Clifford “Cliff” Arnzen, 92

Clifford “Cliff” Arnzen was welcomed to eternal pastures, likely resembling the Idaho backcountry, on December 18, 2020. He secured advance-tastings of multiple Christmas cookies moments before his passing and had long ago secured some advance favor with St. Peter when he entered a burning St. Anthony Church in Greencreek to save several of the Stations of the Cross. He enjoyed in his 92 years a happy, hearty, and occasionally ornery, life.

Cliff was born to George and Agnes Arnzen on October 26, 1928 at their home in Greencreek, Idaho. He was the third oldest of ten rough-and-tumble siblings. After graduating from Greencreek High he served in the U.S. Army for a time at Enewetak Atoll, where he witnessed the testing of the H-bomb from a Navy Destroyer. His skill in marksmanship in basic training earned him the honor of being asked to stay to train new recruits, an opportunity he turned down in order to “see the world”. He also lost an entire Christmas Day when he travelled over the International Date Line. After his return from the Army and the death of his father, Cliff put aside his dreams of being a veterinarian to take on the family’s farms.

He met Mary Jane Sudkamp at a local wedding reception and they were married Sept. 26, 1956 in Cottonwood.  He spent his life devoted to the land, to his faith, and to his family, tending to critters, crops, his wife and their four children with (mostly) equal care. He continued to farm, ranch, and ski well into his mid-80s and with sheer grit and stubbornness he recovered from MANY injuries, illnesses, and surgeries.   

To his kids he was an intelligent and loving father who taught the importance of hard work, education, and the proper amount of baling twine to keep a truck door shut.  For his grandchildren, he had an endless supply of stories and jokes and was a patient teacher of his many skills. He served the community on the Cottonwood Lions Club, the St. Anthony Society, the Lewiston Grain Growers Board of Directors, Noxious Weed boards, President of the Swine Growers Association, and as a Greencreek Highway District Commissioner. Cliff volunteered for decades on the Ski Patrol at Cottonwood Butte where he and Mary Jane taught a generation of new skiers how to ski. His ever-present cowboy hat earned him the name and reputation of the Skiing Cowboy.  His love for skiing was rivaled only by his love of hunting and fishing, which was rivaled only by his love of chocolate and homegrown tomatoes.

Cliff had read nearly every book on local history and enjoyed sharing his version of most events. He could gauge the precise amount of tire that could hang off the edge of narrow “roads” with sheer drop-offs to put the fear-of-god in his passengers. He could break a horse, nurse a critter back to health, and knew from countless ventures in his early years with Fr. Ken and friends all the best places for a back-country pack trip. His values were strong: government agencies he never thought twice to hold in check, but he NEVER once failed to tip his cowboy hat when he drove past St. Anthony Church. He feared few people, except the doctor. He possessed in equal measure a frontiersman’s thriftiness and an artisan’s skill, which he combined in his workshop to make incredible gifts.

Though we will miss him dearly we feel his presence in the love that he poured into everything and everyone that he touched, as well as in the carefully curated collection of “treasures” that he had salvaged but had yet to decide how to regift. We look in wonder at the creative fixes on various farm/household items and vehicles that we must all now learn to maintain. 

He is survived by his wife of 64 years, Mary Jane, and their children: Colleen (Owen), Jeanene (David), Keith, and Craig; as well as by his grandchildren Nicole, Angie (Steve), Hope, and Nathan; and his brother Wayne (Judy). He is joyfully reunited with his siblings Fr. Ken, Delores, Adele, Celine, Delph, Joan, and Dick as well as many other friends and family who, no doubt, have saddled his favorite horse, Snip, in preparation for his arrival.

A private family graveside service will be held Tuesday, December 29, 2020 at the Greencreek Cemetery with the plan of a party that Cliff would enjoy, to be held later. In his honor, a toast of blackberry brandy is recommended, with a pairing of pickled herring or Vienna sausages, preferably while overlooking a canyon, river, or wheat field. In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to St. Mary’s Hospital or the Monastery of St. Gertrude. Arrangements are under the direction of the Blackmer Funeral Home, Grangeville. Send condolences to the family to

 Happy trails to you, Cliff, Dad, Grandpa! We love you and already miss you.

Condolences to the family of Clifford “Cliff” Arnzen, 92

  • Christine Frei says:

    Thank you for sharing such a fun and insightful tribute of Cliff. As shared on many occasions, our family is eternally grateful to Cliff and Maryjane for teaching not one but three generations of kids in our family to ski.

  • Pam Donaldson says:

    Cliff – one of the good ones! He always had time to visit with a horse and cow crazy kid. God Bless and keep each of you! You are in my prayers!

  • Sue T says:

    Our sincere condolences. Cliff was a great man. His tenure at Cottonwood Butte Ski Area is paralleled only by Mary Jane. He is back in his eternal saddle … Rest in peace Cliff.

  • Marge Arnzen says:

    We will miss Clifford and his smile and he was always the best neighbor anyone could ever have

  • >