Part XII - the Milottes retire from Disney and move to a very active life in Bonney Lake

The Milottes build their Island in the Sky while joining the lecture circuit and creating a movie production company.

The Milotte Wildlife Film Festival will be here 13 days from now. It’s slated for Saturday, October 20th, and will be held between 11:00 am and 4:00 pm. The festival will show three Oscar Award winners for both the Milotte’s and the Disney Studios and they are “Seal Island”, “Bear Country” and “Beaver Valley”. The festival is FREE to everyone but donations will be gladly accepted. All children must be accompanied by a responsible adult. There will be a costume contest and prizes will be awarded, although I understand that the judges have a soft spot for children so most children will be awarded something.

Good lord willing and the creek don’t rise our tentative schedule for the Festival showings is:


First Showing

Second Showing

Seal Island

11:25 am

1:45 pm

Bear Country

12:00 pm

2:20 pm

Beaver Valley

12:40 pm

3:00 pm





After 1st Showing

After 2nd Showing

Animal Costume Contest

1:15 pm

3:40 pm

Please note these times are subject to change.

The following, based on notes and documents reviewed during inventory and catalog work on the Milotte Collection, has been provided by GBLHS member and author of “Bonney Lake’s Plateau”, Winona Jacobsen:

After spending more than half of their twenty four years of married life as roving cinematographers, camping in the wilds, and sleeping in substandard hotel rooms, Alfred and Elma Milotte were ready to establish some roots in one place they could call home. When they found some land atop Elhi Hill in 1958, they decided it was perfect for building their “island in the sky”. They documented and photographed every aspect of building their dream home. From aerial photos before any land clearing or construction was begun, they determined where they would place the house. Whether it was the process of logging to make room for construction, the laying of the foundation, or installing the plumbing and septic system, everything was recorded.

Their structure consisted of 4000 square feet of home and studio. With glass on the east, south, and west sides of the house, their spectacular view extended from Mt. Rainier, through the valley, and out to Tacoma, Commencement Bay and the Olympics.  In the studio they could film and make audio recordings. Alfred also began painting, and by 1975 he had his first major art showing at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle, followed in 1977 with another showing at the Handforth Art Gallery in Tacoma.

Having established themselves as world renowned wildlife photographers, they were constantly being asked to speak at various functions. They put together a program they called Background to Adventure, and toured the lecture circuit around the country telling about their experiences as cinematographers for the Walt Disney Studios. They not only gave a behind the scenes view of the True-Life Adventure series that they began for Disney, winning six Academy Awards for their documentaries, but they also enlightened their audience with their own biographical story leading up to their involvement with Disney.

Some of their most rewarding experiences were actually close to home, when they appeared before the grade school classes of the White River School District. Each time they would tell the story of their adventures, the children would write letters of thanks to Alfred and Elma. The couple treasured these comments from the Buckley children and created albums to preserve the letters.  Perhaps because of Elma’s early experience as a school teacher, the Milotte’s wrote books for young people, teaching about the life of different animals they had spent time observing and filming.  They included “The Story of the Platypus”, “The Story of the Hippopotamus”, and “Toklat, the story of an Alaskan Grizzly Bear”.

In order to be a good wildlife photographer, Alfred believed you had to understand the habits of the animals and anticipate their actions. His revelations in story and photos were written in National Geographic , Life, Vogue, Reader’s Digest, Newsweek, and scores of trade, travel, and foreign publications. He and Elma contributed not only to the advancement of wildlife photography, but also made new discoveries in observed animal behavior.

Alfred and Elma relished their new life at their dream home, their “island in the sky”.  Although they considered themselves retired, they did some commercial work with their Milotte Production Company. One of their clients was Alfred Hitchcock, who called upon them to come up with a scene for his film, The Birds. They also developed stories and created a film for children dealing with the wildlife and native plants that they found on their Elhi Hill property. The stars of their production were a beautiful maple tree, named Mistress Maple, and Little Chief, a puppet they had created.  Other projects, including a book about their experiences with the Walt Disney Studios, were also worked on, but the involvements in the community seemed to keep growing and taking precedence.  Alfred became affiliated with the University of Puget Sound, taught classes there and sat on its board. His experience with animals in the wild was valuable, and he became one of the founding board members for Northwest Trek

With all of the acreage the couple owned on Elhi Hill, they established a tree farm and logged it sustainably. They received an award for their stewardship of forested lands. When the Town of Bonney Lake approached them about purchasing ten acres to expand the watershed of Grainger Springs, they gave considerable thought and finally agreed. Bonney Lake proposed a name change to Grainger Springs. It was to be renamed Milotte Springs and all records and maps would reflect the new name. Even in small towns, government often moves painfully slow, and the change was never made.

Alfred’s health began failing in the 1980’s, and he declined more significantly than Elma. She continued with her correspondence, fulfilling requests and making inquiries up until her death in April 1989. Just five days after her passing, Alfred also breathed his last. For fifty-five years they were constant companions in all that they did. Beginning new careers, exploring new horizons, suffering the dangers of wild animal encounters, the terrors of the Mau Mau uprising in Africa, the accolades of their peers, and the ultimate award for cinematography, the six Academy Awards for their world wide works is a chronicle of an amazing and enduring love story.

Alfred and Elma Milotte shared their lives with us through stories, films, paintings, lectures, and friendships. Bonney Lake’s cultural heritage is a bit richer because they chose to spend the last thirty years of their lives on Elhi Hill at their Island in the Sky.

Since receiving this collection of materials from the Executor of the Milotte Estate, GBLHS has been busy going through the inventory and catalog process that’s necessary to properly store these materials for posterity. It’s because of that work that we’ve been able to post this blog for the past few weeks. To give you an idea of the reach of the written word, these blogs on Patch have generated questions from Museums as far away as Paris, France, which has been exciting for all of us. We’ve also received comments from Museums in Alaska that have pieces of the Milotte Collection complimenting us and telling us that the work we still have before us is important and must be completed for the benefit of the public. If you'd be interested in helping us, please join us at our GBLHS meeting slated for Monday, October 29th, at 7:00 pm at the Bonney Lake Library.


This is the last in our series on the Milottes. We hope that next week Patch will post the entire blog since the beginning so you’ll be able to read the entire story to date. As my wife points out, it’s a love story and adventure story that spans the globe and one that we’ve enjoyed bringing to you. The story is not over by any means. We’re sure there’s a great deal more to tell and only time doing the research will allow us to tell the rest of the story. If any of you out there knew the Milottes, or have additional information on them, we’d love to hear from you. My email is fejacobs41@gmail.com. Thanks for taking time to read the blog.

In closing I’d like to remind everyone that the Greater Bonney Lake Historical Society (GBLHS) is a nonprofit 501 (c) 3, our next meeting will be held the last Monday of the month, October 29th, at 7:00 PM in the meeting room at the Bonney Lake Library. We are always open to the public and welcome new members, or just interested spectators.

Don’t forget to check out www.mwlff.org and look for the trivia questions. We’ve finally had our first trivia question winner, Ed McConkey, who knew the Milottes answered the question about “The Birds”. Congratulations Mr. McConkey. There are 4 other trivia questions just waiting to be answered. Let’s hear from you.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Winona Jacobsen October 08, 2012 at 02:42 AM
It's amazing to hear stories from people who knew Alfred and Elma while they lived here in Bonney Lake. It's really true that we are all part of a "small world". On a recent vacation in California, I visited a museum in Calistoga that was founded by Ben Sharpsteen, one of the friends that worked with the Milottes at Disney Studios. And surprisingly, both Mr. and Mrs. Sharpsteen were from Tacoma. Just another small world surprise.
Lauren Padgett (Editor) October 11, 2012 at 03:58 PM
I love the little seal guy on the Milotte Film Festival logo! It's going to be a great event.
Winona Jacobsen October 20, 2012 at 03:44 PM
After weeks, and even months of anticipation, the Milotte Wildlife Film Festival is finally here! Starting at 11:00am today, October 20th, everyone will have the opportunity to see three of the six Academy Award winning wildlife documentaries that marked the beginning of the Disney True Life Adventure series in 1946. Come out and enjoy a free event with displays of art and artifacts from the world wide travels of former Bonney Lake residents,Alfred and Elma Milotte.


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