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Community pride
Don Teague, a resident of Clinton since 1973, says the people living in Clinton make it a nice place to live. "There's a lot of good people here, some of the best," he says.
Photo by GRETA MARTINSON/Missoulian

Residents of Clinton say their neighbors make the town a warm place to live

The beginning of a new year is as good a time as any to take stock of your life, set aside a few minutes to ask yourself a few important questions.

Say you live in Clinton. You might ask yourself, "Why do I live in Clinton?"

And if you live in Clinton and ask yourself that question, it probably won't take you more than a few seconds to come up with a pretty darned good answer.

So, in honor of the New Year (and in the belief that the easy questions often lead to the best responses), we present you with a few of our Clinton neighbors and their reasons for sticking around.

Kent Hamer moved to Clinton 18 years ago because the Clinton Market was for sale. He was looking for a store of his own - the time had come to be his own boss - and there it was.

Just over a year and a half ago, he moved into a much bigger store - 8,500 square feet, compared to the 3,000-square-foot space in the old building - and things are going strong. (The old store now houses the new Blue Horse Gym, run by fitness instructor Theresa White.)

"The community needed a bigger store with more services," Hamer said. "You have to expand."

So that's why he lives in Clinton.

And why doesn't he want to leave?

"I like the people," he said. "I like the community."

The nightlife isn't much ("there's a bar, basically"), but there are these added bonuses: hunting, fishing, four-wheeling and snowmobiling "right outside your back door."

Hamer noted that most people who live in Clinton take the Interstate 90-commute to Missoula for work. But they shop at his store. That might say something about his prices, but it probably also says something about the people.

"You know everybody," he said. "Somebody comes into town, you make a point of getting to know them."

There isn't so much of that getting-to-know-the-new-neighbors friendliness as there used to be, said Roy Handley, but Clinton's still an awfully nice place to be.

"Now, people - like everywhere - are getting busier in their own lives," Handley said.

"You don't see people getting together as much, doing the community dances Š people just getting together for no real reason."

Handley grew up in Clinton, and his family has lived in the area for 50 or 60 years. His dad started a ranch in Clinton in 1962, which he has since taken over, and he also runs a school bus contracting business. His wife works in Missoula.

He gets frustrated sometimes that people's opinions of Clinton tend to form around news stories about one or two bad apples.

"Clinton has taken a bum rap for quite a while," he said. "We never make it in the paper except for something bad."

A few years ago, Handley subdivided some of his land, which is now a neighborhood of new homes called the Wallace Creek Estates. It was a difficult decision, but it allowed him to stay in the ranching business and buy land in central Montana.

"You have to get bigger, and you can't compete with houses, or what people are willing to pay for houses, to buy farmland," he said. "That's what's happening here, and I don't know how to stop it."

And the families who have moved into the subdivision tend to be young, just getting started. They can afford to live in Clinton and work 17 miles away in Missoula.

"It's a really easy commute," Handley said.

Even though he now owns farmland somewhere else, Handley hopes to stay in Clinton with his family. He said he doesn't want to run his two kids' lives, but he sure wouldn't mind if they stayed in the farming and ranching business with him.

Missoula County Sheriff's Sgt. Rob Taylor moved to the Clinton area from Missoula about three years ago, in part for the affordable housing. He figures his house would have cost him about twice as much if it was sitting on a city lot.

But he's discovered a number of other benefits to living east of town.

For one thing, there's no need to worry about the traffic, and the trip to Missoula isn't a hardship.

It's quiet.

And the weather's great.

Clinton School Superintendent Mark Latrielle, who commutes the opposite direction (he's worked in Clinton for 27 years, but lives in Missoula), also commented on Clinton's weather.

On a bright, sunny Clinton day, the trip into the cloudy western end of the valley can be like "driving into a cave," he said.

Although Latrielle doesn't actually live in Clinton, he has plenty of reasons to appreciate the community: It has provided him, so far, with at least two generations of school kids. The school population has dropped substantially over the years - from 310 in the early '80s to just under 200 now - but this year's kindergarten class of 28 is the largest in years. He said it's too early to say whether that's a trend resulting from new, young families moving into town.

And Latrielle works in an uncommonly generous district (it stretches about 13 miles, picking up kids along the width of the valley east and west of Clinton). In his nearly three decades there, voters have never turned down a mill levy.

To show the school's appreciation, the kitchen staff cooked a free turkey dinner for anyone in the community who wanted to join them. About 200 people showed up.

Diners were treated to a PowerPoint presentation of the history of Clinton, put together by the school's eighth-graders.

And they got copies of a Clinton phone book designed by the seventh graders, each with a different photo of the valley on its cover. The students shot the photos with digital cameras purchased with the help of last spring's technology levy.

"I think a lot of people don't know what we've got out there," Latrielle said. "We're very proud of it."

So. Say you live in Clinton. Instead of asking yourself, "Why do I live in Clinton?" maybe the better question is, "Why wouldn't I live in Clinton?"

Reporter Ericka Schenck Smith can be reached at 523-5259 or esmith@missoulian.com

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