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Movers and Shapers
John and Rayma Hayes

photoRayma and John Hayes. Photo by Solveig Torvik

John and Rayma Hayes first drove over the North Cascades Highway into the Methow Valley in 1974. A title researcher from Aspen, Colorado, John was on a business errand for clients interested in purchasing property here because of the proposed downhill destination ski resort in Mazama.

Surprised by the valley’s beauty and low prices, they bought land of their own here on the very first day of their visit.  “We thought the place was radioactive because land was so cheap,” John recalls. “We bought two ranches and five separate parcels” before the week was out. They paid $90,000 for 90 acres, he says by way of example, and $40,000 for 60 acres.

In time, the Hayes would play significant roles in the community, he in high-profile land preservation projects and she in education. But they didn’t return to live here until 1982, when Rayma opened Little Star Montessori School with 18 or 20 students. When she retired last year as its director, the school’s enrollment had grown to 60. With her students, she authored a biography of school founder Mary Montessori that was translated into seven languages and used in nearly all of the nation’s Montessori schools, she says. When she’s not fussing with her newly acquired flock of chickens, Rayma’s still engaged at the school doing teacher training.

Raised in Texas, Rayma, 69, married her high school sweetheart at 21 and was widowed at age 23 when her husband was killed in an accident. She got a business degree, lived in Spain, Germany and Ireland, and worked in Washington, D.C., where she was the personal secretary to a man closely involved with disgraced Vice President Spiro Agnew.  “It gave me a sick feeling about politics,” she says of that experience. “I spent all my free time in D.C. marching against the (Vietnam) war,” she adds.

Meanwhile, John, 67, whom she had not yet met, was fighting in Vietnam. He made the mistake of taking a year off from college to go skiing in Europe and was drafted into the U.S. Marines. “The only thing I’ve ever won in my life is the draft lottery,” he jokes. Initially assigned to legal administration, he found himself shipped to Vietnam as a combat infantryman. The military was short on soldiers, he explains. So short, in fact, that after the first time he was wounded in combat, he was not sent home. Ten months later, he was wounded again, and this time he lost an eye.

Rayma eventually moved to Aspen, where John had grown up. He’d seen it change from “a sleepy little community to a ski resort.” After he came home from the war, he bought an 1887 presidential railroad car used by Teddy Roosevelt and turned it into a high-end restaurant; he also operated horse-drawn rides for tourists. One day just before Christmas when it was 40 below at the 10,000-foot elevation where they both lived, Rayma needed to get to the post office to mail a package to her mother but her car wouldn’t start. “I was hitchhiking. John picked me up. That’s how we met,” she smiles.

John, who also had earned a degree in business by then and was doing title research work, eventually sold the railroad car and bought a 1912, 50-foot ocean racing yacht, which they sailed across the Atlantic to Tobago.

When they arrived here in 1982 after living in Spain for a while, “speculation was ruling the day and it was scary what could happen,” John says. “Aspen had strict zoning,” he says, but the Methow did not. John’s worries over disappearing open space were shared by local attorneys John Sunderland and David Ebenger, and the men set out to try to manage the effects of the proposed ski area. John became involved in preparing planned development projects that set aside large amounts of open space.   

quote from story text“I did not fight the ski area,” says John. “We mitigated the ski area. We used the threat of the ski area to get things done. You can have development but you don’t have to trash the landscape to do it, or the resources.”

“I was never for the ski area. I wanted a country life,” adds Rayma, who didn’t like what Aspen had become and didn’t want to live there among the Hollywood glitterati any longer.

The couple settled on a place at Dripping Springs next to Harold Heath’s Big Valley Ranch between Winthrop and Mazama. The ranch was on the market, and when a buyer approached John for help with the permitting process for developing what is perhaps the valley’s most iconic property, “I actually killed that sale” by stressing to the buyer how hard it would be to get development permits, John says. Afterwards, he adds, “I felt guilty.”

So he went to Heath and confessed what he had done. Then he asked Heath if he would trust him to try to get the ranch sold to the state. Heath agreed, and John approached the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition, which hired scientists to conduct a resource inventory of the land. He met Ron Judd, who opened the right doors in Olympia, and who, John says, is the person responsible for seeing to it that the sale was completed.

In the late 1980s John spearheaded creation of the Methow Institute Foundation to focus on open space preservation, trails and parks as well as conservation education. The board members were Lee Miller, Jack Tribolet, Jim Gregg, John Sunderland, Bob Cram, John Hogness, John Blethen and Dick Brown. Hogness, former president of the University of Washington, helped arrange conservation-related lecture programs. Brown donated the land that became Heckendorn Park in Winthrop. Joy Schwab, a skilled diplomat who ran the foundation’s office and kept the complex paperwork in order, was an invaluable asset to the organization, according to John.

The institute’s biggest project was securing deeds of right-of-way from private landowners so the Community Trail could be built to link existing ski trails in Mazama and at Sun Mountain with Winthrop. Years of patience and persistence were required to complete the trail that has become such a key component of the valley’s winter economy. “We wanted to go to Twisp but we were never able to do that,” John says. “Nobody got paid for anything,” he adds. “That’s what made it work.”

When the Sun Mountain resort came on the market in 1987 after the death of owner Jack Barron, John was hired by a San Francisco developer who had taken an option on the property; John was to secure development permits. But then the buyer informed John that he was backing out of the deal. Alarmed by this news because the resort was such an important provider of jobs in the valley, John says: “I just butted in” to find another buyer. “I didn’t receive a penny for it.”

Erivan and Helga Haub and their three sons, Karl-Erivan, Georg, and Christopher, first came to the valley in 1973 for what would become annual vacations at Jack Wilson’s Mazama cabins. At first, no one knew the Haubs were billionaires, John recalls. “Everyone just knew they were these nice German people with a couple of kids.” 

John had met the Haubs - they purchased the Kay Wagner ranch on the East Chewuch next to property owned by the Hayes - and he knew Henry Van Baalen, head of the Haub Brothers Enterprise Trust. Unbidden by anyone, John took a proposal to Van Baalen suggesting that the Haubs, who had known Barron, buy Sun Mountain. They not only agreed but also pledged to invest $30 million to upgrade the resort.quote from story text

In 1991, when John was awarded a $10,000 Eddie Bauer “Heroes of the Earth Award”, Van Baalen wrote a nominating letter stating that “It was largely because of his insistence and persistence that the Haubs acquired the old run-down Sun Mountain Lodge and its 2,000 acres” and had committed millions of dollars to upgrade it. Van Baalen added that John also was responsible for pushing the Haubs to buy an adjoining 400-acre parcel for water rights and wildlife preservation.

Those 400 acres belonged to now-Okanogan County Commissioner Don “Bud” Hover and his wife, Tonya; they had bought the land from her parents, John and Marie Holmes. John says he understood that the Haubs could not upgrade the resort without converting into domestic use of a portion of the irrigation water rights that belonged to the Hovers, who still farm the land.

Meanwhile, Methow Institute Foundation board members Brown and Tribolet, who both lived on Wolf Creek Road near the Hovers, were urging John to find a way to build a golf course on the very property John knew was needed for its water rights by the resort. “I never even mentioned a golf course to the Haubs,” he admits.

One of the Methow Institute Foundation’s last projects before it closed its doors in 2010 was to facilitate donation to the county of 12 acres of riverfront parkland on the north shore of the Chewuch River in Winthrop by the late John Larsen and his wife Michelle. All told, the foundation over its existence handled $3.2 million worth of land transfers into parks and trails, says John.

He’s still involved in planned development projects, the latest one in Idaho. And while it’s not taking on new projects, his non-profit foundation isn’t entirely out of business either, John says. Before it can disband, it must dispose of certain assets, among them eight right-of-way deeds donated for Winthrop’s long-awaited downtown Riverwalk Trail. Six more are needed, and he says he has pledges on some of those. But state law forbids the town from accepting such deeds any sooner than six months before a project is formally launched, he explains.

Asked if he thinks the Riverwalk Trail will ever be built, John’s optimistic. “The Community Trail took 18 years,” he says. “We never pushed anybody.”


Have a comment? >>

Wonderful article - I never knew and never asked the questions answered in this story.

Gloria Spiwak

West Boesel

Thank you John and Rayma for all you have done for the community!!

Carl and Roxie Miller


Thank you Rayma and John for your committment to this valley. I agree - development can be done in a responsible way and your both energies to make that happen in the Methow are very much appreciated. Best regards, Paula Christen

Paula Christen


When we moved here 20 yrs ago, John showed me beautiful colored drawings of his of the Winthrop River walk. I thought this was the best idea ever for a town interested in the tourist trade. I still do. Keep up the good work John. It has to happen yet.

Denny O'Callaghan


Thank you John and Rayma, for your grand vision and determination to keep the valley a beautiful place.

Margrit Broennimann and Eric Burr

near Mazama

Every time I ski from Mazama to Winthrop, or on the Arrowleaf trails, I think of you, John and Rayma, and am grateful. What a legacy.

Midge Cross


John and Rayma have certainly stuck there neck's out to make this valley whats it is today. Over the years they have risked the ridicule of the locals and stood firm in the face of conflict yet flexible when needling out the complexities inherent in the evolution of established beliefs and practices. In addition to this devotion to the valley there is One area of there lives that was overlooked i feel John and Rayma have also focused there time, faith and energy to numerous individual's here in the valley. And they do it when these individual's seem to have no options left and have been shunned by the rest. Those that have found john and Rayma's hand lifting them up when all others have pushed them away will not likely forget these gestures. So here's to you John and Rayma. You may have not always been right but you have always done the right thing. And here's to you for having a pair. Having a pair when most others not dare.Thanks guys

Ned Hawks