Edna Wilma Simons Sharp (1895-1954)

This portrait was painted in 1919.

Edna Wilma was born in Collinsville, Kentucky in 1895. She began her career as a light opera singer in Kentucky. Around 1910, she and her sister Edith (Sid) started touring together. The Wilma Sisters were a hit, earning top billing on the Vaudeville circuit. They were a common act at the Tavern Cafe in Missoula, performing a variety of light operas, musical comedies and folklore. Later, Wilma started a solo career, starring in Wild West shows across the northwestern United States. She met her first husband, William A. (Wild Billy) Simons, while performing in one of his shows in Idaho. The couple married in 1921, just after Simons had completed construction of his newest Montana theater. Formerly called the Snead-Simons building, he re-named it The Wilma after his bride.

Following the wedding, the Simons traveled the Northwest, putting on Wild West shows as a way to bring a rugged Montana culture to the cities of Idaho and Oregon. They built a home in Wallace, Idaho. However after Billy suffered a stroke they maintained two residences in Montana, a large apartment in the Wilma Building in Missoula and a cabin at Lolo Hot Springs. They would travel to the latter from Missoula by horse and wagon. This voyage required them to cross Lolo Creek some 27 times. Edna took Billy there for the warm sulpher springs water that was believed to help with stroke related injuries.

After Billy’s death in 1937, Edna Wilma Simons became president and treasurer of the William A. Simons Amusement Co. At the time, the company included a chain of thirty one theaters across Montana, Idaho and Alaska. For the sum of $150,000, Edna Wilma Simons constructed a large theater in Wallace, Idaho that she dedicated to William A. Simons’ memory. She persevered and thrived through the depression and war years, building a total of nine new theaters. A shrewd businesswoman, she also purchased a small interest in the Daily Meat Co., as well as several ranches where she raised livestock.

On November 3, 1950, Edna was re-married, to handsome navy veteran, Edward Sharp, 21 years her junior, in New York City’s historic Little Church Around The Corner. Together they maintained the W.A. Simons Amusement Company until her death in 1954. While managing her business ventures, she continued singing and performing, holding large parties and events in the spacious dining room of the Wilma. Eddie and Edna shared a love of music, as he was a pianist and vocalist. They made several recordings together (preserved by David B. Keith). The couple traveled around New York to gather decoration ideas for remodeling the Wilma Theatre. The Chapel of the Dove, created by Eddie in 1982 in the basement of the Wilma, was a mirror image of the chapel where their wedding had taken place.

Near the end of her life, Edna Wilma Simons Sharp still was an active member of the community, volunteering for Red Cross, staying an avid member of the Episcopal Church and serving on numerous bond and relief drives. She died in her bed in the arms of Edward on July 25, 1954, leaving the business to Sharp and hefty contributions to the Shodair Children’s Hospital in Helena, Montana.

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