A little over 1,500. That’s how many pancakes are flipped every hour during the annual Fourth of July Breakfast at Fort Missoula. “3,600 pieces of bacon, 1,800 hash browns, 30 gallons of scrambled eggs and piles of pancakes serve up to 2,000 Missoulians each Independence Day”; that’s according to Rex Thompson, the “chief pancake flipper” since 2010.

This Missoula tradition began in 1976 as part of Missoula’s bicentennial celebration. Sponsorship for the activity lagged for a time until a couple of friends, Bill Wright and John Redmond, came up with an idea to keep the tradition alive. They approached leaders of their local church for help. Craig Bell, former leader of the local congregations of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who currently sponsor the breakfast, says, “We were looking for a way to give back to our community.” He adds, “As the Fort added more activities on the Fourth, community interest in the breakfast also grew. We were pleased with how much people looked forward to it.” Bill and John added more volunteers, including Rex’s Dad, Daryl Thompson, who built the “monster BBQ” trailer to prepare the food.

What began as a community service has turned into a volunteer partnership that includes Rex, his wife Cami and their children, and dozens of volunteers from several local church congregations. Daily’s Premium Meats has been the bacon contributor for many years. “It’s a long day. We start at 4 A.M., feed people all morning, then are up until after the fireworks,” says Rex, who quickly follows with a smile, “Cami and I always look forward to July 5th.”

Though it’s an early day for the volunteers, the most gratifying result is its support for the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula. After the food and supply expenses are covered, all proceeds are donated to the Friends of the Historical Museum. These funds support the museum’s various community education programs throughout the year.

For more than 40 years locals and visitors have looked forward to the annual breakfast. “Having breakfast out here is a good way to start the day,” said Gary Howard in 2018 as the sun started to warm the breakfast early birds. Rhonda Maun chimed in, “We live close. We come down and ride our bikes around here with our grandkids, we like it out here.” According to Gary and Rhonda, starting Independence Day at the Fort is as enticing as the food.

Longtime Missoula residents Mike and Jo Jacupcak are regulars at the annual event. “This is almost a tradition since our children were little. Now they are grown,” says Jo. Mike quickly adds, “What a wonderful way to start the Fourth of July.”

The breakfast attracts newcomers too. Michael and Louise Flanagan, along with a visiting grandson, decided that on the Fourth of July 2018, “we ought to go out and celebrate.” They love the Historic Fort Missoula Museum area and wanted to show their grandson where they like to walk and spend time.

If you and your family head to the Fort for breakfast on the Fourth, look for Rex and tell him and all of the volunteers, “Thank you!”

The annual Fourth of July Breakfast at the Fort gives the community an opportunity to participate in a patriotic family friendly event while supporting efforts to learn about recent Missoula-area history.

To learn more about events at Fort Missoula, visit www.fortmissoulamuseum.org. To learn about community involvement of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, use the search term “interfaith” at www.comeuntoChrist.org.

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Martin Blair is director of public affairs for the Missoula-area congregations of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He can be reached at martin.blair@ldspublicaffairs.org.

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