Dorothy Custer: Clowning around for 100 years
DREW NASH/Times-News Dorothy Custer plays her harmonica as she celebrates turning 100 years old at her home with her daughters Wednesday afternoon in Twin Falls. DREW NASH/Times-News

For the second time in her long life, 100-year-old Dorothy Custer will be the Western Days Pioneer of the Year during this weekend’s celebration of rural culture in Twin Falls. 

The selection should come as no surprise to those familiar with the tack-sharp, harmonica-playing former teacher who has watched the Magic Valley evolve through a century of living.

“My father was a cowboy in this area before there was a town,” Custer said earlier this week.

Custer, who has lived in the Magic Valley all her life, has pictures and memories of a very different Twin Falls than what exists today. Long before Interstate 84 stretched across the Magic Valley and Twin Falls grew to the southern precipice of the Snake River Canyon, Custer can recall riding horses to school in Hansen with her brother.

“We try to choose a longtime resident of Twin Falls who has been active in the community,” said Western Days organizer Lisa Cuellar of Custer’s second Pioneer of the Year selection.

Custer, who learned to teach at the College of Idaho, was an educator in the Magic Valley, teaching for three years in Murtaugh and for two years at the Seedrow Country School. At her 100th birthday party last weekend, three of her former students were in attendance — one called Custer ‘the best teacher I ever had’ in her birthday guestbook. 

While teaching in Murtaugh, Custer started a harmonica band, teaching her students to play and making them costumes for performances. Over the years, she’s taught harmonica to generations of Magic Valley residents, and is still sharing her music.

“I plan to bring my harmonica with me to the parade and play it when my wagon stops,” Custer said, referring to Saturday’s 10 a.m. Western Days Parade.

Custer’s life has been one of entertainment, ever since she found her love of applause at the young age of 5. She was most widely known later in life for her impression of Granny Clampett from The Beverly Hillbillies, but she also created 11 other fictional characters she’s used to entertain others at various social, community service and fundraising events throughout the West.

“Nobody’s had the fun I’ve had,” Custer said.

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Custer was previously named Western Days Pioneer of the Year in 2002 and comes from a line of Pioneer honorees. Custer’s grandmother Ellen Belle Cline was named Pioneer Queen in 1954 at the age of 93.


Eva Stutzman can be reached at or 735-3288.


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