Rocky Mountain College, Billings

Rocky Mountain College, Billings
The Lavina United Methodist Church

After serving Mountain View Church in Butte, my Father accepted a position at Rocky Mountain College, in Billings, Montana. Hired as Executive Vice-President and Acting President, Poppa wore many hats at Rocky. He spent a lot of time on the road, raising funds and recruiting students. Recruiting made him the happiest.

I have no pictures of any of the three houses we lived in while at Rocky Mountain College. When we moved from Butte, we landed in a rather small apartment in a series of temporary buildings. I do not remember how long we lived in that first apartment, but in time we moved into a second apartment, larger as I recall, but in the same complex. Finally, we moved into a detached single-family home on a semi-circular street off 17th. The street’s unofficial name was faculty circle, and everyone living there had ties to Rocky Mountain College. Even more important, every house had children.

Faculty Circle

Our home was at the north east end of the “circle.” Next door to us were the Turners. I do not remember what Mr. Turner did on campus. Their two sons were younger than I (and I was in second grade.) The house at the west end of the “circle” was where the Buhls lived. They had three children, the oldest of whom was in my class. Mr. Buhl was the campus chaplain. Next door to them on the south lived the Sprinkles. Mr. Sprinkle had something to do with campus maintenance, as I recall. They had a daughter older than I and a son one year younger. Randy Sprinkle was my closest friend.

Finally, directly opposite us at the Southeast end of the drive was the President’s house. When Dr. Widenhouse took over as President in 1958, his family moved from Long Island to Billings, surely grounds for culture shock. Becky was the Widenhouse daughter, again my age and in my class at school. Becky had a lovely collie, Cedar.

For the first time in my life I lived in a neighborhood with children my age, well at least with a large playground right across the street. The semicircular expanse of lawn inside the Circle made a wonderful playground for the kids who lived in the five houses. We played ball. We flew kites (or tried to). And in the Winter, we played games like Fox and Geese in the snow. When I drove by in the late 1990s, none of the houses I knew remained. Replacing them were quite upscale homes behind a gated fence. Our Faculty Circle had become a gated community.

Old Rimrock School

We moved to Billings in January, 1956. January was, then as now, the middle of the school year. School officials told Momma they wanted me in the 2nd grade. Momma refused. In Butte, I had started school as the youngest member of my class. I would be even younger were I to move to second grade in Billings. I will never forget my first teacher at Old Rimrock School. Mrs. Chestnut was the night to my Butte teacher’s day. There were no materials to hand to a new, mid-year transfer. Mrs. Chestnut grabbed the book from my new classmate Larry saying, “You might as well take his. He’s not getting anything out of it.”

Children can be (are!) cruel to disadvantaged classmates. The joke among my classmates was that Larry had been dropped on his head. That was the worst that I ever heard from my peers. We didn’t have to gang up on Larry. Mrs. Chestnut did that for us. She would slap a ruler across his fingers. She would grab him by the hair and pull him up out of his seat. The day Larry showed up with a butch hair cut, all the kids cheered because Mrs. Chestnut couldn’t grab his hair any longer.

I remember two things about Mrs. Chestnut. Her mistreatment of Larry united the other first graders in a protective ring around our classmate. I also remember her stern voice anytime someone used the word “can’t.” “Can’t died and was buried in a cornfield,” she would exclaim. (Or maybe she was saying “Kant died,” but I doubt any of us first graders had ever head of Kant.)

The Building itself

Old Rimrock School was a two story, sandstone structure, on the northwest corner of the Rocky Mountain College campus where 17th Street dead-ended into Rimrock Road. The building was quite old, possibly the oldest structure in Billings still serving as a school. New Rimrock School was on the Northeast corner of campus. It was a full service elementary school. Old Rimrock had four classrooms, two upstairs, two down, and served first through fourth grades only. I attended all four classes with Miss Prebe(?) as my second grade teacher. Mrs. Jones taught third grade and Mr. Burr taught fourth.

During the summer, the old stone building served as the home of the Western College of Auctioneering. The School’s website says that it has been in business since 1948, but there is no mention that I can see about their use of Old Rimrock School. After the Billings Public Schools stopped using the building, WCA moved in full-time. Along the way, they tore down the old building and built a new facility in its place. One more icon from my childhood gone.

Poppa’s Churches

Rocky Mountain College was (and still is) a church-related school. Founded in 1947, when three existing colleges merged, Rocky is associated with the United Church of Christ, the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA). While we lived in Billings, Poppa kept his membership in the Methodist Church’s Montana Conference, and his job at Rocky was considered a special appointment. Over the three and a half years we lived in Billings, Poppa served as interim pastor in several churches around central and eastern Montana.

Among his church assignments were the two Methodist churches in Golden Valley County, Lavina and Ryegate. The Lavina church is the building featured at the top of this page. I remember Lavina better than the others (including Ryegate) because I rode my first “English racer” bike there. In the 1950s, most of us rode bikes with coaster brakes and one gear. English racers had hand brakes and three gears which the rider chose by means of a small switch on the handlebars. My family was having Sunday dinner with a parishoner family. They had a bike and offered it to me while the family prepared dinner. I remember backpedaling furiously as I approached Montana Highway 3. The bike didn’t stop. It didn’t even slow down. I still remember how scared I was that I would not stop before someone on the highway hit me.

Other parishes

Another parish was Wibaux. Wibaux is a small town (610 people in 2017) and the seat of Wibaux County (1,020 residents in 2017). One of Montana’s smallest counties in area, it sits on the North Dakota border, roughly 250 miles northeast of Billings. That distance, by the way, is by today’s Interstate 94. In the 1950s, that highway was just a dream. We drove U.S. Highway 10 instead, passing through numerous small towns along the way. Today, it takes over four hours to make the drive. I have no memory of how long it took us. I also don’t remember staying overnight anywhere, but in order to arrive in time for services, we would have had to leave Billings in the very early morning (4 a.m?) or stay overnight somewhere. In Wibaux, Poppa served the local Methodist church.

Poppa also served as interim pastor at the German Congregational Church in Laurel. In the 1950s, the congregation still spoke German among themselves and wanted Poppa to preach in German. They assumed that with the name Spellman, he must be Deutsch.

Another Congregational Church stands out in my memory. For at least two months, Poppa preached at the Hardin Congregational Church, less than 50 miles east of Billings via Interstate 90. Of course there was no Interstate 90 in the 1950s. Instead we drove a narrow, twisting road that rose and fell as it cut through the rolling hills separating the two cities. I remember throwing up on the church steps one Sunday morning because I had become so car sick. While serving Hardin, we often visited the Little Big Horn Battlefield, not far from town. The congregation asked Poppa to be their full-time pastor, but Poppa was not willing to leave the Methodist Church.

Leaving Rocky Mountain College

I don’t know why, I was just a little kid, but in 1959 Poppa applied for a position at another Methodist college, the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California. He flew down for an interview, and they hired him. In June, 1959, we packed up the house on Faculty Circle, putting all our books in a small trailer towed behind Poppa’s 1957 Ford. We drove from Billings to Stockton, spending an extra day or two in Reno as our book-heavy trailer’s axle broke as we started up Donner Pass. My parents never moved back to Montana, but that’s a story for another post.

Classic Car of the Day

Today’s Classic Car of the Day is this lovely, two-tone blue 1973 Ford F100 pickup. Last week, someone in Michigan bought this image in the form of a clock, and today I got notice that someone in the Netherlands bought the image as a medium sized poster. Thank you to every one who visits my online sales gallery–which you can do by clicking on the blue link just below the photo.

Flower of the Day

Daffodils are one of the few flowers the deer won’t eat.  Therefore, I have planted several beds of the bulbs outside the fenced yard.  They have not got to this stage yet this year, but they are 2-3 inches above the ground now.  I took this picture on April 21st, 2018 and it seemed appropriate as a sign of hope in these current dark times.  You can add the photo to your collection in a variety of formats by visiting my RedBubble online sales gallery.

Photo of the Day

Today’s Photo of the Day, as seen at the top of this post, is the Lavina, Montana, United Methodist Church.  Lavina was one of several small parishes Poppa served as interim pastor while working at Rocky Mountain College in Billings.  You can purchase this image in any of several different formats by visiting my RedBubble online sales gallery.

Guest Site of the Day

Today’s Guest Site of the Day goes to a young man whose blog I’ve been following for several years now.  Petter describes himself as a “Demi-Norwegian Swede in London. LGBT Charity Manager and a rather churchy type.”  Since I’ve been following his posts, he’s written from England and from Sweden, and today’s post comes from London where he is currently working from home.  Like many of us, even introverts can feel the social isolation as Petter writes in his post “This week has been a long year!

Recipe of the Day

Last night I cooked a pork shoulder in the Instant Pot™ following an Amy + Jacky Recipe.  They refer to it as HK Pork Shoulder, the HK standing for Hong Kong. They also say it is Dai Pai-Dong inspired, although I am not familiar with that Chinese dish. As always, I made some changes to the recipe, most notably because Kevin cannot eat onions and my fresh ginger was too old to use.  Instead, I added onion powder and something called ginger syrup to the salt and pepper rub.  Also, Amy + Jacky cook the shoulder for only 6 minutes under pressure, but I set the timer for 1 hour.  I had intended to cook the rice using their pot-in-pot method, but 1 hour would have reduced the rice to mush.  Instead I cooked the rice the normal way-in my automatic rice cooker.  One of our neighbors joined us for supper and we all agreed the meal was delicious.  Here’s Amy + Jacky’s recipe.

Video of the Day

For some reason, last night I dreamt of a belly dancer.  I’ve photographed many belly dancers over the years, and could easily have come up with an image to use here.  But a voice in my head said to feature a video of a male belly dancer.  Not what you usually see, but men do perform belly dances, and of course, their videos appear on YouTube.  When I went looking for one, I watched some amazing feats of muscular control, but nothing compared to this video from La France a un incroyable talent France’s version of America’s Got Talent.  No, this isn’t a belly dance, but rather a beautifully put message against homophobia.  The audio, with the exception of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, is all in French.  Get over it.  You should have studied French long ago.  (That’s the French teacher in me talking.)  I hope you enjoy Guillaume et Arthur as they dance, also showing some amazing muscular control.

And with that, we’ve reached the end of another day’s post.  Indeed, an other day’s post.  I talk about my life story on Sundays.  The calendar says this is Tuesday, but these days, who can tell one day from another with us all social distancing at home.  Stay Safe and Healthy, and Enjoy.  If you like what I’m doing, please comment below and subscribe.  


12 Comments on “Rocky Mountain College, Billings

  1. Daffodils always remind me of Dr. Zhivago.

    Your Dad went where needed. He followed in Brother Van’s footsteps!

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  3. Thanks for the insight and information on Old Rimrock School. I found your article as I was searching for a picture of my old elementary school. My first and second grade teachers were the same as yours. My third grade teacher was Miss Wright . . . who was young and pretty and soon to be married. Maybe she became Mrs. Nelson, I’m not sure of her married name. Mrs. Chestnut had quite a reputation for strictness and discipline and learning phoenics. And even though most boys wore crew cuts she could still pull their hair if she found them misbehaving:) What great memories of starting at a small four room schoolhouse walking a mile each way and even walking home for lunch. Barb Thies Lowe

    • You must have been there after I was, as I believe we were Miss Prebe?’s first class at Old Rimrock. I don’t know Miss Wright. And Mrs. Chestnut was, indeed, strict. Thanks for the comment.