We were both shocked and saddened with the news of the untimely death of our friend and neighbor, Jerry Ehlers. One of the pioneer residents of the Castle Valley River Ranchos, Jerry moved his family here 12 years ago to a bare piece of land. Together they built and planted, creating the property which is now the Sistalita Bed and Breakfast location.
Jerry loved Castle Valley and shared his enthusiasm of the area with many of his friends in California, who felt his excitement and also moved here--sort of a modern day Brigham Young.
With his outgoing personality, he made friends easily. You would feel like you knew him for years after only a few minutes of conversation. His house was open to all who needed a place to stay.
He was an avid sports fan but especially liked basketball. Local residents recall meeting for an early morning session on the court that he organized. Before Castle Valley had a place to play, I remember being dragged out of bed at 5 a.m. for a session in Moab before work.
An artist by trade, Jerry has left his mark all over the western United States in the form of beautiful murals. They can be found at restaurants, hotels, motels, medical and apartment buildings, hospitals, churches and in private homes. For a change of pace Jerry has recently been painting scenes on slabs of Kanab Goldstone, a natural sandstone with designs induced by a mineral spring containing iron oxides.
After graduating from High School, he served in the U.S. Army where he was stationed in Oklahoma and Germany and attended Brigham Young University to study art.
On the evening of Feb. 29, 1988, Jerry was found dead in his car just after a basketball game in Las Vegas, Nevada, where he was working. He died of an apparent heart attack at the age of 48.
Our prayers go out to those he leaves behind including his lovely wife, JoAnna and his ten children whom he loved dearly.
He loved life and rose early to greet each new day with excitement and optimism. Those living within earshot of him will always remember him singing Oh What a Beautiful Morning, a song from the musical Oklahoma, as it echoed off the nearby rims of Castle Valley early each morning.
Jerry Ehlers was a man unlike any other. When I first met him, I was just a boy, whose family had recently moved to a remote farming community in Utah. Jerry was from Valley Fair, California and instrumental in getting a number of people to move into the valley (40+). At the time 1976, he was the father of a family of girls and instigated many fun activities and invited us along: a trip to Miners Basin in the LaSals, Fourth of July picnics in the mountains, visiting at his home, and working for him on the farm. He always treated me as an equal and made my experience there even more enjoyable.
He was a big man, and his heart was equally enormous. He painted on canvas, murals on walls, and in the hearts of the people around him. In this farming community there was no way to make a living, so Jerry would regularly travel to California for weeks at a time to do his painting and make enough money that he could come back to the valley and work building his farm and his family for months on end.
A couple hotels in Moab have Jerry's murals on their room walls or at least they used to. The Castle Valley Inn was renovated from the home he built. He is deserving of a comprehensive memoir, but sadly I have only had time to write a few lines regarding Jerry and his family. Kathryn Wardenski published a story about the preservation of Jerry's art work .
His family was mostly girls but later also included a boy. His wife Johanna is Jerry's pride-and-joy. She still lives in Castle Valley, I believe. I speak of him in the past tense, because we lost him when he suffered a heart attack many years ago. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of homes and hotels in the western United States adorn Jerry's paintings. And a few of us have had his memory painted on our hearts, as well.
It's been so long that I have lost track of many in their family, but that should give you an idea of Jerry's story.
I hope this is helpful to you.