Goldie’s Last Scoop

After nearly 20 years, Shaniko’s one-of-a-kind leader is ready to relax

By Drew Myron

Goldie and Erin inside the shop
“There’s nobody like her,” Erin Roberts, right, says of her mother, Goldie. The mother-daughter duo will operate their ice cream business in Shaniko this summer, but it may be their last season.

When Goldie Roberts moved to Shaniko in 1983, she counted the days till she could get away.

“We moved here in the winter and it was 25 below,” she says. “I kept saying, ‘I’m moving out by spring.’ Well, I’m still waiting for 1984.”

Goldie never left. Instead, she’s served as mayor for 18 years, city councilor for 16 years and operates the busiest shop in town: the ice cream parlor.

Now 77, Goldie may be serving her last scoop. With help from her daughter Erin, she’ll greet the summer crowds. For the first time she’ll cut back from seven days to six. She says this summer may be her last, and her long run as mayor is coming to a close, too.

“I was gung-ho when I got here,” she says. “I’m tired.”

Situated on a long stretch of flat land along Highway 97, Shaniko is home to 25 people, according to a census conducted by Goldie and Erin from their living room couch.

“Well, there’s Butch and Laurie,” Goldie says, counting on her fingers. “Greg, Virginia … and Don and Jane … that’s 25 … and four or five dogs, and a couple horses.”

To live in Shaniko is to choose the frontier. The nearest gas is 50 miles away. The school closed 50 years ago. There is no city water, sewer or garbage service.

The frayed storefronts are a mix of old and new. The anchor of town—the historic but shuttered Shaniko Hotel— stands next to false-front shops that resemble an Old West movie set.

“What you see is what was here when we first came,” says Erin, 48, who moved to Shaniko as a teenager.

Still, the summers are busy. The ghost-town designation draws tourists who gape at a place suspended in time. Bicyclists pedal through, car clubs motor in, and families headed for the nearby Young Life Camp sometimes stop.

With this activity, the ice cream shop sees more than 100 customers daily.

A Hardworking Life

“Everybody knows who she is, and they’ll come back every year looking for her,” Erin says, recalling the bikers and characters her mother has befriended. “Everybody loves her. She’ll talk to anybody. She’ll joke with anybody.”

Goldie wears a girlish mischief and is quick to laugh.

“We’re just a bunch of monkeys out here,” she jokes.

Mirth and hard work have endeared her to others.

“She’s a friendly, generous person,” says Jane Treanor, friend and neighbor for 35 years. “We’ve had a lot of fun together.”

The two moved to town just months apart and have lived in Shaniko longer than any others. Both were married, raised children and ran family businesses. Jane and her husband ran the now- defunct gas station. Goldie and her late husband, Richard, drove trucks.

“She’d help anybody,” Jane says, recalling how Goldie and Richard operated a tow service. “She’d be out there hooking up cars, flagging, directing traffic. She could hook up a tow better than her husband, I think. She’s a hard worker.”

A can-do spirit has kept her going.

“I knew what had to be done, when it needed to be done,” Goldie says of her years with Richard, particularly after illness put him in a wheelchair.

A Girl of the Plains

Ice cream shop
Shaniko is an official ghost town. The ice cream shop is one of the few active businesses.

Born and raised in Montrose, Kansas, Goldie came to Shaniko with her parents in 1962 when she was just 17.

“I said, ‘I’m not living here,’” she says. “‘I’ve had enough snow country.’”

Headstrong, she moved to California. While making milkshakes at A&W, she met her future husband. She and Richard lived for years in Woodland, California, but when her mother got sick, they returned to Shaniko.

The years away softened her heart for the small town and wide landscape.

“I like it here because it is open,” says Goldie. “If you were born and raised on the plains of Kansas, this don’t bother you.”

She enjoys the solitude of this remote place. Though she is lonely without her husband of 50 years, she finds contentment.

“The pastor called one night after Richard has passed, and he asked how I was doing,” she recalls. “I said, ‘I’m sitting here with the lights off watching the traffic go by.’ It was so pretty to see the lights and shapes. But he said, ‘Oh, you need counseling.’”

Life is different here, she says, and that’s a good thing.

Things Change (and Stay the Same)

Keeper of secrets and holder of tales, Goldie talks mostly off the record. It’s a small town, after all. Like every family, Shaniko has its conflicts.

The most notable of these began in 2000 when Robert B. Pamplin Jr. arrived. Owner of The Portland Tribune and a chain of radio stations, he bought the most prominent properties—hotel, RV park, historic barn, ice cream shop— and intended to revitalize the town by restoring historic structures and building new homes. His plans, however, faced opposition over the water supply needed for redevelopment. After years of negotiations, Robert walked away and put up the properties for sale. The buildings are mostly vacant and the town divided.

“I never had a problem with him,” says Goldie, who leases her shop from Robert. “Since all this happened, a lot of people won’t come in. This is a small town, a small community. I want everybody to get along.”

Though wounded by the rancor, Goldie’s sense of commitment to Shaniko remains strong. She would like to take a break to visit family in Arizona, but feels obligated to stay and take care of her town. Her concern is a mix of duty and delight.

“You can’t go because there’s stuff going on and you gotta go to council meetings,” she says. “You get calls at all hours, someone is speeding through town, or so-and-so’s filled their pool and the water dropped and we’ve got fires to worry about.”

“She’s a character, that’s for sure,” says Erin. “There’s nobody like her.”