“Mom, when are we going to build a tennis court like the Burns’s?”
These words were the impetus for the family’s move to Bozeman. Our eldest son, then 10 years old, seemed to want more and more material things. Granted, that was our fault—as parents of four growing children, ages ten, nine, seven, and two, we wanted to give them the best. We lived in a five-bedroom home on an acre of land, had two cars, a swimming pool and spa, domestic help, and we sent our children to private school. We had the Southern California dream—or so we thought.
While wrestling with our oldest child’s requests, we came across a series of books written by a teacher and psychologist who lived in Bozeman. One of the books was I’m OK, You’re OK. The author was a husband and a father of many children who moved his family from Minnesota to Bozeman and found peace and tranquility in relocating there.
So, after much thought and prayer, we took a family vacation to Bozeman in November of 1978. Happily, I had a college friend in Bozeman who was a real-estate agent. Stephanie and her family showed us the town and introduced us to many people. On Thanksgiving Day, she opened her home to us and asked us to join her family for dinner—which we gratefully did. Her hospitality and that of the people she introduced us to just seemed to beckon us to join the community.
Stephanie introduced Geoff, my husband, to some local businessmen—they talked, and Geoff received a job offer. Stephanie found us a house on W. Cleveland, our offer was accepted, and we headed back to California to sell our home and advertising business.
The Man Upstairs must have approved of our decision, as we sold our home on Christmas Eve and our business shortly thereafter. With both tears and excitement, we left California for our new adventure. And an adventure it was: to leave sunny California and move to Montana in January is either demented or faith-driven!
The mountains were beautiful, and the peace and tranquility of the small town was beyond anything we had ever known. Our three school-age children adjusted—not without problems along the way, however. Brian and Kelly were at Willson School and it was not easy at first to make friends. I recall seeing little Kelly sitting on the playground all by herself reading a book. None of the other children would play with her. Eventually she made friends and joined in the school activities. Brian, who was in sixth grade, had a few more problems. On his second day of school, he was blamed for a firecracker incident and suspended for the rest of the day.
Our younger son, Mike, had no problems adjusting to his new, third-grade class. His only problem was his mother, who was aghast at his insistence on walking to school by himself in below-freezing weather from the very first day. (Did he know that his mom and two-year old sister followed every day for a week to see that he made it and didn’t get lost?)
Our boys learned how to ski, fish, and handle a gun through Hunter Safety classes and generally became more attuned to the outdoors rather than material things. In the summer, they went to the fish ponds on the outskirts of town every day. I would pack a lunch and a cooler of drinks and drop them off for the day. At first I would drive over and check on them often. Soon I learned that that wasn’t necessary in Bozeman. My boys were completely safe and doing something they loved. During the winter they learned to ski at Bridger Bowl. Kelly, our ballet dancer, learned to ice skate and spent all of her free time enjoying the rink at Southside Park.
We even learned the joys of camping. One of my cherished memories is an evening when the kids were all in the tent, and Geoff and I were in the back of our station wagon. The skies opened up, and Brian took his sleeping bag out of the tent and slept in the rain. He said the water felt good on his face! He probably was the smartest of the bunch because shortly thereafter the entire tent collapsed and the other three kids joined us in the car.
The years we spent in Bozeman were full of adventure: river-rafting, hiking, rodeos, and road trips. The scenery was unbelievable—Montana is truly God’s country. I well remember the day my husband called and said, “Take the kids and go to Big Sky—there's snow up there.” It was July 3rd. What an afternoon we had making snowballs the day before Independence Day 1979!
I remember being stuck in the snow. The tires wouldn’t move. Having lived in California for so many years, I’d forgotten how to negotiate the car out of such a predicament. A very nice man came to my aid and got me out, and told me to keep kitty litter in my trunk. It worked every time.
Our years in Bozeman were slight. However, the impact on our family was huge. Both our boys returned to MSU for college. Our younger son never got Montana or Bozeman out of his bones. I believe for him, it will always be home.
Jewel England returned to Southern California with her family in 1984 and has been there ever since. Her son Mike is editor and publisher of Outside Bozeman.