In Memorium

Kenton “Factor” Grua

Mere words cannot convey the sweeping extent of our loss at the untimely death of one of our own, Kenton Grua. Kenton, a.k.a. “the Factor”, was a brief, blazing comet of a man whose trailing colors have seared their way into the collective conscience of our souls, forever changing the lives of those who loved the canyon as he did. Some years ago, he was given the nickname “Factor” because that’s what he was—that intangible, undeniable, intensely dynamic factor that you always had to take into account whenever you were with him, be it down river, up a trail—wherever—he was always a factor.
Kenton got hooked on rivers at age twelve on a birthday present trip with his dad down the Yampa through Dinosaur with Shorty Burton as his guide. He knew from that first trip that he wanted to be a boatman, and with an early demonstration of the intensity and conviction with which he lived his entire life, he never wavered from that goal. He started with Hatch River Expeditions in ’69, and then began with Grand Canyon Dories, where he worked most of his commercial seasons.
Always somewhat of a restless spirit, he embarked on grandiose adventures too numerous to count, but with which many of us are familiar—his hike through the canyon in ’76, the speed run on the high water of ’83, founding Grand Canyon River Guides, jumping the chasm at Deer Creek narrows, climbing to the Anasazi footbridge—and on and on—any one of which, taken by itself, is a remarkable feat, but when viewed together, are daunting and awe-inspiring. Yet, it was never the notoriety that he was after—rather, it was the love of the challenge to himself and the desire to endeavor to do it right. In fact, he’d rarely mention any of these accomplishments to you unsolicited. You could know him for years and never hear him recount his exploits. And that is what I think I’ll remember most about him—his quiet, confident humility.
It would warm his heart to know that what people recall the most is his gentle, loving support that he gave as he worked and learned alongside them, mentored them and championed the river and her needs. But I’m not trying to deify him—nor would he want that—he was a complex, improbable combination of qualities—most endearing, others maddening—all of them forthright and earnest.
I will always chuckle at his incessant “Factorizing”—deciding to rearrange his hatches just as you’re pulling away from shore, gear scattered all over his decks, with his head below deck, buried waist deep, aware of your departure, but engrossed nonetheless; discussing, impassioned, his theory on the formation of columnar basalt or the origins of the canyon and the now extinct course of the river in her earlier days; his gentle way of encouraging the most apprehensive of passengers up and over a ledge, so that they might behold the splendor of the canyon that he loved so well; regaling passengers with the history of the canyon and its geology, always ignoble in his delivery, never pretentious; waking up at three a.m. and looking over to see his headlamp on—still on; him rattling around his boat, playing guitar or flossing his teeth or rethinking some project for the thousandth time; his resolute commitment to the mission of gcrg and his unflinching pursuit of what was right for the canyon—not what was right for the outfitters or the privates or the Park Service, but what was right for the canyon and for the guides, the stewards of that wonderful place.
Selfishly, though I relish my memories of him on the river, my most treasured memories will always be those of Kenton as he was in more recent times. He had scaled back his trips downstream, in pursuit of the one adventure that had, until recently, eluded him—parenthood. Like a duck to water or a boatman to a rapid, he hit it straight on, with his heart wide open, never happier or more content than when he was playing with his three children. As he did with the canyon, he had the courage to follow his heart and change course in midstream, against all odds, in pursuit of the nourishment that his soul so sorely craved. He had finally done it all, and his peace was obvious to those who knew him.
How fitting that a man who lived life so fully would die in such a perfect way, on a beautiful day, riding down a rolling mountain trail under fading summer skies, and without the slightest hint, slip peacefully from the bonds that hold us here, moving on to that next great adventure. I know I’m not the only one who will miss the sight of that hard, hairy body rowing his dory downstream or maneuvering his motor rig through the Big Ditch. I will remember him as he always was—smiling, intense, and oh, so in the moment. So between now and then, ’til I see you again, I’ll be loving you. Love, me.
Michelle Grua

Sabra Lynn Jones

Friends and fellow Grand Canyon River Guides mourn the loss of Sabra Lynn Jones, md who was tragically killed in an accident at Havasu Canyon on August 12, 2002.
Born in Berkeley, CA. in 1957, she graduated with a degree in Physiology from U.C. Berkeley in 1980. Sabra attained her md on an honors grant from Yale Medical School in 1984, and completed her residency through Georgetown University. She became the only board certified interventional radiologist in the Four Corners area.
Sabra’s limitless energy and compassion for the less fortunate was reflected in her medical services at various medical centers on the Navajo Nation and Zuni Pueblo, where she used her special language skills to communicate with patients in Navajo, Hopi, Zuni, and Spanish. She worked with the Gallup Radiologist Group at Rehoboth McKinley Hospital in Gallup, nm until her death.
Sabra also was a board member of Nepal seeds (Social Educational Environmental Developmental Services), “providing relief at the most basic grass roots level to some of Nepal’s poorest villages.” Sabra made several trips to Nepal to participate in these projects. She also completed an eleven day bicycle trip to raise funds for a Mexico orphanage.
In 1973, at the age of sixteen, Sabra completed her first Grand Canyon river trip with her father. Her sense of adventure and insatiable curiosity kept bringing her back to become more intimate with the canyon. The spiritual centers of her universe became the Nubri Valley, Nepal, home to many seeds projects, and the Grand Canyon.
Sabra’s openness with people, hardworking can-do attitude, love of life, family, friends, patients, and dedication to her work will be missed by all who came to know her.
She is survived by her mother, brother, and sister. Contributions in Sabra’s memory can be made at
Steve Boccagno

Nathan Marston

Nate was a Dock Marston grandson; he loved the River. When your grandfather, grandmother, and father are all among the first hundred river runners, there is an overwhelming heritage that draws you to something so wonderful as the Canyon.
He loved it, however, in his own way. It gave him peace and a sense of being. He wanted to be a part of the canyon and loved its natural beauty, changes in the river itself, and how people influenced its future.
Nate’s one Grand Canyon trip was the family charter in 1992. He loved every minute of the twelve days. At the end of the trip ten Marstons had run the river.
Nate was diagnosed with a form of bone marrow cancer called Multiple Myeloma in 1996. He was not able to take part in the family trip on the Salmon in 1998, but his wife Dianna and daughters Kaela and Sorrell were on the trip.
The next Marston Grand Canyon trip was 2001 and Nate’s health had deteriorated significantly. Although there was a chance that he would not see her again, Nate insisted that his daughter, Sorrell, go on the trip. She grew up on the trip and “lived” on the paddleboat. At of the end of the trip, fifteen Marstons (four generations) had run the river. Kaela chose to stay home to be with her father, but promised to go down the Grand Canyon soon. His wife, Dianna and Kaela, are committed to make it seventeen.
Nate was proud of his grandfather’s research in the canyon and wanted to finish some of his work while recovering from his stem cell transplant. His goal was to research the River, read, and complete his grandfather’s work, and help people see the River as it was, where it is today, and its future. The disease would not allow Nathan to white water raft the canyon any longer but the prospect of research and helping to finish some of his grandfather’s work gave Nate the strength to go through his treatment that offered him the best chance to overcome cancer. The river is many things to each person, but for Nate it was its natural beauty, the strength of the water, side canyons, wildlife, flora and fauna, its history, geographic formation, and cultural history.
Nate died on May 17, 2002, peacefully with his family around him.
Dianna Marston

Willis Johnson

Willis Johnson was picking watermelons in Green River, Utah, When Buzz Holmstrom and Amos Burg floated into town in search of a helper. The story goes that Willis began campaigning for the job by showing up each evening, telling them grand stories, then leaving before he could finish the tale. They took him on to find out how the stories ended.
Johnson proved a strong helper, steady cameraman, and steadfast friend on the trip, and joined Holmstrom the following year for his uprun of the Snake River. He then rowed the Middle Fork of the Salmon with Burg, Doc Frazier, Frank Swain and several other Vernal boaters.Although Johnson spent the majority of his years as a miner, he continued to run the San Juan, Glen Canyon and the rivers of Idaho whenever he could.
Johnson, who died in his sleep on July 21, had been suffering from Alzheimers Disease for the last few years. He had been to a family reunion in Salt Lake City that afternoon. As his sister Cora Lee Johnson describes the afternoon, “He didn't respond much to anyone. I don't think he moved too much. But one of the nephews said to him, "Uncle Willis, are you about ready for a river trip?"
And he threw both his his arms in the air and said "Yes, river trip, river trip!
Brad Dimock

Patrick Geanious

Patrick Mark Geanious passed away on Sunday, October 13, 2002, in Phoenix, Arizona. He had been ill with cancer for a year and a half.
Patrick was a Grand Canyon river guide with over 150 trips. He made his last run in June and July 2002, running every rapid in spite of the, at times, nearly debilitating symptoms associated with advanced metastasized melanoma. Patrick exhibited incredible courage and strength throughout this trip.
Patrick came to the River in 1979 and ran trips for the next 23 years. He was a favored running mate and a favorite with the passengers. Patrick’s legacy lives on in the careers of the numerous boatmen he introduced to Grand Canyon River running. He mentored a dozen or more into the avocation he loved so much.
Patrick graduated from Eureka High School, Eureka, Illinois, in 1973 where he excelled academically and lettered in football, baseball, and wrestling. He attended Western Illinois University from 1973 to 1975, and graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana in 1978 obtaining a Bachelor’s degree in Zoology.
In 1996 Patrick earned a Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy from the University of Washington, Seattle. For the past six years Patrick had worked in several Phoenix Elementary School districts, doing physical therapy with grade-school students with severe developmental and physical disabilities. Patrick felt that helping children cope with and overcome their disabilities was one of his greatest and most cherished achievements.
He is survived by one sister, Mary Beth Geanious and three brothers: Michael, Gregory and Christopher.
Patrick, Michael, and Chris all worked as commercial guides in Grand Canyon and ran many trips together during the 1980s and ’90s. The Geanious brothers have logged over 600 trips through the Canyon between them. They had the good fortune to run together again this summer during Patrick’s last trip.
A memorial fund has been created in Patrick’s name to benefit disabled children in Arizona including those he worked with. Send donations to:
Patrick Geanious Memorial Fund
166 Chaco Trail, Flagstaff, AZ 86001
Chris Geanious

J. Frank Wright

Frank Wright was a legendary fast water man, highly respected among those who ran the undammed Colorado River. His guiding career spanned the transitional years of 1948–1957.
Frank was my dad’s [Norm Nevills] head boatman, a position he wryly likened to chief cook and bottle washer. River running was a seat of your pants proposition in the 1940s. My dad and Frank had met in Blanding, UT, and daddy had offered to trade Frank a San Juan river trip for mechanical repairs he was doing on one of our vehicles. Frank arrived in Mexican Hat the morning of the launch. He looked around and wondered where the second boatman was because he only saw my dad busily getting the two boats ready. Daddy told him the other boatman hadn’t shown up but he knew—he just new—Frank would make a great boatman! I wonder if he knew how great? At any rate, Frank demurred, so my dad brought out his biggest gun…my mom. In telling me this story, Frank smiled in memory and said softly “Well, you know Doris—how could anyone refuse her?
In spring of 1949 Frank and I were on a San Juan-Glen Canyon trip together. He would become a constant during my lifetime although I couldn’t know that then. After 1949, Frank took time to come see me and also wrote to me throughout the years. The presence of that steadfast man meant more than he could ever know. He had such an air of quiet competence it was easy not to notice his expertise in everything he did—it simply looked easy. He was a pilot, a creative mechanic, a perfectionist boat builder, a fine photographer and a thoroughly gifted river man.
Sandy Nevills Reiff

He called me his true friend, loved the fact that I went barefoot, signed his letters “Love ye.’” What began as an intellectual pursuit attached to an academic project became a very deep friendship between two people separated by age, gender, and religious belief, but joined by a common love for an immense and unforgiving landscape and the way one feels on a boat on a river in a canyon.
He would tell me to begin at the beginning, and the last thing he told me was to write about our friendship. I was writing a master’s thesis on early river-running in the Grand Canyon. Sandy Reiff asked Frank if he would share his memories of these times with me. When he began to speak of the river, the years fell away from his face and the most amazing blue eyes were sparkling and dancing and he was a young man again.
Sometimes when I showed up he would be in the garden, tending his tomatoes, or in the kitchen making his delicious white bread, or in his shed mending a hole in a chickie pail. We would talk for a few hours and then part ways again, sometimes for months or for years. But I always knew I would be welcome, and that he would only gently chastise me for not visiting sooner.
Frank was an honest man, and a loyal man. He hesitated to speak ill of anyone, alive or dead. He cherished his friendships with men and women, especially those who were a little wild. He loved his children and his grandchildren and his great grandchildren. His eyes were saddest when he talked about the son who was gone from him.
I know he missed the river, but he didn’t want to go back. Too different now, he thought, too crowded. And although he spent a great deal of time in some amazing places in Grand Canyon, it was the other stories I enjoyed the most—his childhood in the Four Corners, the time he hiked back to Blanding while building the Abajos road because the crew had consumed all their food save some potatoes, floating with Georgia O’Keefe in Glen Canyon as she painted, the times he spent in Glen Canyon with Tad and Katie. He missed Glen Canyon—one entire wall of his living room was a beautiful print of one of his photographs of Glen Canyon, off-setting the huge picture of the Salt Lake Mormon temple which occupied another wall of the living room. Although he cherished his time in the canyons, he did not romanticize his experience or his times—he often told me that his days on the river were consumed more by concern for his passengers’ safety than any spiritual wonderment of the landscape.
Most of the time I miss him more than words can express. I remind myself that now his amazing spirit, as reflected in those incredible eyes, is free of the limitations of his aging body. I remind myself that he was living in a world without his son and without some of his closest friends. I remember everything about all the time we spent together, and I keep a photograph of him, at Elves Chasm on the Sandra, very close to me.
Nancy Nelson

Lying on the back deck of the Sandra, in "fisheye" position—face down, head hanging over the stern, legs spread-eagle in front of the splashboards, toes hooked under the ropes-I feel the change immediately and know, without a glance, that Frank has taken back the oars. The blades cannot be heard entering the water, they slide into the ripples like a kiss; the stern no longer jerks from right to left; one gentle nudge and the boat moves with the river's purpose, to a channel written for him in Braille on its chocolate surface—doesn't even have to see it, feels it through the seat of his pants. The blades rise from the water with a motion as smooth and compliant as the breeze against my cheek. Frank rests, allowing the river, the weight and design of the boat to do the work. This is what Norm Nevills meant when he called Frank Wright "a natural." He was a picture of the dedicated, reliable riverman.
But let this boatman speak for himself:
"From the beginning the rivers gave me a whipping at most every turn. The first one taken with Norm Nevills was a nightmare from beginning to end and the others taken with him weren't much better: Always under pressure and most of the time too damn tired to care what happened to whom. Never the complete freedom do as I pleased because there was always responsibility whether I liked it or not. My back and arms ached from pulling on oars. I was fooled by the smug grin on the face of the water and sucked into deep holes and into other dangers. I lay awake at night listening to the talking of the waters in the rapids, taunting and defying me to come out and fight! I have held my tongue when people have been rude and thoughtless in their actions and words. And when I tried to fight the river with motors it just laughed and ground up props and other equipment about as fast as it could be placed in the water. I have been cursing the river under my breath at the same time that others have been enjoying the thrills that only a person in a boat on a wild river can experience. I have gone to bed so tired that nothing except a river song and a sky full of stars could give me adequate reasons for ever wanting to see a river again."
Then, the boatman does an end-o:
"But in spite of all the trouble I have had and the adverse conditions I have had to put up with, the river trips have given me more pleasure and satisfaction than any one thing that has happened in my life—the wonderful people I have met there, the interesting conversations I've enjoyed, the many things I've learned from others—people helping me to see things from a different angle. Do I need glasses?"
Frank was an "original", though he professed he never wanted to be a riverman. He was a machinist, a music teacher, a gentle, generous soul who hated conflict, a man of the old school—where a handshake and a few words sealed an agreement. Because of his honesty and responsible nature he was taken advantage of by his church, his business associates and friends. Such things left scars, hurting him deeply, yet rarely if ever would he let his feelings show, much less express them in words, or take any of his defectors to task. He was a man in his mid fifties, of heavy duty Mormon faith, deep in family responsibilities, always trying to make ends meet. Until the "We Three" trips he'd never had the opportunity to relax on the river, to see it for its true beauty and mystery. Then and there he formed a relationship of thoughtful awareness and genuine love for the place—he began to see-hear-feel the canyon and the river through his own new eyes; then emotions, hitherto held in check, came rushing as he pulled those beautiful scenes from the developer in his darkroom.
"I would like to spend a whole year with you and Tad doing the things that we like to do—run rivers and take pictures in the summer, travel and give lectures in the winter. None of that hurry stuff though! Just enough work to make us appreciate the fun we could have—look what happens to those who work too hard without playing a little—they get heart trouble, don't they? I still get sick in the tummy when thinking of reasons that could blast the dream Castle and our plans for the 24th to Hell! [our 2nd “We Three” Glen Canyon trip]. Well, anyway I have lived in one for a short time and know what it is like to be really happy and no one can take those happy memories away from us"
Whatever happiness Frank found with us cannot be equalled or even measured against what he did for us and for so many others. He was councillor, dearest friend and sole support, all my years on the road from gig to gig; from one end of the U.S. to the other; from one love affair to the next, in and out of two marriages; through triumphs and rejections, there was always Frank. The letters, the photos, the tapes, the phone calls, the support—always it came when most needed, in the hardest and saddest of times. Frank never left the oars.
Katie Lee

(Frank Wright’s quotes taken from the Katie Lee/Frank Wright letters file: Sept 29,1953–Sept 19, 2002)