One of my favorite Montana political figures over the past half-century was “the Galloping Swede,” J. Hugo Aronson.
Just about anyone who had much contact with him has stories to tell about the personable immigrant who traveled the road from itinerant laborer to the pinnacle power in Montana to serve two terms as governor.
An experience that I’ve told to several people over the years pertains to Hugo Aronson’s remarkable memory for faces and places.
While I worked as a reporter for the Roundup Record-Tribune in the mid-1950s, I took the newspaper’s Polaroid camera to cover the arrival of Aronson at Roundup’s airport during a campaign stop.
As he got out of the high-winged, single-engine Cessna I snapped an informal picture of the beaming governor as he met the welcoming committee. It was my first encounter with him.
Actually, I was quite pleased with the way the photo turned out. It conveyed a relaxed individual who was obviously enjoying the occasion. We took the snapshot back to the office and sent it with other pictures for the edition to Great Falls to have engravings made. The photo was used with the report of Aronson’s visit to Roundup and I thought no more about it for three years.
From Roundup, I went to jobs with newspapers in Canton, South Dakota, and Bishop, California, before returning to Montana to accept the offer to serve as editor of the Flathead Courier in Polson.
Shortly after coming back to Montana, I stopped at the Finley Point Store and there was Hugo Aronson at the counter, just passing through to visit friends at Bigfork.
I started to introduce myself and to remind him of where we had met, but he broke in with a booming, “Yah, sure, I remember you very well, Paul, at the Roundup airport. You took the best picture of me that I’d ever seen!”
Our paths were to cross again in a couple of years when he became the most prominent citizen of Bigfork. He had retired there after his second term as governor. We snapped another photo as he received the Order of the Big Fork from the Bigfork-East Shore. We also took photos during a visit with the Aronsons at their Bigfork home.
Another fun time with Hugo was in mid-1961 when he was a member of the Flathead Lake fishing team, when it was involved in the much-publicized fishing contest with Sanders County Ledger publisher “Doc” Eggensperger’s renegades from Noxon Rapids.
But that’s another story.
Paul Fugleberg is a former editor and co-publisher of the Flathead Courier of Polson and the Ronan Pioneer, his freelance articles and photos have appeared in numerous national and regional magazines and newspapers, and he has written several books. He may be reached at email@example.com.