Stanford, Montana, looks like it’s winning a battle a lot of rural American towns are fighting: to keep vibrant, to stay young, to have energy.
One of the leading forces for Stanford’s energy is Tess Brady, whose business card reads, “Resident Bitch,” a title she says she gave herself. She says that’s because she isn’t afraid to pester city government and businesses to get after and keep after projects that make Stanford look cared for and proud. And no one works harder than Brady, who is watering and weeding some 60 planters and 35 window boxes of flowers around town from 5 to 7 every summer morning and then again from 8 to 10:30 every summer evening. In between, she is a bank vice president.
Besides the flowers, Brady was one of the forces behind the repaving of Stanford’s downtown. Above, Don Dixon walks along Central Avenue to meet his wife at a corner coffee shop. The storefronts are occupied in Stanford and the downtown is clean. Residents say that shows off a strong community spirit.
As does the Stanford pool, an 85-foot by 45-foot source of local pride built in the 1970s and paid for and maintained by community fund raising, according to manager Sarah Bracha. In addition to the pool, there’s a library, a museum — even a staffed medical care facility. “There’s a lot of community spirit here,” Bracha says. “For a small town, we have it all.”
That includes Ted Kaste’s K’s Supermarket. Kaste, 41, grew up in Stanford, got a degree in archaeology and had established himself as a wild land firefighter, supervising an engine crew, when his dad decided to sell his grocery store in Stanford. “That’s when I got interested,” Kaste says. Until then, he says, the idea had never entered his mind. But he and his wife dropped everything and dove in. After a year, he began to make changes, investing in modernizing the store, changing distributors. He says he wants a store to be proud of. He makes sure his prices and selection are competitive with stores within driving distance. “I don’t want customers that shop here just because it’s the local place,” he says.
Of course Stanford has its characters. And barber Don “Andy” Anderson is one of them, shown here joking with a parting customer. Andersen, 74, has been cutting hair in Stanford for five decades, selling fireworks out of the shop for 35 years. He says he and his wife, Alverta, have been in a number of other businesses in town, including a clothing store and a deli. “We’ve been in everything,” he says. “It’s a fun town.” Dean Rowland remembers having his hair cut by Anderson at about age 6. He says Anderson told him a dog lying nearby was waiting hungrily for a squirming boy to get his ear cut off by mistake. “I was 22 years old before I ever moved in the chair again.”
“I come here in ’36,” says Florence Whitfield of her arrival in Stanford as a new bride from the town of Geyser, just 16 miles west of Stanford. Whitfield says she and her husband farmed wheat until he died in 1977, when she moved permanently into their house in town. But she has remained active, despite her age, which is nearing a century. Whitfield golfs and is an accomplished bowler, evidenced by her trophy collection. In 2005, she says she was the oldest bowler at the state tournament. Her high score is a 266, she says, which equates to nine strikes and one spare.
Gary Worm travels the quiet, shaded streets of Stanford on his motorized wheelchair. Worm says he was born in Stanford in 1951 and spent three years in the military during the Viet Nam War. Stationed in Germany, Worm says he was busy rodeoing, competing in saddle bronc, bulls, bareback and wild horse racing events. In 1974, Worm says he was home in Stanford, crossing the railroad tracks when his vehicle was struck by a speeding train. “It took me from one side of town to the other,” he says. Worm is from an old Stanford family that continues to care for him, one resident says.
Outside their mother’s home in Stanford, Kyle Marquardt, left, and his brother Jerry watch over their dogs and Jerry’s two daughters. The brothers, now in their mid-20s and working in the oil industry in Winnet, say they spent their elementary-school years in Stanford. “After moving away,” says Kyle Marquardt, “you realize how good it was.” Those sentiments are echoed by Ryanne Blank, who grew up in Wolf Creek, then moved around the country a bit before she and her husband took over the Sundown Motel from his parents four years ago. “Small towns are the best,” she says. “(Stanford) is a close-knit community. It’s almost like a big family.”