By Maria Wyllie
Explore Big Sky Associate Editor
BIG SKY – On Aug. 18, 1976, Jean Palmer called her mom in St. Paul, Minn. and told her she wasn’t coming home. She had found a new one in Big Sky.
That year was the United States Bicentennial, and cities nationwide were celebrating their American spirit. Palmer was just 24 at the time and had been working a dead end job as a secretary for the Gillette Company in St. Paul.
“It was after the Vietnam War and everyone was going a bit crazy about sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll,” Palmer said. “I needed to get my head together and go to the mountains.”
That summer Palmer spent 20 days traveling from St. Paul to Big Sky, with stops in Kalispell, Polson, Butte, and finally Gallatin Canyon.
Almost 40 years later, Palmer still calls Big Sky home. Most know her as “Queen Jean,” a title she’s held even before she was crowned Dirtbag Queen at the annual ski patrol fundraiser in 1999, a tradition that began 20 years earlier.
“I had one of the best reigns of them all,” Palmer said, recounting how she skied more days than she worked, ducked boundary lines, and skied the “powder eight” competition that winter. “I guess I’m still the queen of queens because I’m out in the public eye and my saying is, ‘Once a queen, always a queen.’”
Local resident Carmen Wooldridge, who works in Mountain Operations at the Yellowstone Club, was Palmer’s No. 1 promoter when she was named Dirtbag Queen. “I was her lady in waiting,” said Wooldridge, who helped make a cardboard cutout of Palmer, hung posters and handed out beers on the ski hill in exchange for votes.
Although Palmer was crowned Dirtbag Queen for just one winter, she’s always been Big Sky royalty.
“She was the queen before she was the queen,” Wooldridge said, who was introduced to Palmer as “Queen Jean” when she moved to Big Sky in 1991. “She was already the postal queen and Big Sky queen, so being Dirtbag Queen was just a nice thing to slide in. She had been here for so long, and people went to her for everything – not just mail.”
As station manager of the Big Sky Post Office, Palmer rules all mail going in and out of Big Sky. And she’s likely one of the first people you’ll meet here.
“We are the PR of Big Sky,” Palmer said of the post office employees. “The best part of the job is working with the general population and welcoming people in.”
Palmer has been working at the post office for the past 27 years. She’ll have held the position of station manager for 12 years come September, and prior to that she worked part time so she could homeschool her son Jordan.
Outside of work, Palmer also volunteers as the scorekeeper for the Big Sky Softball League. Since official league play began in 2000, Palmer has been “Queen Scorekeeper,” ensuring that scores and stats are accurate and sent to the Explore Big Sky newspaper.
“My thing about softball and being able to be scorekeeper is I get to watch all the games and cheer on all the teams,” Palmer said. “[I] just encourage them not to give up, even if they’re losing.”
Whether on the ski hill, at the post office, or in the softball stands, Palmer’s presence is a reassuring one to the community.
“She’s a rock,” Wooldridge says. “She is the matriarch of Big Sky.”
A friendly reminder from Queen Jean: “Please pick up your mail.”