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Saturday, November 19, 2016


Leo Benjamin Lott
March 5, 1919 - November 3, 2012
Missoula, Montana

MISSOULA – Leo Benjamin Lott, 93, of Missoula, passed away peacefully on Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012, at the Village Senior Residence of natural causes. Leo was born March 5, 1919, in Lehi, Utah, to Bernard Darrow and Della Jacobs Lott. He grew up in Chinook, in a loving family as one of nine children. He told many stories of his childhood there, especially of weeding the sugar beet fields in the summers, a task he was not fond of. 

After high school, Leo earned degrees at both Northern Montana College in Havre and Gonzaga University. He served his country as a Navy radio man and control tower operator in North Africa during World War II and was honorably discharged in December 1945. He returned to Chinook to teach music for several years. In 1949, he entered graduate school at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. In 1951, he pursued a Ph.D. in political science and a year later traveled to Caracas, Venezuela, to do research for his doctoral thesis. He met Katharine L'Engle there and they were married on July 4, 1953. 

They returned to Madison and he received his doctoral degree in 1954. Later that same year, he joined the political science department at Ohio State University in Columbus. In January 1955, his only child, a son, Christopher, was born. In 1966, following a successful career at Ohio State, Leo and his family returned to Montana where he accepted the position of chairman of the political science department at the University of Montana in Missoula. Here he had a challenging and rewarding career as a professor and counselor. 

After retiring in 1986 and the passing of his beloved Katharine in 1991, he spent his later years volunteering at the public library. He made many young friends late in life and they had a mutual and lasting impact on each other's lives. He was an accomplished musician, prolific amateur painter, avid gardener and published author. He was a man of quiet kindness, dry wit and great generosity. He touched many peoples' lives through the years and will always be remembered with great fondness, love and admiration.

Monday, November 7, 2016



A group of Missoula women met during the Fifties to organize a UU Fellowship.  After a number of false starts, the group finally got the venture off the ground.  Earlier there were no children and they seemed to need this cement.  Each asked one other person, to bring in newcomers.

They met at the house of Katharine Jones in early November of 1961.  Mrs. Jones was a long-time member of the Church of the Larger Fellowship.

The group included, in addition to Katherine,
Pat Gannett (now Pat Taber)
Joan Christopherson
Ada Feldman
Marilyn Rusoff

The group met at Katherine’s home twice.  A few new women attended the second meeting.  (Lois Abbott, Mrs. Alf, and Vernie Linn).  Then they decided women can’t do it alone so they invited the men to join them.  The third meeting was held at Mrs. Alf’s home and was attended by the Rushes and Hughes from Hamilton and the Logans from Charlo.

In the spring of 1962 the group started meeting at the YWCA on Orange and 4th.  In the fall of 1965 they acquired the Fiedler house.

Dick Gannett was the first Chairman.  Lois Abbott was one of the early Chairpersons.  Also Bob Martin.  Other names were Leo, Mel, Ray, Mary Taylor, Len Porter, Rush Boehlmer.

(The author of these notes did not sign the document.)





The name of this religious society shall be “The Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship of Missoula.


In the discipline of Truth, irrespective of its source, and in the spirit of Universal Brotherhood, undivided by nation, race or creed, we unite to strengthen our convictions in the value and need for liberal religion, and through the strength of unity, to give such expression to these convictions as the Fellowship decides.


Any person may become a voting member of this Fellowship who is in sympathy with its philosophy and who has signed the membership book.  The list of members will be reviewed annually.  Membership will be maintained by making a financial contribution to the Fellowship and/or attending at least one worship service during each program year.


This fellowship is a member of the Unitarian Universalist Association, the Mountain Desert District and the Rocky Mountain Area Conference.


The regular meetings of the Fellowship shall be determined by the Fellowship itself, or by any person or persons designated by it.  The Annual Meeting shall be held at the end of each program year at such time and place as shall be fixed by the Board of Directors.  Special meetings may be called by the Board and special meetings shall be called at the written request of any five members; the business to be transacted shall be specified in the call to the meeting.  Thirty (30) per cent of the membership shall constitute a quorum.


At each Annual Meeting there shall be chosen a Chairman, a Vice Chairman, a Treasurer, a Secretary, a Program Chairman and a House Chairman (all all other officers the Fellowship deems advisable) all of whom shall hold their offices for one year, beginning July 1. These officers shall constitute the Board of Directors.  No later than the March meeting, the Board of Directors shall appoint a nominating committee of three (3) members, who shall present to the Annual Meeting a slate of officers for the following year.  There shall be no limit on the number of consecutive annual terms that a director may serve on the Board.  The Board of Directors shall have general charge of the property of the Fellowship, and the conduct of all of its business affairs and the control of its administration, including the appointment of such committees as it may deem necessary.  It may fill vacancies and persons so appointed shall serve until the next Annual Meeting.  All officers shall be members of the Fellowship.


The fiscal year shall be from July 1 to June 30 (the same as the Unitarian Universalist Association).


These by-laws, so far as allowed by law, may be amended or replaced, at any Annual or special meeting of the Fellowship by a two-thirds vote of those present and voting.  Notice of any proposed change shall be published in the notice of the meeting.


Should this Fellowship cease to function and the membership vote to disband, any accrued assets of the Fellowship shall be assigned to the Unitarian Universalist Association to be used for the extension of liberal religion.

Sunday, November 6, 2016


Hal Herbig was one of the most important spark plugs behind the UUMM.  Full of insight and enthusiasm, he simply turned aside critics and pessimists without confronting them.  But his strong contribution to the Missoula Fellowship and statewide Unitarianism is not mentioned in the two Google stories reproduced below.


MISSOULA - Harold Hubert "Hal" Herbig, 85, passed away on Monday, Nov. 8, 2010, at home in Missoula.
Hal was born on Nov. 20, 1924, in Oskaloosa, Iowa, to Roy and Helen Herbig. The seventh of nine children, he moved to Montana when he was two, first to a ranch near Arlee and eventually to a Missoula ranch at the south end of Higgins Avenue.

On Jan. 19, 1945, he married his life companion, Lois Cain-Young.

Hal was a graduate of Missoula County High School and the University of Montana, and received a master's degree from the Eastman School of Music, Rochester, N.Y. He taught music in the Billings and Missoula public schools and was director of the Missoula County High School Orchestra for 22 years. After retirement, he was active in many community organizations including the Mendelssohn Club, City Band, Missoula Orchestra, University of Montana Alumni Band, and International Choral Festival. He loved fishing and the outdoors, and was involved in the Sierra Club, Nature Conservancy, and Audubon Society.

Hal is survived by his wife of 65 years, Lois; his sons Lyle (Alice), Doug, Bill and Bob; grandchildren Jacob, Kate Klein (Tom), and Sam; great-grandson Connor Klein; sister Mary Hill; brother Don; and many nieces and nephews.

WESTERN MONTANA LIVES: Hal Herbig was a lover of music and of teaching
By JAMIE KELLY of the Missoulian Jan 10, 2011 
Hal Herbig had everything it took to be a professional touring musician - talent in abundance as a woodwind player, the pedigree of coming from a musical family, a deep love of both classical and jazz, and the energy to do it.
Instead, Herbig, who died in Missoula on Nov. 8 at the age of 85, chose to direct almost all his musical efforts at teaching Missoula's children.

"He did a spectacular job," said teaching colleague Don Simmons, a retired University of Montana music professor and former chairman of what is now the UM School of Music. "One of the things that happened in the musical world in this town was when the orchestra played."

Simmons was referring to the Missoula Youth Orchestra, which Herbig founded in 1970 and directed for 22 years.

The youth orchestra was an ensemble of Missoula's best string, brass, percussion and woodwind players, and back then the only real chance for student musicians to tackle the orchestral repertoire.

And the students appreciated it, said Herbig's wife of 65 years, Lois Herbig.

"Everybody liked him," she said. "He was a father to all of them. He spent a lot of time with them, and they knew it.”

It was music too that bonded Hal Herbig and Lois Cain-Young as Herbig was getting his undergraduate degree in music from the UM.

Herbig, an oboe player, followed in his brothers' footsteps and began playing in dance bands, which led to a lifelong love of jazz.

Searching for a piano player for one of his groups, he found Lois.

"He needed a piano man, is how we met," Lois Herbig said. "There were very few around. So I was his piano man.”

The two married in 1945, and shortly afterward moved to Rochester, N.Y., where Hal Herbig had accepted a scholarship at the Eastman School of Music, still today the most prestigious music school in the United States.

His graduate degree in hand, Herbig began teaching music in Billings, where he spent 16 years before he moved with his wife and five children to Missoula.

Once here, he taught for a few years at UM alongside his former orchestral conductor Eugene Andre before accepting the position in the Missoula County Public School district.

As the leader of the youth orchestra, Herbig was part of a musical "triumvirate" of legendary music teachers, which included John Lester and Andre, said Simmons.

"It was a very exciting time because all these great musicians, most of whom studied at the University of Montana, were just legion," he said. "And so well-regarded.”

The orchestra was Herbig's greatest musical legacy in Missoula, but certainly not his only one.

Until he got too sick and too weak to stay involved, Herbig was the longtime coordinator and director of the UM Alumni Jazz Band and Marching Band, and was involved as well in the Mendelssohn Club, the Missoula City Band, the Missoula Symphony Orchestra and the International Choral Festival.

One of his four sons, Doug Herbig, said it was the children he missed after retiring from MCPS.

"He missed the young kids from high school, because they were really open to things," he said.

Two years ago, Herbig's health deteriorated, and he became too weak to stay involved in the Missoula music community.

Simmons said that would have been hard on Herbig.

"He was a very social guy," he said. "Music was a social center for him.”

Lois Herbig said that her husband was, in fact, missing the spotlight and missing his friends and colleagues in Missoula's tight-knit music world.

"I think he missed it," she said, "but I also think he just ran out of energy."


Kim Williams was an older woman of great character and talent.  She had a career on “All Things Considered” and other PBS venues that was based on her interest in “found foods.”  Edible weeds, fungi, berries and the like that she learned to find as a member of a poor family that had to scrounge.  It became a kind of philosophy of relationship to the land.  She’d say in her characteristic rather creaky voice,  “This is Kim Williams in Missooooola, Montana.

Kim often attended the UU services on Sunday, though she declared that she was actually in better sympathy with the Unity Church but it was a bit farther to walk.  She walked everywhere.  In those days the fellowship was like some foodie cultures today, competing to see who could bring the tastiest dishes.  One day Kim showed up with chili made of some kind of mystery meat which she hinted would surprise us.  It was earthworms.  After that, no one would eat what she brought unless it was perfectly obvious what it was.

We all loved Kim, as much because of her eccentricity as in spite of it.  Missoula has always had a vigorous NPR presence and Kim was a national treasure.  She died of ovarian cancer, refusing chemo or surgery, quietly accepting her fate.

In the early days after her diagnosis I was driving somewhere on a snowy night and passed her walking out in the street which was plowed and easier walking.  I pulled up alongside to offer her a lift, which she refused.  Through the window of the van we talked a bit about her acceptance of death, which she said she didn’t fear.  It’s not unusual for a minister to be counselling in surprising circumstances, but I think it’s honest to say she was the minister that time.

I went to her house for lunch one day — NOT chili — and was so impressed by her fine paintings.  She had spent a lot of time with her husband in Chile so some were of indigenous people.  He was an engineer, I think.  She showed me a curiously deformed pop can from his time in Alaska helping to survey a new road through dense underbrush.  It was full of grizzly bears and his job was to stand with a rifle, safety off, to protect the surveyors.  If they needed to step off the path for a private act (ahem) they were instructed to carry and keep rattling one of the pop cans he had filled with a few pebbles and sealed with tape.  The man who carried this can had put it down to manage his clothing, etc., and left it behind briefly when he returned to the path.  He saw no bears.  When he realized he’d left his rattle, he went back for it.  In the brief moment he had been gone, the bear had bitten it, puncturing the soft metal tooth-deep and crushing it, then leaving it on the man’s “deposit.”

Kim’s husband showed it to the others as a lesson.  In her mind it was also an example of the powerful universe that sustains us all, including bears, and the great importance of treating it with respect.  

I often repeat to myself Kim's motto, which was "DO OR BE DONE UNTO!!"

Here is Kim’s Wikipedia entry.  As usual, one doesn’t know who wrote it.

Kim Williams (September 23, 1923 – August 6, 1986) was an American naturalist, writer, and the longest-ever running guest commenter on NPR where she was a guest commentator on the radio show All Things Considered for over ten and a half years.


Kim Williams was born on September 23, 1923 as Elizabeth Ardea Kandiko as the fourth child (of seven) as the daughter of Hungarian immigrants.  She grew up on a farm in the Gallatin Township in New York and attended and graduated from Hudson High School and subsequently Cornell University where she graduated with a degree in human ecology with a minor in botany.

After her graduation she took jobs at various publications such as the Los Angeles Examiner and Flower Grower magazine, it was also at this time that she started writing poetry and short prose based on personal experience.  In 1951, she met and married her husband Mel Williams and then moved to Santiago, Chile for twenty years. During her time in Chile, Williams wrote poems, plays, and short stories, she also wrote a newspaper column and taught English at the Catholic University of Chile. While in Chile she also and wrote and published her first two books, High Heels in the Andes and Wild Animals of Chile.

In 1971 she and her husband returned to the United States and settled in Missoula, Montana where she would remain the rest of her life. Williams while living in Missoula returned to college and in 1981 received her masters degree in Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of Montana.  Also while living in Missoula she published her final two books, Eating Wild Plants and Kim Williams' Book of Uncommon Sense: A Practical Guide With 10 Rules for Nearly Everything.  In addition, she occasionally taught classes on edible wild plants at the University of Montana and wrote a newspaper column on wildflowers & plants for the Missoulian which would lead to her getting a radio show on KUFM and subsequently a radio show on NPR where she had as many 2.5 million listeners.

Williams was elected in 1974 to serve on the City Government Study Commission in Missoula, and she also ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the Montana House of Representatives in 1978. In 1986 Williams announced on the radio program All Things Considered three weeks before her death that she had terminal cancer and was refusing chemotherapy.  On July 16, 1986 on what would be her last radio broadcast she said to Susan Stamberg co-host of All Things Considered that "I wish to die in peace, not in pieces.” Her death was mourned and recognized throughout the United States, with commentaries in The New York Times, The New Yorker, and numerous smaller newspapers. A trail along the Clark Fork River in Missoula was named in her memory in 1987, and the Kim Williams Graduate Fellowship was founded for journalism students at The University of Montana.


“Montana Gothic was first a journal or magazine, a response to the awakening of a new/old sensibility that opened the door to rock ’n roll, drugs, and a whole underculture of dark and risky stuff challenging the benign constrictions of the Fifties.

Dirck Van Sickle (that’s his real name) also produced a book reviewed below.  Interest in dirk is reviving, but he is in new york city.


MONTANA GOTHIC by Dirck Van Sickle

This book review is going to start in a strange place: a basement bedroom in a house in Higgins Avenue in Missoula, Montana. There’s a lot of mystique about Missoula, even within Montana where it’s seen as sort of the Paris of the range. Intellectual, you know. Over on the east side of the Rockies, we find intellectuals a little -- um -- depressed. Where I am, I can see A.B. Guthrie’s beloved Ear Mountain. I love “The Big Sky,” both the book and the real thing. The sky on the Missoula side is quite a lot like that in Portland where I grew up. In fact, I’ve known people in Portland who would dash over to Missoula on a three day weekend, thinking they were visiting Montana. But they’re just going from the gray Willamette Valley to the gray Flathead Valley. Everywhere they go, there they are.

Once I was asked to stoodge for a little documentary film about A.B. Guthrie, Jr. They wanted certain questions answered, so my job was to sit off-camera and ask their questions. We got to having a pretty good time and pretty soon Guthrie was telling me how Leslie Fiedlerran Walter van Tilburg Clark out of Missoula. (There was no shoot-out. Walter just saw that it was time to get out of Dodge.) At that point Guthrie’s wife told him to put on his hat because they were leaving. She thought literary gossip was bad taste. Fiedler, though he lived in Missoula for twenty years, never quit mocking Montana for its own good. That house on Higgins was Fiedler’s house and Dirck Van Sickle lived in the basement bedroom for a while. (1960-61) Fiedler sold the house to the Missoula Unitarian congregation which is still there. 1982-85 when I was the circuit-riding Montana minister, I slept in that bedroom. Very strange vibes. Possibly a curse. But I had come to east side Montana in 1962 and though I felt it, I was protected, possibly by the spirit of Jim Welch, half-Blackfeet and a poet maudit himself, but an east sloper.

This book review is about “Montana Gothic” by Dirk Van Sickle -- not gossip -- and here’s how it all ties together. The first point to grasp is that literary fashions change and college towns are swept by them more than other towns.  Walter Von Tilburg Clark is one of the truly major figures in Old Western lit and one of my favorites. He’s not thought of as a Montana writer so much, maybe because his magnum opus was about Salt Lake City, “The City of the Trembling Leaves,” where he, like Wallace Stegner, got a taste of civilized life while coming of age.

Dirck Van Sickle was a student of Fiedler’s. The year after he left, 1961-62, was my first year of teaching in Browning. I’m guessing a little now, though Patia Stephens recently interviewed Van Sickle in New York and will know for sure, both Fiedler and Van Sickle were Easterners who confronted Montana head on. Provocateurs. That was just their modus operandi. Opposition to conformity. Social criticism. Poets maudit.

“Montana Gothic” is a series of short stories linked by characters and stretching over many years. The first is about a med student with a broken heart who bought -- sight unseen -- an undertaking business and discovered all kinds of surprises. But he coped until he fell in love and his sweetheart . . . well, this is a horror story so I won’t give it away.

The book begins:  “For most of the long winter the universal mud was frozen like rippled rock, but now, in the middle of this chinook, the graining gumbo lay over the land like the primal muck, almost trapping the horse’s hoof at every step. If you’re a newcomer, the suck of the hoof pulling free of the thick ooze can turn your stomach; best to concentrate on the saddle creaking or the horse snorting -- but don’t look at the sky: winter sky in northeastern Montana is just another kind of mud; thinner and grayer, but so deep that if you ever fell into it, you’d never get out.” Take THAT, Bud Guthrie!

The stories really amount to the same thing as James Willard Schultzand Charles Marion Russell asking,  “Why Gone Those Times?” Unless you’re a believer, the elusive mythic West falls apart in your hands because it is a construct. What’s left is horror. Suffering, death. Ugliness. You can tell Van Sickle is writing from the west side: there’s no wind. Missoula in its valley is vulnerable to temperature inversions that seal in the woodsmoke and the latrine-stink of the paper mill.

There are four sections to this book, beginning with the pre-med student; then a range double-tale about two mismatched men wintering in a line shack with a few cattle; then a three-part melodramatic Jim-Harrison-style attack on the grand generational tale of success (lots of THEM in Montana) with bits of Jane Eyre thrown in; and last a homily of doomed anachronism pushed to ridiculousness. All of them are outsider stories: this is a novelist maudit who will never find a home in Montana, never be invited to the celebrations. NOT commodified.

One of the compensations for living in a mythic place, if you can accept the givens, is participation, feeling chosen and proud. People will say, “Oh, I live in God’s country.” For this author, God is a vengeful woman, a Death who meets one at every turn. I read it long ago and recognized the bloody truth of it, not quite in the way expressed in the action tropes of Westerns nor in the way the old cowboy puts it, for he feels he has married Death.  “It’s like I was tryin’ to tell ya last night, she ain’t just dead spiritless land, no sir, she’s something ta take her life and share it with ya, like a wife mebbe. An mebbe better, too. ‘Cause a woman can die . . . but the land, she can’t die. . . ya don’t have to think about it. Ye just come to know it.” That’s the old man’s philosophy and of course he dies. Consummated.

The young man says,  “. . . to think of Montana in these terms was not just pathetic fallacy but a dangerous, possibly fatal anthropomorphism, like imagining a rattlesnake could return love. The land has no persona, the land is nothing more than a floor beneath the weather. . . the sandstone rimrock and buttes are numbed, calloused, and worn as the nipples of an old-time Miles City whore, and as incapable of feeling. The forests are as badly beaten every winter as the kids of an alcoholic Indian, and, as inevitably as the Indian’s shanty discovered on a rancher’s land, they burn down every summer.” He’s not on the east slope. No grass.

But there’s an eagle: the second chapter is a Jacob-and-the-Angel struggle with an eagle, part-real, part-obsessional. The Winged One wins.  “He’d always sought for the savior to be a woman, the feminine apotheosis whose face he never saw, the haunting succubus -- but it was to be the eagle all the time; it could only be Grandfather . . .the blank authority of his power. Grandfather would end Deke’s life and take it with him, and this was, in the needle-sharp clarity of his final deluson, the end of questing, the terminal answer to his question.” This book is dedicated to Van Sickle’s mother. “Mother” is also the name of the horse of the anachronistic cowboy at the end.

I see his problem. His eagle was a bald eagle, the awkward symbol of the nation, which feeds on fish (west side spawners coming in the from the coast) and carrion. On the east side we have golden eagles. (In actual fact Bob and I did raise one and held her in our arms.) They eat meat. It’s their tail-feathers that are in Blackfeet war bonnets. Such a small difference, but a crucial one.


All summer I meant to get busy on my archives — ten filing cabinets full of the remnants of my vocational life sequence:  teaching English, animal control development, Bob Scriver’s career as a sculptor, flood plains and irrigation systems, and writing in a lot of different contexts.  

The most important collection of materials was the records of the Unitarian Universalist Montana Ministry, a collaboration of four very different fellowships (congregations without ministers) in Montana.  This partially subsidized experiment of Methodist-style circuit-riding came out of my love for Montana and desire to be here and the work of two district executives: Russ Lockwood and Emil Gudmandson who believed in rural Western congregations.  

Unitarianism is usually a thought-based heresy, characterized by places with dense populations.  The belief was that two in every thousand people is naturally a Unitarian which meant a high education level and a certain temperament, willing to be a minority.  Universalism, which merged with Unitarians in 1961 at a General Assembly in Portland, OR, was a more rural group, more Christian, but separated by the belief that a loving God would never condemn anyone eternally.  

The merger was never quite comfortable and other groups began to join informally:  social progressives, environmentalists, feminists, formerly Jewish, presently Buddhist, gays and atheists.  All the religious Others.  In the Fifties the pressure to prove one was “Christian” produced “Fellowships” which were something like Quakers or Baptists in their self-sufficiency without ministers.  By the Seventies there were a lot of them and some wanted to “grow” them into proper churches.  I found the Portland, OR, Unitarians in 1975.  At the time the Pacific Northwest District extended up through BC to Alaska and was probably the most dynamic set of ministers on the continent: powerful brilliant men with goals for the district.  They were about to be invaded by female ministers and to be cut in half by the Canadian independence movement.

There were six fellowships in Montana: the two university towns; Great Falls which was based on refineries, the railroad, and the Air Force; and Helena which was the state capital.  The state has two literal “sides” — the wet and mountainous Western valleys and the dry flat eastern prairie.  Billings, way out on the dry side, related to Denver more than to Western Montana, and Whitefish was still small.  Both felt strongly anti-ministerial and would not participate in this circuit-riding plan.

I lived in a Ford F150 van and traveled.  The first year I was at one fellowship every Sunday, but people complained that this wasn’t enough, so two fellowships who traditionally had evening services were paired with two morning meetings.  Then I did a morning service and an evening service.  The drive between them was about a hundred miles.  We had no idea that by the present many Christian ministers on the prairie, particularly Catholics, would be following the same pattern.

Each of these Montana groups had a distinct personality.  Missoula was the flagship, with a building, Leslie Fiedler’s former residence.  The town was developed with a lot of hardwood trees reminiscent of New England and the humanities style there was also influenced by the Ivy League.  The university had been highly impacted by the GI Bill, partly because so many Montanans were veterans and because many professors were needed quickly. 

It was a great opportunity for young scholars who hoped to move on up to Harvard/Yale/Princeton as a second stage.  In reality, tenure gridlock meant that the college boom ended, (a bulge that created the baby boom), before those scholars could find second positions.  They would spend their careers in small state universities.  There was a little bitterness.  The same thing happened later with the professors who went to Canada during Vietnam.  Demographics are as crucial as economics when it comes to building institutions.

Developing fellowships meant creating statewide connections among people — the whole state had about the same number of people as a city — and getting everyone full of leadership principles.  We assumed that the Seven Principles of the denomination were as good as it gets and would never need revision.  The money came partly from a small Universalist cache that had been hidden at merger to save it from the Unitarians.  It was meant for rural goals and Gudmandson and Lockwood raided it.  The fellowships also contributed and one individual made a $10,000 contribution that paid for the van.  

My contribution was a very low salary, a demanding work load, and the lack of any benefits.  The two things that would damage my future were the lack of "bennies", small Social Security contributions and the damage to my prospects for good future placements, because hiring churches look for prestige which to them means numbers and money.  The normal progression for traditional ministers is a few years serving small churches and then a kind of pyramid which peaks with a major city church.  Since I was forty and unmarried, I was not likely to rise in status.  There just wasn’t enough time.  I didn't think of this.

The reward was being in Montana, doing something considered daring and courageous, and having chances to swing by the Blackfeet Rez to keep in touch with old friends and Bob Scriver.  Our marriage had merely been a four-year experiment in a lifelong friendship.  In Montana that was seen as a good thing.  Later, in more conservative places, it was not.

So this week during the surprisingly fine weather, I rolled up the garage door and set to work sorting.  I took on Missoula first.  After a few hours of reading clips, obits, working agreements, correspondence, old newsletters, and critiques, I was pretty emotional.  I hadn’t expected it, but Missoula was the place where we had the highest aspirations, the most internal dissension, and where my weaknesses were most perilous.  We “triggered” each other’s pride, tempers, desolations and definitions of achievement.  A few years later I finally decided I wasn’t fit to be a minister.  I didn’t know until much later about the suicides, the addictions, the closeting, the abuse, and the depression that have always plagued the whole area.  Pandora's Box.  

The romance of being a writer has always been a good cover.  The community of writers in Missoula is semi-academic but also controlled by the middle class combination of books with shop-keeping.  This was the heart of the Montana Festival of the Book:  sales.  The academic side assured people of the quality and worthiness of the writing, but it was meant to end up with sales, even to make a living for writers.  That’s an impossible goal — even more so now.  Few academically trained writers end up writing best-sellers, but they can usually make a living by teaching hopefuls.

Full of emotion, I stuffed a box for Missoula and set about finding someone there who would receive it.  I got a shock.  It shouldn’t have been a surprise.  The Millennial version of UU fellowships is only like the groups I knew in that they are poly-nuclear, collaborate for the sake of children, and usually at least half newcomers.  They had no memory of me.  They were busy reinventing the wheel.  Their numbers and expectations were those of 1982.  Luckily my hysteria was received calmly by my Missoula contact, maybe because her job is working with people suffering from dementia.

The very factors of history that would be helpful for them are what they reject, because these new people feel full of discovery and beginnings.  My old bitternesses, diagnoses, theories, and little achievements were not just unwelcome, but must sound shockingly toxic.  They were busy and don’t want any interference.  They are also sequestered, as much as I am in my cat-ridden hermitage.  Separateness is protection in a hostile and draining world.

I was busy protesting that I would not come over to save them, which was my experience last time, but they felt no need for it.

Also, partly because of a vacuum where the district executive should have been operating, they had conceived the grandiose idea that 29 members could buy an historical two-story school, gripping them with an idealistic edifice complex.  Unfortunately, the neighborhood did not welcome any kind of religious organization and went to court to prevent them from acquiring the building.  It has to feel terrible.  It is time to rekindle the love for their humble bungalow.

Now I’ll see what the other groups are like.  Great Falls has disappeared — the town itself has dwindled.  Bozeman has thrived.  Helena putters along at its own speed.  The national UU leadership is not interested in Montana.  They are hard pressed to maintain their status as a denomination with prestige and a place on the confused and crushing American scene.  We’ll see what happens on Tuesday, but no one will know what it means to UU’s.

It won’t mean much of anything to me unless they cancel social security and Medicare.  My writing path is not even based on Montana.  I will not be “saving” anyone.  But since Missoula has such a need for their own history without the energy to find and preserve it, I started a blog where I’ll stash what I know.   “Down in the Valley.”  We can’t let Krakauer have all the fun.

Saturday, November 5, 2016


Leslie Fiedler

Logically enough, since Missoula was deliberately established to be the Humanities university, the UU Fellowship there has had a lot of literary influence, not just buying the house from Leslie Fiedler or the birth of the Montana Gothic genre invented in the basement bedroom of his son.  Fielder was a hell-raiser who appeared just at the beginning edge of the Aquarian Revolution that seemed to have evolved from WWII recovery ending while the Vietnam War became a napalm-powered provocation.

A.B. Guthrie, Jr. told me Fiedler ran off Walter Van Tilberg Clark, a kinder gentler man whose son was the mainstay of the Montana Historical Society’s library until only a few years ago when he died of cancer.  But earlier was Harold G. Merriam who worked hard to find and publish excellent regional writing in a journal that began in 1920, called “The Frontier.”  It closed down in 1939.   Probably this is the primal source of the idea of Montana writers as superior writers.  Grace Stone Coates was a co-editor.  Frank B. Linderman was connected.  But this was earlier than any fellowship in Missoula. 

Merriam was a professor of creative writing at the University and he had also been a professor at Reed College in Portland, an important liberal school that was founded by Unitarians, so Merriam was well aware of the movement.  When I came in 1982, his aged widow — Frances —was a regular attender of the group.  She, like me, had been a very young second bride surviving long after her husband's group had disappeared.  She was far more ladylike than I am, and always lent an air of class to the group.

Merriam was a busy and influential promoter of ideas and writing, so it is a little surprising that the first overview of Montana writing — an early version of “The Last Best Place” — was composed by a Great Falls journalist, Joseph Kinsey Howard, a Metis man who died early, had a cabin up Blackleaf Canyon where a string of old cabins housed a small community of progressive and educated people, including the family of Ripley Schemm, who eventually married Richard Hugo.  This is probably only one key to the ties between Great Falls and Missoula, as Howard and Merriam were happy collaborators.  (Great Falls did not persist as a UU Fellowship, partly because of economic stress when the railroads and refineries left.  Thin population starves fellowships as some estimate that only 2% of any population are suited to the point of view.) 

Richard Hugo represented another renaissance of the idea of Montana literature.  He was a working class poet from Seattle whose alcoholism was redeemed in the eyes of his students by his capacity for love of students, ancient bars, and dying towns.  Ripley Schemm, when she married him, gave him new life and love, but when he and her son by an earlier marriage died of cancer at about the same time, it left a terrible hole in Missoula as well as Ripley.  Her mother was Mildred Walker, a famous Book-of-the-Month writer.

Then William Kittredge came into the picture as an Oregon ranch son writing nonfiction.  Annick Smith was struggling with the early sudden death of her brilliant husband, and she soon struck up an alliance with Kittredge, which is what gave us the massive anthology called “The Last Best Place” and a lot of other good things.  This marriage pulled in a small circle of literary people including James Welch and his wife, Lois

None of these people were explicitly Unitarian and neither had Hugo and Schemm been participants in the fellowship.  I don’t know at what point the Merriam connection ended.  His life would be well-worth some sharp investigation leading to a published biography or at least a Wikipedia entry.  There is one issue of “The Frontier” online as a PDF.  I suspect that what really ended was the Fifties expectation that everyone had to go to church and believe in God.  When the humanist tradition came back through Unitarianism it was simply not seen as religious.  Prairie humanism was expressed in the cooperative economics of granges, cooperative grain elevators and socialism.

Also, as the counterculture hit Missoula hard, anarchism, sex, and drugs began the twisty trail that Jon Krakauer exploits in his book about Missoula.  This did not connect with the fellowship.  The university picked up the reservation connections as indigenous people turned to education, but the UU fellowship did not.  Few UU fellowships depart much from white bread but liberal people, often with kids.  Maybe some nice GLBT folks.  Anyway, recent NA people have become disillusioned with liberals and address their own problems.