Community leaders tell why they came – and stayed

Some stayed because of family, others because of business or job opportunities. But all four citizens who spoke at the Lovell Area Chamber of Commerce general membership meeting Monday, July 20, said an abiding love of their community has kept them here in north Big Horn County.

The four were asked to give their “testimonials” about why they moved to, or moved back to, the area and why they stayed.

First up was Christy Fleming, Chief Interpreter at the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area. Fleming grew up in Powell, she said, and had a desire to move away from her home area, but she ended up staying and is glad she did.

“The reason I stayed initially? There was a boy,” she said, referring to husband Jason Fleming. “If not for Jason, I would have left. I think Jason had a better appreciation for this area than I did.

“But the longer you live here, the more you appreciate what we have around here. I’d bet nobody in this room has done everything there is to do in the Big Horn Basin. If you love the outdoors and camaraderie, there’s no place better than the Basin.”

After working at Bighorn Canyon for several years, Fleming worked at the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center for a time, then returned to the Park Service. She said Heart Mountain has one important story to tell (the confinement of Japanese Americans at the onset of World War II), and she told it over and over. But she said she much more enjoys the variety of stories to be told at Bighorn Canyon.

Pam Hopkinson

Byron Mayor Pam Hopkinson and husband Glen grew up in Byron, moved away, and then returned later in life.

“When I moved back, people asked me why, and I was insulted. I said, ‘That’s my hometown!’ I didn’t feel a pull to come home, but it’s interesting how life takes turns,” she said.

She and Glen lived in Cody for 15 years after college, which was a great experience for Glen as an artist, she said. But then “inflation happened,” she said, and the family returned to Byron, living in a small log cabin on Whistle Creek. She drove a school bus and taught seminary.

 Later, she ran into some people from Mesa, Ariz., who were close to the arts scene in nearby Scottsdale. The family made a move to Arizona and loved it, later moving to the Tucson area, which they also loved.

Lovell Area Chamber of Commerce board member Joseph Shumway presents a plaque to outgoing board president Lance Stebner (left) during the chamber’s general membership meeting on July 20. Taking the reins of the chamber now is Cameron Miller.
David Peck photo

But Hopkinson was returning often to Byron to assist her mother, Dorothy Cozzens, manage her store and rentals, so she asked Glen if he could paint from anywhere. He said yes, and the couple eventually returned home.

“At that point in his career, Glen really could paint from anywhere,” she said. “He agreed to uproot again.” (Glen said he and Pam have moved 19 times during their marriage, sometimes within a particular city.)

When Glen received two large commissions after moving back to Byron, the couple knew they had made the right decision.

Pam got involved in the issue to save the former Byron and Rocky Mountain High School building, and that was her first experience with local politics.

“I grew up with a mom and dad who were very
involved in their community,” she said. “It’s my hometown, and I decided if I can do anything
to make it better, I’d like
to try.

“We have good people
in this community, and if we need each other, we pull together. As people clean up their yards, it catches on. If you drive through town you’ll see it.”

Ken Ferbrache

Ken Ferbrache was living in Texas early in his medical career with his wife Ranee, and though he worked for a successful heart surgery practice, the hours were killing him.

“I was working 80 or 90 hours some weeks,” he said. “I came home one day and Renee was packing boxes. ‘I’m moving back to Utah with or without you,’ she said.”

The couple looked at a map and drew a 500-mile radius around their home territory of Salt Lake City and looked for a move. Ferbrache, a physician’s assistant with a specialty in cardiac medicine, looked at opportunities with the Billings Clinic system and discussed the company’s loan reimbursement program.

“I felt strongly that this is where we were supposed to be,” he said, noting that he literally ran out of gas at a gas station upon his arrival.

When he interviewed at North Big Horn Hospital, he said he was told that he didn’t have enough geriatric experience, but he pointed out that most of his heart patients in Texas were elderly. He got the job, and Renee said, “We’ll stay two years. I can live anywhere for two years.”

That was more than 25 years ago.

“We got here and fell in love with the area and the people,” Ferbrache said. “In 20 minutes I can be on a boat on the lake. The area is amazing, and the people are amazing.

“I work at probably the best healthcare facility in Wyoming. This facility is amazing.”

Mike Steenbakkers

The final speaker was Mike Steenbakkers, a loan officer at the Bank of Lovell. He said he grew up in the Seattle area and never pictured himself living in a small town. But he married Kelly Morrison and came to Lovell from time to time to visit her family.

Meanwhile, his parents moved to Boise, and when he and Kelly were living in Idaho Falls, it was a good midway point between his folks and hers. Idaho Falls was a great area in which to live, he said.

Then his mother was diagnosed with cancer in 2001 and died the next year. Mike and Kelly felt a pull to be even closer to family for daily activities, not just within driving range. He thought his job opportunities would be better in Boise, but one day Bank of Lovell President Bart Langemeier walked into his father-in-law Ron Morrison’s accounting office and asked if he knew anyone with business experience who might want to work for his bank.

“I just might know someone,” was the reply, Steenbakkers said. “He called and asked if we would consider it (a move to Lovell). We came up here, prayed about it and moved in January of 2003. We moved in during a snowstorm.”

One of the factors that drew him to Lovell was the opportunity his kids would have. He said he attended a three-year high school in Redmond, Wash., with an enrollment of around 1,600. He said kids had to focus on just one or two things. In his case he loved both basketball and baseball, and since he didn’t have the height to play basketball, he concentrated on baseball. Meanwhile, Kelly had the experience of her family members in Lovell getting to participate in myriad sports and activities.

The only drawback, he said with a smile, is that an active family gets stretched pretty thin. He said one year he and Kelly had kids in high school, middle school, elementary school and in diapers.

Steenbakkers said the community of caring people can’t be beat, and he told the story of losing track of a child during the end-of-school Lovell Elementary Field Day and being told by another parent, “Don’t worry, she’s over there.”

“We found it comforting that other people would look after our kids and that we didn’t have to worry if they were out of sight,” he said. “We have loved living here and raising our kids here. We love the fact that they can be involved in so many different activities.”

Steenbakkers did admit that it was probably easier, in a way, for him than Kelly to move to her hometown from the big city.

“There’s little Kelly Morrison,” she was worried people would say, Steenbakkers noted, but he added, “That’s OK now. She has many fond memories (of growing up).

“I can’t think of another place I would rather raise kids.”

Monday’s program included the passing of the gavel from outgoing chamber president Lance Stebner to Cameron Miller. Stebner said he would like to thank his fellow members of the chamber board, the members of the chamber and office manager Linda Morrison, who he said has brought excitement and new ideas with her to the job and made his job “relatively painless.” He said Miller is smart and enthusiastic and will do a great job as president.

Miller said the chamber is a great team and is serious about its role in the community. He said the board will continue to try to come up with ways to grow business in the community.

After the four speakers finished, Miller noted that all members of the chamber are ambassadors for the community.

By David Peck

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *