“When you love something, you don’t care. You just keep going.”
SKB participants can peek in the kitchen at virtually any time of day and see Connie Spurgeon working feverishly, along with her compatriots Janene Grende, David Carmona, Tammy Watson, Jessica Gahm, Rhonda Elliott, and her husband, Gary Spurgeon. It doesn’t matter if that year’s workshop has 75 participants or 175 hungry people, her demeanor is the same and the quality of the food is the same or even better. A look at the road behind her helps explain why. So let’s take a look.
Spurgeon was raised by an artist mother and a horseman father. Although many children react to their parents’ life path by rejecting it, Connie quickly became equally in love with art and horses. “I won my first award when I was six years old,” Spurgeon says. “It was a lovely rendition of a rainbow trout that my dad caught, and I was very upset because the judge thought it was a flying saucer. My mom told me that I have to teach my hand to paint what my eye sees. She encouraged me to pursue my art. She always made sure I had all he supplies I needed and other artists to work with if I wanted to. If she heard about a competition, she told me about it and helped me enter it.”
Meanwhile, every book she owned sooner rather than later had a horse sketch on it. “From the time I was nine until 18 I rode ponies and sold them,” says Spurgeon. “My father roped them in the fall in Nevada and all winter through spring and summer we broke ’em, then he sold them the next fall and went and got more. It was my job to gentle them and ride them.”
The horses were entirely wild, so when I asked her if she broke a lot of bones in her life, she said, “What bones haven’t I broken would be the more appropriate question.” Horses can be hard on riders, but they were nothing compared to Spurgeon’s tangle with a hot-air balloon. While she was living in Winnipeg, Canada, training racehorses, she decided to learn how to fly hot-air balloons. She learned it from a book and became a competitive pilot. But in 1984, she was in a serious accident in the balloon. Spurgeon was in a body cast for 11 months and 14 days. The doctors told her she would never ride a horse again, and would forever walk with a limp. “I said, ‘That ain’t going to happen,'” recounts Spurgeon. “I wasn’t going to let it keep me down.” Even before she willed her body back together, she went back up in a balloon–just three months after the crash. “The first 20 minutes were terrifying,” she says. ” f you get bucked off you have to get back on. If you don’t, you’ll never ride again. I don’t like to be afraid of things.”
Spurgeon has also worked as a florist and a waitress, and she and her husband have won dance contests. Clearly, the Idaho artist has brought her tenacious passion for excellence to everything she’s done. At one point, it almost resulted in a new Cadillac.
“Ben Stein came to resort where I was a waitress,” Spurgeon recalls. “Ben liked to order for everybody. He was telling me what everybody was going to have for dinner, and halfway through 14 or 15 people he noticed that I wasn’t writing any of it down. I told him to just keep going. He said, ‘If you remember all of this I will buy you a new Cadillac.’ I told him as I walked away, ‘My favorite color is red.'”
Spurgeon served their order flawlessly, of course. No, she didn’t get that Cadillac–it was all in good fun. “I waited on Ben a lot,” she says. “He’s a nice guy.”
Throughout all these jobs and eras, Spurgeon kept painting. When circumstances demanded that she work two jobs, she painted less. But she never gave it up. Up until about 20 years ago her art focused on horses. She started to venture into other subject matter, and then when SKB started its workshops, she started branching out beyond the graphite, pen-and-ink, and watercolors that she favored. “I have changed media often through the years,” says Spurgeon. “Oils don’t dry fast enough for me. I liked drawing but they don’t sell as well as color. I switched to watercolor and really liked that, but when I came to SKB I started looking at acrylics and some pastel. Now I’m using different media for backgrounds.”
What about cooking? How, when and where did she add that to her repertoire of skills? “Not from my mother,” she says, leaning back and roaring with laughter. “My aunt was a chef, and she taught me how to cook–I asked her to. I said, ‘Please teach me to cook, because mom’s going to kill us.’ To give you an idea–my mom made potato salad out of instant potatoes. I made her a deal that I would peel every potato that came into this kitchen if she never bought instant potatoes again.”
After the balloon accident, back in Sandpoint, Idaho, she got a job at a BestWestern. She started out serving tables, but soon she was training other servers, and soon after she was working banquets. This is how she learned how to cook for a large number of people.
Horse expert, cook, painter, balloon pilot, florist…Spurgeon is a multiple threat. Oh, and did we mention she designs, fabricates, and sells jewelry? Ω