others’ expectations or limitations, instead creating the life she wanted with frugality and independence. Sometimes, in the process of making a living from day to day, I forget that’s an option. It’s something I’d rather remember.
Of course, none of Bonner County’s wayward kids knew all this about the small, silver-haired woman who explained their options when they made their appearance in court. And her legacy, the YAB, will carry on for them.
But I knew, and I’ll miss her.