By Tim Eberly
Even in the '70s, when Arnold Tyler lived in Big Sandy, 35 miles southwest of Havre, he was fascinated with politics. However, the son of a strong Democrat, Tyler didn't find his political voice until he moved to Havre in 1978.
"I have been interested in politics all my life," said the 62-year-old Tyler, "but I didn't start doing anything about it until I got to Havre."
When Tyler, the Ward 4 incumbent running against Allen "Woody" Woodwick in Tuesday's city primary election, and his former wife transplanted to Havre, he started attending Hill County Democratic meetings on the side. Then, in 1984, a Ward 4 council member moved away with one year left in his term, leaving an opportunity in his wake. Gingerly at first, Tyler stepped forward, and was promptly appointed to the position.
"I got to thinking about it and I thought, Heck, I want to try,'" said Tyler, who is semi-retired but also owns rental property in Havre. "I just decided to run for city council to see if I could have an impact. So I got a year under my belt before I had to run for election."
In Big Sandy, Tyler toiled as a rancher for five years after graduating from Big Sandy High school in 1957. Later, he worked as a baker before taking over the family grain farm, which he purchased in 1972 and sold five years later. Shortly thereafter, Tyler was in Havre, and back in the bakery business at Buttrey Foods for 12 years.
"There was nothing in Big Sandy," Tyler said. "People went to the bars and drank. That was pretty much it. I always felt that I wanted to help people."
Mission accomplished, but Tyler is running out of programs to join. He is a board member of the Unified Disposal District, on the board of trustees at the Eagles Club and a member of the North-Central Senior Citizens Advisory Board. And Tyler with the guidance of the Bear Paw Development Corp. helped arrange for financing for the hockey club in 1997. He has also been involved in the Big Brother/Big Sister program for two decades, and still keeps in touch with three of his former proteges.
"I've always responded to people," Tyler said. "I'm interested in the whole city. I'm outgoing. I don't know how I got that way, but I did."
Today, Tyler is gearing up for a possible fifth term. He won three of his elections unopposed but says, "They're all nerve-racking." Much of the preparation is tiresome door-to-door work, but it works in the favor of a man who describes himself as a hands-on council member.
"Any time there's a water break and I know about it, I'm there looking to see what's going on," he said.
If he is elected, Tyler hopes to get Havre more involved with the Bear Paw Development Corp., which, among other things, provides general community development assistance to its member local governments by writing grant and loan proposals, coordinating funding sources and assisting with project management.
"It's a great source of funding," Tyler said. "They're a source of funding and planning that needs to be taken advantage of."
Realistically, Tyler knows his 17-year residence on the council could come to an end. If it does, he knows how to keep himself busy.
"I'll just find some other charity work to do," he said. "I have plenty to do."
Woodwick looks more like a musician than a politician. But the 40-year-old Havre native wants to be both.
The pony-tailed Woodwick, who is partial to donning multi-colored Hawaiian shirts, has been musically inclined since his late father, Jim Woodwick, taught him how to play the organ at the age of 9. He has been in a potpourri of bands since he was a teenager, but Woodwick has spent the last 14 months playing bass guitar with a classic rock 'n' roll band, "Little Wizard," in locales like Havre, Great Falls, Malta and Chinook.
"We stay pretty close to home," Woodwick said. "We've all got family. We're not interested in hitting the road."
A year and a half ago, back injuries forced Woodwick into premature retirement from his 19-year position at the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad, where he labored as a welder, welding foreman, grinder and machine operator. "The track department has a lot of different positions," Woodwick said, "and I filled quite a few of them." But now Woodwick has designs on working a different venue City Hall.
"There were some things going on that made me think, I can't complain about what's going on if I'm not doing anything about it,' " said Woodwick, who also owns some rental property in Havre. "I've lived here all my life. I plan on staying this is where I want to raise my kids so I have a vested interest in the community."
A third-generation resident of Hill County, Woodwick graduated from Havre High in 1979. His maternal grandmother, Francis Keller Malsan, homesteaded some property in Cottonwood, 25 miles north of Havre, in the early 1900s and turned it into a wheat farm. An uncle, Tony Malsan, still operates the farm. Jim Woodwick, Allen's father who passed away in 1998, moved from Wisconsin to Havre in 1949, when he took a machinist position with the railroad. That same year, he met Allen Woodwick's late mother, Theresa Malsan. "He was going to leave but he met my mother," Woodwick said.
Meanwhile, Woodwick has hit the pavement with his campaign slogan, "New Face, New Ideas." If elected, he would like to see the city draw more people to the town by promoting sporting events and maintaining local businesses with the help of grants or low-interest loans. He also feels the youth in the community need a show of support, such as providing them with the long-term project of designing, building and maintaining a skateboard/Rollerblade park.
"I'd like to get in there and shake things up," said Woodwick, who has been married to his wife, Keri Woodwick, for 14 years. The couple has three children: 20-year-old Jeremy, Allyssa, 13, and Erik, 8. "I think we're due for a change. A lot of people in the council have been there for quite a while, and I think they could be getting complacent."
Woodwick doesn't want to look too far down the line, but says a position on the city council could act as a stepping stone to a future in politics.
"Could be," Woodwick said. "That's a one-step-at-a-time kind of thing. I want to test the waters. I've been talking to a lot of people and they've been really happy to see me. But first things first; I need to win the election."