Uncommon Ground


Here in the Flathead, we’ve got good strong people willing to help make it better

By Mike Jopek

It’s that small town feeling where people are real. The clean water, those open public lands, and the community. We’re lucky. Our schools are great. Locals are friendly. That coveted sense of giving, of doing right by others, that old-fashioned volunteerism that built and continues to build community is alive on the streets of our towns.

Most everyone moved to the valley for a reason. You arrived or your parents raised you here in northwestern Montana. Maybe you came after wars seeking solace, for a job, or you retired here after a successful Wall Street career. Maybe you simply relocated from San Francisco. Welcome.

Fresh out of college we sought community and friendly people. We found it. You welcomed us, made us a part of town. You were generous, gave us housing from rain. You were kind and made us feel like we were a part of something bigger.

Back then, the area was poorer. Some jobs paid $3.35 an hour. Hamburgers cost less than $5 and nice lots on the big lake cost way less than a shoreline foot today. The streets were pot-holed. There were no traffic lights, and the schools were old and full of good people.

It was the best of times. Locals had little. People were friendly, most still are. Little Italy was in the mall with Rick and Rosa. Tony was the secret chef and local celebrities like Jim Nabors frequented the establishment.

We worked at a Central Avenue restaurant cooking breakfast during the winter. The owner put a blinking Bah! Humbug! sign out the upstairs window and some townspeople got mad at how the atmosphere was upset with Ebenezer Scrooge from the 1843 Charles Dickens’s story called A Christmas Carol being prominently featured downtown. It looks absolutely great downtown this winter, thanks to Chris and volunteers.

Tony also worked at the Remington. Local history ran deep in that establishment. The basement contained remanence of paddocks to house farm animals along with people. Earlier, the boiler in the Remington basement heated the entire block via tunnel passages from one end of town to the other.

We’ve come a long way as a valley. Built a lot, tore down plenty. The hard work by thousands of people over the years, decades, centuries made it happen. Maybe you’re involved with helping school kids learn music or assuring that the public lands surrounding our towns are preserved for the next generation. Help keep our towns livable with a strong community.

It’s why you likely moved here. You wanted that small town feel with vibrant amenities like ski mountains, lakes or several performing theaters. You clearly like the aquatic centers, our new public schools, indoor ice rinks or libraries. No one is moving anywhere fast. This is our home and we’ll fight to keep it alive. It’s a great place.

Sure, we got problems. Who doesn’t? Find me a place on the planet that doesn’t face challenges. Here in the Flathead, we’ve got good strong people willing to help make it better.

There’s no other place locals want to live but right here, in the Flathead. This is America, a person can move most anywhere. You choose to be here in the valley, in Montana.

Someone’s uncle is still upset about an outrage from decade pasts. Bring him a root beer. Wish him Merry Christmas. He’s a part of who we are, where we came from, even if he acts like Scrooge or reminds you of that great-looking plywood Grinch down the holiday street from the farm.

This is us. The future is ours. We’re all living together in the same valley. What the heck, might as well make it a little bit better. Volunteer. Give back. Do a little. Maybe a lot.

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