A First Pioneer Family

Greg Seaman’s launch of his dental practice continues more than a century of family entrepreneurship in the valley, dating back to his great-great grandparents in the 1890s

By Myers Reece
From left, Robert Saurey Sr., Robert Saurey Jr. and Mary Sommer Saurey pose for a photograph in Columbia Falls near the banks of the Flathead River in the early 1890s. Courtesy photo

The ancestors of Greg, Kayla and Eric Seaman came to the Flathead Valley before trains did. Then they literally laid the groundwork for the arrival of the railroad and cleared the way for everybody who followed.

In 1891, Robert and Mary Saurey, the Seaman siblings’ great-great grandparents, made the five-day wagon trip from Hamilton to Columbia Falls, described in family historical documents as a fledgling “tent city.” Saurey worked on a logging crew that hauled timbers to build a trestle in Bad Rock Canyon for the new Great Northern Railway line through Northwest Montana.

Saurey then became a foreman for logging crews in the Whitefish and Half Moon areas, clearing out extensive swaths of forest to open the area up to settlement while providing timber for railroad ties and development.

A photo of the Saureys from 1891 is a window into the broader lore of the region and the specific history of an influential multigenerational family that still calls the Flathead Valley home. The black-and-white image is memorialized as a mural painted on the wall of the Masonic Lodge in Columbia Falls. The chamber of commerce calls the Saureys the “first pioneer family to settle in Columbia Falls.”

Greg, Kayla and Eric are among the youngest descendants of that sprawling lineage, and Greg’s recent launch of his dental practice in Kalispell is the latest example of the family carving out livelihoods and deepening their roots in an ever-changing valley. Following his world travels and educational pursuits, Greg is pleased to be back where his journey started.

“It’s good to be home,” he said.

Ramona Graham reviews her notes on her family history in Kalispell on Nov. 12, 2019. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The three Seaman siblings are the children of Michael and Mary Seaman. Mary recently retired after 30 years in the U.S. National Guard, while Michael is the general manager of Patty Seaman Homes, which was started by his parents, Patty and Vernon. Michael says the business has sold about 6,000 mobile homes over the decades. His brother Garry is a longtime local attorney who runs a law firm in Kalispell.

Eric, the youngest at 19, is a recent graduate of Flathead High School now attending Montana State University. Kayla, 25, is the reigning Miss Rodeo Montana and competed for Miss Rodeo America in Las Vegas in early December. Greg, the oldest at 28, held a grand opening for his Montana Dental Spa on Nov. 18.

The siblings’ grandmother on Mary’s side, Ramona Graham, is among the oldest living descendants of the Saureys. She was born in the family home in Columbia Falls in 1931, and she readily recites the tales of not only her grandparents, Robert and Mary Saurey, but also the origin stories of their ancestors, including Mary’s Swiss immigrant parents who made their way west via Mormon wagon trains with their teenage daughter in tow.

Back row, left to right: Mary Seaman, Greg Seaman, Michael Seaman, Kayla Seaman. Front row, left to right: Cathleen Graham and Ramona Graham. The family is pictured in Greg Seaman’s new dental practice in Kalispell on Nov. 12, 2019. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Living

The Seaman side has similarly deep roots in Montana dating back to before the turn of the 20th century. Michael’s great-great grandmother was Thora Phalen, of the well-known Phalen Ranch in Hill County. Thora was one of the first nurses to serve for the U.S. Army in the Spanish American War, and Michael says she was Teddy Roosevelt’s personal nurse after the war.

More than a century later, Greg is carrying on that spirit of caring for others through his dental pursuits, which include an emphasis on providing care for people with special needs. That sense of altruism stems in part from his childhood of having close relatives with special needs.

Greg chose the Arizona School of Dentistry & Oral Health because it had a special-needs program, a highly specific form of dentistry. He also volunteered on missions to Mexico to reach populations without access to care, performing “some of the most difficult dentistry in the most difficult environment.”

Ramona Graham in Kalispell on Nov. 12, 2019. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Living

Greg tells a story about a family showing up after hours in Mexico after traveling all day to get there. The family’s special-needs teenage daughter’s teeth were “black with decay and eroded pretty terribly,” which led to bullying from her peers. The mother said the girl had also just lost her father the day before.

In recounting the story, an emotional Greg says he worked on the girl’s teeth and gave her six fillings.

“It was a really humbling moment for me to be able to care for someone who has gone through so much in her short life and to be able to put a smile on her face,” he said.

While Montana Dental Spa does serve special-needs clients, it’s a full-service operation that takes in all other patients as well, from kids to adults.

Greg Seaman, DDS, is pictured in his new dental practice in Kalispell on Nov. 12, 2019. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Living

Kayla has been living on the road over the last year, fulfilling her duties as Miss Rodeo Montana by making appearances at various events, especially rodeos, and engaging in activities such as educating school children about the state’s rodeo and agricultural heritage. She put 55,000 miles on her truck between January and November.

“People ask me for my address and I just give them my license plate,” she said.

Kayla may be nomadic at the moment, but Greg is firmly rooted in the valley again, circling back to the place where generations of his family have found entrepreneurial niches and happy livelihoods.

“It’s great to be back with my family and the community that shaped me and gave me all the opportunities I have,” he said. “Now I have the opportunity to give back.”

Read more of our best long-form journalism in Flathead Living. Pick up the winter edition for free on newsstands across the valley, or check it out online at flatheadliving.com.

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