Explore the ‘wild west’ and Tahoe frontier with Mary Jo Sonntag | SierraSun.com

Explore the ‘wild west’ and Tahoe frontier with Mary Jo Sonntag

Members of Mary Jo Sonntag’s ancestors featured in Write, If You Live to Get There.” From left: Vade with Alice Bryson (daughter), John Meloshe (Ida’s son), Mehitable Jane Phillips and Hettie Clark.
Courtesy photo |

What was the untamed West really like? Join author Mary Jo Sonntag for storytelling and readings from her book, “Write, If You Live to Get There,” the true story of her ancestors’ westward migration from Vermont to northern California, told through a series of letters written by members of the Phillips family.

The collection of correspondence, spanning more than 120 years, paints a rich and detailed portrait of life on the America frontier — including the Lake Tahoe region — in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

By reading selected letters, displaying vintage family photographs, and using her own captivating storytelling ability, Mary Jo will introduce audiences to the daily thoughts and activities of the intrepid Phillips clan and chronicle how they combined their entrepreneurial skills and hospitable instincts to build prominent resorts in the Lake Tahoe region at Phillips Station, Rubicon Springs and Meeks Bay, some of which existed until 1953 when snow collapsed the buildings.

“I’ll be sharing tales about ancestors like JWD Phillips, who ran for State Assembly twice as an independent and lost both times by a narrow margin. Superintendent of mines, this fascinating man developed several patents for mining equipment,” said Mary Jo. “You’ll also learn about Mehitable Jane Ball Phillips, who taught the Indians a lesson about manners after they startled her awake by peering through her bedroom window and about the legendary Snow Shoe Thompson, who used Norwegian ‘snow shoes’ to deliver mail throughout the Sierra Nevada for 20 years, even though he was never paid a nickel.”

Author Mary Jo Sonntag’s presentations will be open to the public and free of charge. The dates, locations and times of her presentations are as followed:


Tuesday, Aug. 5, 5:30-6:30 p.m., Spanish Springs Library, 7100A Pyramid Lake Highway, Sparks, Nev.

Wednesday, Aug. 6, 1-3 p.m., Placerville Library, 345 Fair Lane, Placerville

Saturday, Aug. 9, 6-7:30 p.m., Kings Beach Library, 301 Secline St., Kings Beach

Tuesday, Aug. 12, 5-6 p.m., Sparks Library, 1125 12th Street, Sparks, Nev.

Wednesday, Aug. 13, 6-7 p.m., South Lake Tahoe Library, 1000 Rufus Allen Blvd., South Lake Tahoe

Wednesday, Aug. 20, 11 a.m.-noon, Northwest Reno Library, 2325 Robb Drive, Reno, Nev.

Wednesday, Aug. 20, 6-7 p.m., South Valleys Library, 15650A Wedge Parkway, Reno, Nev.

Friday, Aug. 22, 6:30-7:30 p.m., Incline Village Library, 845 Alder Ave., Incline Village, Nev.


Mary Jo Sonntag was born to wander, just like her ancestors. Her spirit of adventure was ignited when she was 16 and spent the summer studying French in Switzerland. Since then she has traveled the world. An avid storyteller, Mary Jo delights friends and family with stories of her adventures. She also enjoys hiking, biking, gardening and cooking.

Mary Jo lives in Pittsburgh, Pa., and holds degrees from Seton Hill University and Pennsylvania State University. In her professional life, she coaches leaders worldwide to successfully execute their roles and achieve their potential.

For a goldmine of information about the Phillips clan, follow Mary Jo Sonntag on Twitter @MaryJoSonntag, Facebook, http://www.facebook.com/mjsonntag, and http://www.writeifyoulivetogetthere.com.

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