Relationship goal: Write up the Flathead Valley

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In 2020 I resolve to have more organization.

This is by way of introduction — I am in my fourth week of work at the Daily Inter Lake, and I haven’t written as much as I wanted because, well, I’m trying to get organized.

Some background: I worked at the Missoulian for a year, then the Bozeman Daily Chronicle for a year, then back to the Missoulian for two years before I was off to the Billings Gazette for 13 years. Then back to Missoula, again, in 2004.

I am pretty old.

I’m so old I remember when Kalispell’s Dan Siblerud was still a pup, though it was post-pro career: He suited up for the University of Montana baseball club, which I played for and then for a time ran. This was somewhere in the late 1980s.

It might appear that my goal is to work for every daily newspaper in the state, but I do have some Kalispell lifelines. My wife, the former Tandy Dollan, is a Flathead High graduate. Her mom resides here.

My niece Leah Lindsay seems to be everywhere in Kalispell, the consummate social butterfly. Speaking of legends, legend has it that her grandfather – my dad – hopped a train to the Flathead Valley from Missouri during The Great Depression to work the cherry orchards.

He could not have been much more than 15 but was old enough to decide that when it came time – post-pro career, as it turns out, after he tore up his right elbow – he would live in Montana.

He ended up in Harlowton; I’m named after the uncle that gave him a job at a service station there. But my grandparents on my mom’s side once ran something called Harry’s Hotel on Highway 2 in Kalispell. My oldest sister Nancy worked there for a few summers, starting at age 11. This would have been 1954-57.

Many of my connections, though, are through sports. I began writing for the Missoulian in 1987, and while trying to figure out how to file a track story from Kalispell, the late Gene Boyle, then the Flathead High athletic director, asked me if he’d run hurdles against my dad. Turned out he’d run against my late brother Cliff, Leah’s dad. My brother and I were born 21 years apart.

Back to the diamond and organization. I ran the Rhinoceros Bar softball team and the accompanying Rhino Rumble tournament in Missoula for years. In 2011 I added an upper bracket and was happy to have a team from Kalispell call up and give me an even number of teams.

Mike “Big O” Owens ran the team and I looked forward to meeting him, but I was trying to keep 20 squads on schedule and long story short, it was suddenly the upper bracket title game and we were squaring off.

When I kept the game on the same daimond – too lazy to change dugouts – one of their players appeared, complaining in no uncertain cuss words that I kept the game on the smallest field so they’d hit more home runs for outs, followed by more cuss words, followed by, “The tower’s open!”

All this took place while one of his team’s wives looked on.

“Geezuz,” I said. “I should talk to the Big O about that jackwagon. Who was that guy?”

“That’s Big O,” she said.

A few weeks later I brought my team up for a tournament fundraiser for Big O, who was battling cancer. He passed away in 2013.

More recently, before I took five years off from newspapers, I covered some of the fiercest (Lex Hilliard) and funniest (Brandon Dwyer) Montana Grizzly football players, who happened to be from Kalispell.

Which is to say I’ve had a really good life in this job.

I’m excited to get back at it – and to figure out where Harry’s Hotel was. My sister says the building is still there, but is used for offices and stores. I haven’t found it yet, but I will, when I get a little more organized.

Fritz Neighbor writes sports at the Daily Inter Lake. He can be reached at 756-4463 or by email at fneighbor@dailyinterlake.com.

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