It took more than half a lifetime, but longtime Copperas Cove resident Gwenyth Jett is living a dream that began in Illinois when she was a teenager growing up in a military family.
“When I was 16 years old — 15 years old — I found a book on the Havasupai (Native American tribe) at a garage sale in Wauconda, Illinois, of all places,” Gwenyth said. “I bought it and I really wanted to come here. It just took me 50-something years to get here.”
Born in Fairfield, Illinois, at a hospital built by the Jett family construction business, which included her dad — the late Capt. Ira A. Jett, who served 20-plus years in the U.S. Army and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia — she lived all over the world as a young girl, graduating from high school in Japan in 1972.
She went to college at Eastern Illinois University, married an Air Force airman in 1974, had a baby, earned a degree in elementary education from the University of Wisconsin–La Crosse, and later spent two-and-a-half years as a teacher in the Killeen Independent School District, followed by 16 years in Copperas Cove, a year in Waco, and she also taught GED classes at Central Texas College.
These days, Gwenyth is working as a Head Start teacher on the Havasupai (pronounced Have-uh-sue-pie) Indian Reservation in Arizona, which is surrounded by Grand Canyon National Park.
“Not this (past) Christmas but last Christmas, I called down to the school to see if they might have any jobs available, and I actually ended up teaching over the Internet in May of last year,” she said. “Then, under a contract with the tribe, I taught summer school. Then I went back home for a couple of weeks, and then came back to start the school year with the B.I.E. (Bureau of Indian Education).”
During her childhood years, the family made eight major moves following her dad’s military assignments around the world. Moving around from place to place did not bother her much until she got a little older, but there was another constant source of tension while Gwenyth was growing up.
“When you’re little, home is just where mom and dad are,” she said. “I remember it being hard when my dad was gone to Korea, when I was about kindergarten (or) first grade. Mostly, though, it was fun. My parents were really interested in everything, so wherever we went, we saw whatever was there. They were really good about getting us out to see where we lived and all the kinds of things that went on there. We went to all kinds of festivals and parks and all that good stuff.
“The hard part came in high school when you were leaving friends that you had made. I went to two junior highs and four high schools. We moved about every year to 18 months during that time. We moved from Fairfield to Japan, and then to Missouri, California, New York, Hawaii, back to Illinois, back to Japan. There were eight major moves, but my dad would be gone more often than that. By the time I graduated from high school, my dad was in Vietnam for his second tour.”
Gwenyth’s dad served twice in Vietnam. The first time was in 1966 when she was 12 years old, and again in 1971 when she was 16. She remembers worrying as the family watched coverage of the war on the nightly TV news.
“I was in Hawaii at the time,” Gwenyth said of her dad’s first combat tour. “We went there in ’62, which was when everything was ramping up. It was pretty bad. You’re aware of the danger. Living on a military base, you had friends whose fathers were killed, and when that happens, the family has to leave the base within 30 days. You’re no longer military attached. I had seen the caskets being off-loaded from airplanes at Hickam (Air Force Base). I saw pallets of body bags being loaded onto those same airplanes to go back.
“I’ve been at San Francisco airport when they had planes come in with the bodies. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard this, but when there’s a plane coming in that has remains of American soldiers, everything on the tarmac stops. Everything. Nothing resumes until the plane is parked. You would see all along the flight line, everybody that was out there was either saluting or standing quietly with their hand on their heart.”
A mother of three and grandmother of six, Gwenyth still maintains Cove as her home base and plans to return soon for a while, then hopefully head back to Arizona to keep living the dream.
“The Havasupai were the original people who lived in the Grand Canyon,” she said. “There’s 12 tribes along the Colorado River, but these guys went all the way from Kingman to over near Flagstaff. Part of the reservation is in the Grand Canyon National Park. It butts right up against the park. There are only three ways you can get here: you can walk; you can take a horse or mule; or you can take a helicopter. It’s the last place in the United States where mail is delivered by mule pack train.
“The canyon is gorgeous. I’ve been working with two-year-olds. It’s a lot of fun. I get a lot of exercise. I’ve lost 25 pounds; I can squat again. It has surpassed my expectations.”
John Clark | Herald Correspondent kdhnews.com
2023-09-01 13:00:00 , "Supai Arizona" – Vivrr Local