Sitting in the cozy Kalispell apartment he and his wife Winogene call home, Bruce McIntyre looks every part a retired doctor. He’s got a head of white hair, plaid sneakers and a blue sweater that matches his eyes.
At age 91, he’s earned the comfortable recliner he’s resting in. But Bruce is also resting on some notable royal laurels: he is the earliest Whitefish Winter Carnival King Ullr still alive.
Bruce was crowned in 1965 as the sixth king of the carnival. This year, he will be honored as the Grand Marshal of the carnival’s parade. While he was known for his royal benevolence, there was another talent he shared with the community.
“I’m known probably as the Singing King,” Bruce says.
About 30 seconds later, he breaks into “The Whitefish Song,” which he and Ted Lund, one of the carnival’s founders, sang regularly before Lund passed away.
Winogene, who goes by Gene, watches with a smile as her husband starts in on another tune about Whitefish, one that she’s probably heard countless times in the 68 years they’ve been married.
“They were crazy people when they got together,” she said of Bruce, Lund and their other friends.
The McIntyres are an important part of the wild and heartwarming evolution that has become the winter carnival Flathead Valley residents recognize today. It all began in 1959, Bruce said, when several Whitefish couples came together to combat the dreary winter weather.
“They said, ‘How can we make things more joyful, so that people will enjoy this area?’” Bruce said.
That idea was the snowflake that eventually turned into an avalanche, he said, picking up speed to create the carnival as it is today. It is built around the tradition of Nordic god Ullr and his Queen of the Snows, who live on Big Mountain.
Each winter, valley residents celebrate winter sports with the royalty, while battling a troupe of yetis that causes chaos and seeks to kidnap the queen and take her back to their domain beyond the mountain.
It’s a time for the community to come together and shake off their winter blues, Gene said, and it’s important to have that type of outlet.
“It’s helped the whole valley,” she said. “People that are so serious can turn into crazy creatures like the yetis.”
For her part, Gene, 90, put in time as a penguin, part of a band of birds that roams the streets bringing merriment and kindness to children.
As a lab and X-ray technician for Bruce, Gene was accustomed to working long hours in a serious environment. The penguins’ true identities are a closely guarded secret, she said, which allows them to let loose a little.
Gene remembers wandering into the Bulldog Saloon with two other penguins and mixing drinks for patrons, and trying to figure out how to put money in the cash register. The bar’s owner chased them out with a broom when he saw what was happening, she said.
“I want to emphasize how you live such a serious life professionally, and then you get to live a double life,” she said. “When I put that penguin suit on, I wasn’t myself.”
As King Ullr, Bruce was responsible for representing Whitefish at various out-of-state events, such as the Lilac Parade in Spokane, Wash. When he wasn’t able to leave his medical practice, a friend filled in, Bruce said; that’s just how the camaraderie in Whitefish worked.
The king and queen relationship has also evolved over the years. Currently, the royalty consists of a married couple. During Bruce’s reign, the king was an older gentleman paired with a college-aged woman as his queen, who received a scholarship.
Bruce’s queen was Marcia Monroe, who is now known as Marcia Sheffels, the Flathead County Superintendent of Public Schools. She also traveled to promote Whitefish, which meant reducing her spring semester credits at Montana State University, where she was a sophomore.
“It was an experience that I will never forget,” Sheffels said. “I remember it because, No. 1, I felt so honored to represent my hometown because I have loved and still love Whitefish and, secondly, it was a wonderful scholarship and in those days that was really helpful.”
Sheffels said being Bruce’s counterpart sparked a lifelong friendship with the McIntyres, and that he was a great king for the carnival.
“He was a wonderful representative at the time because he’s so talented in so many ways,” she said. “They always have promoted Whitefish, not only United States-wise, but globally because they’ve traveled all over the world.”
In their apartment, Bruce and Gene laugh as they share memories. They have known every king and queen in the festival’s 53-year history, and they know that community involvement is the secret to a great winter carnival.
When U.S. astronauts landed on the moon in 1969, Gene used that as inspiration for the skit used for the king’s coronation. It involved three men in ballet costumes, representing moonbeams that came to see how they could help out at the carnival.
“I tell you, people were rolling in the aisles,” Gene says as Bruce nods. “What we need is another generation of moonbeams.”
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