Very few people in Lapwai, Idaho, remember Lillian Bounds, a blacksmith’s daughter who set off with her sister for Los Angeles 75 years ago to seek her fortune.
She found it.
The former player on the 1917 Lapwai High School girls basketball team became an “inker” of celluloid frames at a small film studio, where she met a young man named Walt Disney.
The couple were married in Lewiston on July 13, 1925, according to Nez Perce County Courthouse records, which workers still trot out for school tours.
The Disneys returned to Hollywood, fame and wealth. Three decades after her husband died, 97-year-old Lillian Disney still lives in their home in Holmby Hills, a wealthy enclave near Los Angeles.
But Lillian Disney apparently hasn’t forgotten her hometown. Her California charitable foundation recently pledged $100,000 to Lapwai’s Nez Perce Indians.
The tribe is trying to raise $608,100 to buy 20 artifacts that are among the oldest-known Nez Perce handiwork. The deadline is June 1. Disney’s grant requires $100,000 in matching donations.
“It’s to challenge other people to step forward,” said Bob Wilson, secretary/treasurer of the Lillian B. Disney Foundation. The charity primarily supports arts and education in Southern California.
“She has very warm memories of growing up in the Spalding area and going to government schools in Lapwai with many Native Americans. She’d like to reach back and support her roots,” said Wilson.
It is at least the third time Lillian Disney has contributed money to the reservation town of 1,006, about 90 miles south of Coeur d’Alene.
In the early 1980s, she donated $10,000 worth of playground equipment after a school burned.
“I’m not sure how she heard about it,” said Bob Sobotta, then Lapwai’s superintendent of schools.
In the mid-1980s, Lapwai students collected oral histories of their town from various elders.
Someone remembered Lillian Bounds, said Sobotta, and dug out her basketball team photograph, a copy of which hangs in a Lapwai restaurant.
The remembrances were gathered into a book, which sixth-grade teacher Don Wilson mailed to Lillian Disney.
“I think that was what renewed her interest in her roots,” said Sobotta.
Shortly thereafter, Disney’s foundation called, asking if the Lapwai school district needed anything.
The foundation ended up donating nearly $200,000 to build locker rooms, restrooms and a concession stand at the district’s new running track.
Disney signed the check.
“We were delighted,” said Sobotta, now working for the state Department of Education.
“I still have a copy of the check somewhere.”
Disney also contributed money to a University of Idaho program to encourage Indian high schoolers to attend college, Bob Wilson said.
Many Lapwai residents were touched by Disney’s altruism.
“If she heard that there was anything needed, she’d do it,” said Mylie Lawyer, 84, who grew up in a house a block away from the Bounds family.
Lawyer is a great-great-granddaughter of Nez Perce Chief Lawyer.
Mylie Lawyer said Bounds was born to a white settler family who originally farmed near present-day Spalding on the banks of the Clearwater River. Later, the family moved to Lapwai.
Iris Anderson went to school with Bounds.
“She was a very attractive young woman, very nice,” said Anderson, 91, now living in a Lewiston nursing home.
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