The Heart of Flathead Theater

By Beacon Staff

As a freshman at Big Sandy High School, David Hashley found out he had an enlarged heart. Decades later, his colleagues and Flathead High School students can attest it’s not just a physical anomaly.

“Obviously the theater program is what he is always going to be remembered for,” Greg Adkins, a teacher at Glacier High School, said. “But I think David’s legacy is that he is always, always a teacher first. It didn’t matter if it was staff or students, he poured his heart into helping them.”

After 37 years with Flathead High School, Hashley is retiring this year.

When Hashley started at Flathead High School, there was one drama class and a semi-annual school play. Now, the school boasts a renowned theater program with as many as 11 classes and its own black box theater. More than 300 students participate each year, putting on about a dozen shows annually.

Hashley’s fellow teachers and students struggle to voice all that he’s meant to the school and community. They use words like “Godfather,” “mentor” and “inspiration.”

“The theater program is Mr. Hashley,” FHS teacher Valeri McGarvey said.

With the addition of another Kalispell high school, Hashley’s impact moved beyond the walls of FHS. In an effort to keep the school’s offerings equal, Glacier High School’s theater classes mirror Flathead’s. A nearly identical black box theater was included in the school’s new facility.

“It’s because the black box has worked so well (at Flathead), and because of Dave’s reputation and Flathead’s reputation for its theater program that Glacier’s program exists as it does,” Adkins said.

Students and teachers are quick to note, however, that Hashley is also much more than theater.

He’s been an award-winning speech and debate coach. He’s run an extracurricular program for students struggling with the effects of alcohol and drug abuse and has been a mentor to younger teachers. He’s a life-changing friend.

When Alecia Kvapil came to Flathead High School, she assumed the namesake for the school’s David M. Hashley Theatre was dead or, at least, retired. After all, that type of recognition is usually given posthumously.

“I can’t even tell you how glad I am that I was wrong,” she said. “He’s changed my life.”

For his part, Hashley is deeply reticent to take credit for successes, instead deflecting praise onto students or co-workers. A deeply religious man, he describes his life as a series of “blessed roadblocks.”

As a child he dreamed of being a professional athlete, but the heart abnormality put an end to that in high school, forcing him to channel his efforts toward other activities like speech and debate and science.

During his freshman year of college at Montana State University, Hashley was set on becoming a chemical engineer. But when he married his high school sweetheart Marcia after their freshman year, he didn’t have time to support his family and do “dang hard math classes.” He switched to education.

An interview with the Whitefish School District ended with him taking a job at Flathead instead.

“It was frustrating at times,” he said. “But God had a way of channeling me where I needed to be.”

Valeri McGarvey has known Hashley since she was 15. In 1978, she was Juliet in one of the plays he directed. When she was an adult, Hashley drew her back to the high school, asking her first to help with choreography and then directing. Eventually, she found herself working there full time.

“I didn’t think I could direct and didn’t plan on teaching older students, but I fell in love with both,” she said. “He saw something in me that I hadn’t seen in myself, I guess.”

Now, McGarvey’s set to follow Hashley as the head of the theater program he created. It’s a daunting task, but she has an excellent model for success.

“He’s always said theater is a vehicle to learn about life, and that the most important thing is to help people learn about themselves,” she said. “That’s what I hope to continue to do. But no one can be Dave.”

As Hashley’s last official days with the school came to an end last week, his students and colleagues struggled with the loss and faced another, bigger dilemma: “How do you say thank you to a man who’s done so much?” McGarvey asked.

After talking with Hashley, one suspects that the mantra he has students chant at the end of each class – “Everyday a little bit better” – might offer all the guidance they need.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.