Some 32 summer camps have now been documented in the Idyllwild area since 1920. But Idyllwild Institute-Fiesta stands out for its oddly nondescript name.
This was a program to cultivate leadership and patriotism in high school girls enrolled in the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps. Given the tendency of JROTC to attract disproportionate numbers of low-income and ethnic minority students, Idyllwild’s mountain setting offered a unique experience for many of them.
But why Idyllwild, how did the camp come into being, and where did that odd name originate?
Institute-Fiesta was the brainchild of Ann Lay, who ran the program throughout its nearly 40 years of operation. She and her husband Roy were originally from Beaumont, which likely acquainted her with Idyllwild.
Around 1940, they settled in West Riverside (now Jurupa Valley), where Roy owned a confectionary and variety store with a soda fountain.
Ann had long been involved in civic and political affairs, especially the Federation of Women’s Clubs and the Republican party, and she habitually rose to leadership positions. But her life took a decisive turn after 1943, when she became a Gray Lady at March Field.
The Gray Lady Corps was a non-medical Red Cross hospital auxiliary. During World War II, it expanded to offer recreational activities also at military installations.
As director of the March Field unit, Ann devised a project in 1950 called the Riverside Armed Services Center, which arranged recreation to connect airmen with everyday life in nearby communities.
The first outing Ann planned exploited her familiarity with Idyllwild. In 1951, collaborating with the local Izaak Walton League, she brought 14 men and one woman here to camp in the state park, take in a community campfire and a Woodsman’s Breakfast, then hike Devil’s Slide to Tahquitz Valley.
At year’s end, Max Krone hired Ann and Roy Lay to manage the Idyllwild Inn, which was briefly owned by ISOMATA. This lasted just long enough for Ann to bring the Federation of Women’s Clubs of Riverside County to the ISOMATA campus for its annual meeting.
Then, in 1954, ISOMATA hosted the federation’s four-day “Clubwoman’s Institute-Fiesta,” a social and educational conference that exploited Idyllwild’s strength in the creative arts.
Ann’s cumulative experience with Idyllwild and with both women’s and military affairs prompted her in 1959 to create Idyllwild Institute-Fiesta. It operated initially at a location on Marion View Drive. In 1965, it moved to Four Chimneys, the compound on Delano Road built in 1934 as an elaborate vacation retreat by Hollywood director Al Santell.
As Institute-Fiesta matured, it developed community ties through events like an annual home tour, the project that would later be revived as an enormously successful fund-raiser by the Idyllwild Area Historical Society.
Ann Lay’s contributions to Idyllwild were recognized in 1994 by her selection as grand marshal of the 4th of July Parade. She continued to run Institute-Fiesta until her death in 1997. Her final wish was that the Center for Prayer Mobilization be given use of the facilities, an arrangement that continues to this day.
Bob Smith is a researcher and archivist with the Idyllwild Area Historical Society. He welcomes comments, questions, corrections and suggested topics for this column at [email protected].