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Longtime Columbia resident recalls memories from years past

Ivan McCourt presses his wife Lois over his head some time in 1937.

Sun Advocate reporter

Ivan McCourt has plenty of stories to tell. Even at the ripe old age of 92, McCourt can recall moments in his life with great clarity and specific details. So good is he at describing things, he makes those memories he experienced feel as though they just happened the day before.

Seated comfortably in his recliner in his home, McCourt can rattle off stories from his early days in Columbia playing baseball, hiking in the mountains, working in the coal mines and meeting his wife all the way to what he is currently doing with his life today.

McCourt, originally from Antelope, is a long time resident of Columbia. In fact his traces to the area started back in 1923 when his family arrived to the area in a covered wagon from the Uintah Basin. His father came to Columbia finding work help building the railroad grade, the tram and the road to Columbia.. Back then there wasn't much in the area but there were a lot of kids in the area which made it fun, McCourt said.

"There wasn't much of a town back then," McCourt recalls. "None of the houses or anything was here when I first got here. It was just like any other place, I guess."

McCourt spent his years in school in both Columbia and Sunnyside and his family moved back and forth between the two towns on a few occasions.

As a young child, one of his first jobs involved walking the neighborhoods in Columbia and hollering about what movie was being shown at the local movie hall.

Following in the footsteps of his father, McCourt began working in the coal mines at the age of 17 where he began doing jobs for the coal mining company. At the age of 18, he started working inside of the coal mine spending time in the Columbia mine and the Horse Canyon mine.

It was a job he would continue on with for the next 44 years. Much like many other long time coal miners, McCourt has many experiences to share from his time in the dark crevices he visited.

He worked his way up to be graveyard foreman in the Columbia mine. He became the graveyard foreman in the Horse Canyon mine after deciding that the normal weekly schedule wasn't for him. He took the job working graveyard and stayed with it for years, he recalled.

Working in the mine with his handy pick and shovel were all the tools he needed. But after working in a dangerous occupation and in tight quarters, McCourt was bound to run into trouble at some point or another. One such occasion happened while he was working in the mine when a cave-in occurred.

Lumps of coal landed on him, which McCourt estimated at about 200 pounds total. He mustered up the strength and was able to push the lumps of coal away, providing the opportunity to get out of the mine.

"Out of all of the years that I worked in the mine, that was probably the worst thing that happened to me," McCourt said. "I knew I wasn't hurt that bad and I didn't miss any work because of it."

Looking back on his time spent in the mine, McCourt cracks a smile on his face knowing each and every miner experiences almost the same things he did. While it was a dangerous situation, McCourt's sense of humor kicks in, knowing that it's just a part of the life of a coal miner.

"It's (working in a coal mine) just like anywhere else except you have to wear a helmet with a light on it," McCourt laughed. "And you don't get to see daylight until you get out of the mine."

In addition to his longtime roots in Columbia, McCourt has lived in the same house shortly after getting married to his wife, Lois, in 1938 and still loves living there today.

Much of the work around the house was done by McCourt, building the fencing from scratch, moving boulders away down a steep hillside and maintaining the landscaping around the home.

His life began undergoing change in 1975, when McCourt suffered his first heart attack. After 44 years of working in the coal mines, McCourt retired for good.

McCourt has suffered 10 heart attacks total. He has also undergone a triple bypass surgery and had a pacemaker implanted on his heart. In 2005, he recovered from stage 4 Hodgkin's Lymphoma. In typical fashion, McCourt downplayed the experiences and didn't let them slow him down.

"I never did notice having the heart attack," McCourt said.

Irony may be the best description for one of his next life ventures. McCourt became involved in working with the East Carbon Medical Clinic, serving with the board for 30 years, including time spent as the chairman.

Knowing the importance of getting and receiving health care, McCourt made it a point to go out to training conferences across the Western United States and introduce himself to everybody that was there all the while learning about clinic run better and become more informed about issues related to the job. He spent many years volunteering at the clinic, also while helping hire staff and finding insurance providers.

Keeping the clinic open was one of the tougher assignments he faced as the chairman of the board, McCourt said.

"They see quite a lot of people for such a small clinic," he said. "We never looked at turning people away, including those without insurance."

After 30 years of service with the clinic, McCourt finally decided it was time to step down from his position on the board in April. He gracefully left knowing the clinic is in good hands and, after all, he needed a break for himself.

"Thirty years is a long time to be on the board," McCourt said. "I had been there long enough anyway."

McCourt also spent over 50 years working with the local LDS Ward, including 24 years in the Columbia branch presidency, and 13 years as the branch president. He was also a founding member of the Grassy Trails Riding Club, one of the last two still living today.

Now McCourt spends his time at home, living out his life spending time with family and watching the grandchildren and great-grandchildren grow up. He has kept active since his retirement, spending time traveling to places like Alaska, the British Isles, Nauvoo, Ill., and Branson, MO.

"I just like to keep going in life," McCourt said.

Indeed. And the more active he is in mind and body, surely more interesting stories will be told.

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