John P. Anderson

John P. Anderson (1947-2019) 

John P. Anderson’s closest friend will be at his memorial celebration Sunday.

The question among the 200 people or more  expected at the Zootown Arts Community Center’s new home on West Main is: Which one is it?

“John had so many people who think they were his best friends,” his sister Roberta Anderson said from her home in Polson. “He’s still got so many friends in Missoula.”

That’s despite the fact that Anderson, 72, a gentle giant known as John P. whose big heart finally failed him in Bali, Indonesia, on Nov. 24, hasn’t made Missoula his primary residence for decades.

“He’d come back every so often. In fact, he lived with my wife (Susan) and I for three months earlier this year. But he didn’t like the cold weather,” said his younger brother David.

Anderson, who stood close to 6-foot-9, was a collector of exotic things and a dealer in silver jewelry. He spent the last half of his life traveling to faraway countries and living in southern Mexico and Bali. He made friends and influenced people wherever he went, his siblings said.

“He was just so generous. He had this whole family in Bali that he put the kids in college, helped them get jobs,” Roberta said. “One of the kids, Roland, is coming all the way from Bali” for Sunday’s celebration.

Charlie Rial, Anderson's financial advisor in Missoula, came up with the term "bon vivant." Shirley Juhl, a charter member of Missoula's Hip Strip on South Higgins, looked it up Friday and found bon vivant means "a person who enjoys a sociable and luxurious lifestyle."

"It's him," Juhl said. "It's perfect."

John Anderson and a dozen partners opened the Butterfly Building next to Hansen’s Ice Cream in 1972, on what came to be called the Hip Strip south the Higgins Avenue bridge.

To get an idea, the building’s “Gala Opening” on May 1 included, besides live music and movies at Crystal’s Theatre (later simply the Crystal) Elaine Hoffman’s MFA thesis show, Bonnie Tarrses’ weaving demonstration, a fire dance and a light show. It was presented by the tenant businesses — the Rishashay, Anderson’s and Bruce Lee’s Butterfly Herbs, Cat’s Cradle, Gilded Lily and the Crystal.

“The store was a magnet for the young and enchanted,” David said in Bennett’s obit.

"Very eclectic," Juhl said. "We were ahead of our time. We were forward thinkers. And we weren't political.

"I think we probably were hippies, but we were hippies with a mission," Juhl said. They dreamed from the start of opening an alternative school and a medical clinic. 

 Anderson got the Butterfly community interested in exotic jewelry and foods — and community.

"He was one of those people who could bring all sides together, all walks of life, which is something we're suffering from now," Juhl said. "We're so divided, but John could bring everybody together to sit around the table and before we knew it we all liked each other. He had that ability." 

Juhl, Linda Fry, and Ginger Burwick were busy getting ready for Sunday's event. They are the three surviving founders of the Gilded Lily restaurant. They were young, in their early 20s, and had little idea how to start a business.  It didn't matter.

Anderson "gave us all the confidence in ourselves to do that impossible," they said by email, after mulling over the question of his legacy in Missoula. 

"We were idealistic, we were going to make the world a better place, and we were going to have fun doing it," Juhl said. 

He “inspired his town to become a kinder and more welcoming place,” David wrote in an eloquent obituary that appeared in the Missoulian last Sunday.

The Anderson family moved from Livingston to Missoula in 1954, when John was going on 7 years old.  He attended Paxson School, Hellgate High, and the University of Montana.

In 1970, Anderson occupied the ROTC office at UM in protest of the Kent State killings. The same year he opened Rishashay, an import store on North Higgins, with Doug Bieri and Linda Bennett.

David Anderson also composed Bennett’s obit after she died in Bali in August 2016. He said John’s mother called Rishashay the “House That Hash Built.”

By 1980 Butterfly Herbs had moved across the bridge to its present location at 232 N. Higgins, and Anderson and Bennett had begun a silver jewelry venture in Taxco, Mexico. True to their natures, both became immersed in the culture of the silver town and of Mexico.

Roberta shared her younger brother's penchant for wanderlust.

“We’re both Libras, both into art and beauty and adventure travel,” she said.

She was a school psychologist in Seattle when John was in Mexico. When summer came, , “I’d just jump on the plane, go down there and wander,” Roberta said. “An old VW, the back of a truck, riding on donkeys, whatever we could find.”

A jeweler as well, Roberta Anderson went to India first, and still maintains business ties there. She discovered Bali, planted a seed, and her brother moved his operation there in the late 1990s.

John “loved to live in grand style wherever he lived,” his brother said. “In Bali, he had an old Dutch colonial house from the 1800s dismantled on another island and shipped to Bali, where he had it rebuilt on beach property that he leased from a temple.”

“I wish we’d gone (to visit) more often than we did,” David added. “He knew how to live, knew how to delegate, knew how to point a finger and say, ‘You do it.’ My father used to call him ‘the Baron,’ and that was when he was a little boy.”

Roberta, 77, broke her femur twice in 2012 and was hospitalized in a small town in southern India. John had to make the journey from Bali each time to sign permission papers the hospital required to perform surgery.

“He showed up when you needed him,” she said. “He came bouncing into the room with a big smile and a huge armload of books, novels for me to read.”

When she moved back to Montana in 2003, Roberta said John welcomed her back with a big party for her, a “lovefest” that many of their friends from the 1970s attended.

As expansive as the ZACC's new location in the old Studebaker Building on West Main Street is, Roberta said she's keeping her fingers crossed it'll be big enough on Sunday.

“It think," she said, "that this is going to be an unbelievable lovefest." 

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