By Robert Lucke
Betty Bullinger is 90 years old. She looks 60 and when talking to her, soon it appears she couldn't be a day over 40.
Yet, when she and husband Joe came to Havre in 1949 with children, Mike, Emily, Carol, Annice and Betty Jo, it was a far different world and town than in 2000. The way the family came to Havre is tied to the history of the town. Betty tells the story.
"We were living in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Joe was working for Harry Buttrey and had been working for him for 12 or 13 years," related Bullinger. "Harry Buttrey had some ready-to-wear stores in Minnesota, North and South Dakota. It must have been after Mr. Buttrey had died, but anyway, in 1949, Ted and Harry Buttrey were running the Buttrey Department Store in Havre and Joe was asked to come out and work here."
To this day, that hot July day that the Bullinger family drove into Havre remains etched in Betty Bullinger's brain.
"We drove in from Great Falls. It was in July and hot and very dry. We got about half way to Havre, and remember that the roads were not what they are now. I said to Joe, 'Where in the world are you taking us?' It all looked so desolate and small coming into town."
Bullinger worked for Buttrey's for a number of years, until 1959, when he and fellow Buttrey employee, George Renaker, opened their own Havre store, Cavaliers.
From then until now, Havre has shared a special place in Betty Bullinger's heart.
"You know Havre has not changed a lot. Maybe it has grown a bit. I would think there might be 2,000 more people here than years ago, but you know that is a part of its charm, that it is little. We really liked it for that reason," Bullinger said.
One thing that has changed for Bullinger is that her family keeps growing. From those very first Havre days, the clan has celebrated Christmas Eve at the Bullinger home on Juniper Drive. These days, there are 14 or so gathered around the table that special night. Betty Bullinger does not do quite as much of the cooking or the decorating as she used to --others help with that -- but the celebrating goes on.
These January and February days are filled with hundreds of birds around the backyard feeder and plans for family far away coming back to visit and enjoy the summer at Bullinger's Bear Paw cabin.
"I am looking forward to summer visits now. We all just love to go out to the Bear Paws. When families are here, we like to spend a couple of days out there. They just love it," Bullinger said.
In fact, that is so much of Havre's charm in Betty Bullinger's eyes.
"Just to be able to get out in the country so easily is wonderful. When Joe retired and even before that, we would drive through the mountains so often. We've done a lot of fishing in the summertime and with the kids when they were little," Bullinger added. "And we all loved to go out hunting for ducks, geese and pheasants. Joe called the four girls his little retrievers."
These days on Juniper, Pine, Elm, and Maple, the evergreens that the Bullinger family planted when they moved into that "new Fuglevand subdivision" are higher than the houses they decorate.
"I have seen all that growth since we moved up here," Bullinger said. "But you know it doesn't seem like that long ago."
And there are the bird feeders which keep happy most of the winter jays, flickers, finches, and sparrows. It is the water that attracts them, Bullinger thinks.
"Those blue jays sure squawk when the water freezes in the bird bath," Bullinger said with a laugh.
Maybe it is the winter, but more likely it is that Bullinger hospitality.
"Sixty pounds of bird seed doesn't last very long around here," Bullinger said.
Advice for newcomers to this area are like Bullingers' were in 1949.
"It is a good place to live. Maybe some people would be used to a larger city, but we were always happy with Havre," Bullinger said. "Still are!"