By Ron VandenBoom
A bead of sweat rolls down the side of Eleanor Clack's face as she sits on the living room sofa. It's over 90 degrees and the heat has caused a slight blush to come to her face.
Clack is an institution among history buffs and museum aficionados in the Havre area. She has worked tirelessly for more than 25 years to help create and maintain the H. Earl Clack Museum and Museum Foundation, but in this fact lies an enigma. While she has dedicated much of her life to helping people remember their past, she has forgotten many significant milestones of her own.
"I'm not very good on dates," she said. "I guess I just don't care much about that sort of thing."
Clack, who took the name Larson from her stepfather when she was 5 years old, was born in Missoula and educated at the University of Montana, earning degrees in modern languages and home economics/food service. She also did graduate work at the University of Washington and Washington State University in food service.
It was an education that led to employment at Western Montana College in Dillon and eventually to Northern Montana College, where she worked as a dietitian.
One night at a party, in about 1962, she met the man who, because of his namesake, would eventually involve her in the preservation of early Havre history. Louis Clack was the nephew of H. Earl Clack, an early Havre entrepreneur who made a fortune in the petroleum and grain elevator businesses. At one time H. Earl produced his own brand of gasoline, Hi-Power, which was distributed in four states and dispensed from more than 200 stations. Louis was then the district manager of the H. Earl Clack Co., which headquartered out of Glasgow. Louis handled eastern Montana and North and South Dakota.
After a long courtship, Eleanor and Louis married in 1966.
Clack, who left NMC before her marriage, turned her talents to Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation, where she worked, at first part time and later full time, as a county extension agent for MSU-Bozeman. She said she worked to develop a nutrition program on the reservation and aided in the creation of a woman's club.
Clack would later use her experience at Rocky Boy's to help another local resident, Judy Ward, develop Havre's first Meals on Wheels program. The goal of the program is to deliver hot meals to seniors who can't prepare meals for themselves.
After Eleanor first arrived in Havre, back in 1964, the Havre Jaycees decided the town needed a tourist attraction, Clack said.
The original idea, according to Clack, involved the creation of a kind of museum/zoo that featured small and baby animals. The Jaycees, she said, needed a building for their attraction and turned to the Clack family for funding. They offered to name the facility after H. Earl Clack.
The Clack family donated $10,000 to erect a museum on the northern end of the Hill County Fairgrounds. It was a small metal building that today serves as the Great Northern Fair office. Additional funds were eventually donated to erect a building behind the museum to hold buggies and carriages.
The zoo idea failed, Clack said, because the little animals didn't survive well and finding winter lodging for the critters was difficult. It was then they decided to turn the facility exclusively into a museum, and Antoinette "Toni" Hagener became the first curator in 1964.
"There was no heat in the building in those days," Clack said. "In the off-season, through the winter, everything would freeze. It was really hard on the displays."
Clack said she worked with Hagener to construct many of the displays from a plan developed for the museum by Harrison Lane, a former American studies professor at NMC. She also assisted Hagener in giving tours of Wahkpa Chu'gn Buffalo Jump.
Hagener decided to run for county commissioner in 1980 and gave up her position as curator to Clack, who served in that capacity until 1990.
During her 26 years of dedicated service to the museum, she also was instrumental in forming the H. Earl Clack Museum Foundation to assist in improving displays and help the museum grow and prosper.
Clack was serving as president of the foundation in 1996 when the museum agreed to abandon its old home at the fairgrounds and move into the Heritage Center.
Signing the papers for the purchase of the old post office from the U.S. Postal Service was one of the last acts Clack thought she would complete before retiring after 32 years of service to the community and the museum. She turned the helm of the Museum Foundation over to Don Mahlum, who oversaw the first year of the Heritage Center's existence.
She admits she helped move displays from the museum's old home to the new, but overall she believed her involvement was over.
That was before Lou Lucke, chairman of the H. Earl Clack Museum Board, asked her to help develop programs and do publicity for the museum.
She continues to do about anything that's asked of her, including reviving the summer lecture series she and Hagener developed more than 20 years ago.
"The museum is very dear to me and I think Havre deserves it," she said.