By Robert Lucke
Clarence and Ramona Lohse are especially happy these days as their family business, Bear Paw Lumber, celebrated its 25th year of operation this spring.
The Lohses were Big Sandy kids who came to Havre looking for work in the early 1950s. She was a farm girl, Ramona Jappe, and he grew up on the Missouri River at what in those days was called the Lohse Ferry.
"After we got to Havre, Clarence got a job with the railroad. He stayed there for 19 years. I waited until our youngest child was in the first grade and then I went to work," Ramona said. "I worked at the high school cafeteria, as a teller for Citizens Bank, and for Valley Furniture. That was really a fun job."
When they got to Havre, the last thing on their minds was to build a lumberyard.
"It was one of those things that just kind of developed," Ramona said. "Clarence was on the railroad and built a house for us to live in. When things got tight, we sold that one and built another. Then we moved to a farm at Chinook and when we came back to Havre, Clarence really started in the construction business."
They had bought some land southeast of Havre and built a large shop on it for their construction business.
"We decided it would be easier to have a lumberyard than do construction. By that time Clarence had quit the railroad and we had that large shop, so we put a front showroom on it and opened up," Ramona said.
People had a desire to live in that area of Havre. So starting with five acres, Lohses subdivided it and started Lohse's Addition No. 1. Later, they subdivided Lohse's Addition No. 2, which is the western end of Glo-Ed.
The lumberyard was well-known from the beginning for its truss shop.
"What changes we have seen in that over the years," Ramona said, laughing. "Now David (their son) has software in the computer where they are even priced. He has done well with that."
In 1985 Great Plains was closing its lumberyard just east of Havre on U.S. Highway 2. That became an opportunity for Bear Paw Lumber to move and become more visible. Not all was easy with that move for the Lohses.
"When we were able to buy the Great Plains' land and move to the highway, it was a bad time because it was our first experience with the drought and how it affected everything," Ramona said. "It was not a good time to start a business. When we moved over there, I quit Valley Furniture and started in the lumberyard full time."
Much later, in 1993, Clarence and Ramona Lohse sold Bear Paw to their son, David. They have four children Valeri, Elaine, David and Leila. Both David and Leila have been involved with the lumberyard since it first started, with both still working there.
Ramona Lohse has been active in the Soroptimists since 1983.
"We do a lot of community work in that organization," Ramona said. "We put on the We Love MSU-Northern Ball,' have a fair booth, do the home tours, and this year we are thinking about having a style show in November."
Not only that, but Ramona is the president of the Havre Art Association. She and five friends paint at her house every Monday morning.
"One of the things we do in that organization is have the garden tours. This was our third one last month. They are less formal than the house tours and people really enjoy them," Ramona said. "But you know, really, the best thing about both organizations is that I have gained so many friends and really get to know people."
Getting to know people was the instant highlight of her Bear Paw Lumber life as well.
"The plus in the lumber business for me is the relationship we have had with our family. You really get to know your kids when you work with them. Not many people have that opportunity," she said.
There was a downside for the lumber business.
"That has to deal with the economy. We have not had real good years because of the drought," she said. "And Great Falls is such a draw too, you know."
But they would do it over in a heartbeat.
"If you knew then what you know now, we might have done some things differently, but I am not sorry about any of the things we did," Ramona said. "You know, I think we are very fortunate and blessed people."