Its a good life for Vaupel
By Robert Lucke
Don Vaupel is sort of a modern-day Johnny Appleseed. Wherever he has lived in Havre, there are trees, trees and more trees.
It is no exception these days now that he lives six miles west of Havre. The only thing is that at his current home, he has nothing but room to grow his trees. So, out of prairie Vaupel has created a major forest, lawns, a pond and fountain, and a wildlife refuge to boot.
He laughs about his green thumb.
"My mother had a green thumb, more than me," Vaupel said. "I guess I am a country boy and just enjoy working outdoors."
Vaupel and wife Gabriele have some three to four acres of grass alone. The forest, mostly evergreens numbering in the hundreds, surround the house and grounds that sweep majestically to a pond and fountain and then to Beaver Creek, which runs through the lawn.
"We got out here in 1982," Gabriele Vaupel said. "Almost immediately the construction started. In fact we moved in on a Friday and a garage was started that next Monday."
Vaupel knows exactly what makes things grow for him.
"It's the water. That makes it all work," he said. "Hopefully the water will continue. It takes lots and lots."
If having a forest growing on the Montana prairie seems unusual, there is more. The Vaupels told their real estate agent they didn't want the house if there were rattlesnakes around. The real estate agent assured them there were no rattlers present. And in the last 20 years, in the middle of rattlesnake country, they have never seen a rattlesnake.
All other wildlife is diligently preserved on the grounds. A few months ago a moose strolled through the grounds, so now there is a sign warning of a moose crossing.
Both Vaupels say they could never handle their outside work without the help of Kris Bakke.
"He is super help," Gabriele Vaupel said. "He keeps things running out here. Don doesn't know the first thing about machinery."
Vaupel does know about all there is to know about drug stores and pharmacies. Born and raised in Saco, after college he got a pharmacy job in Glasgow, then moved to Bozeman to work.
"That year we had a snowstorm in Bozeman on July 1 so I said no more of this for me. I moved to Havre that October and went to work for the Owl Drug," Vaupel said.
That was in 1948. Ten years later he had started his own drug store in Havre, Don's Pharmacy. Soon there were either Don's or Western Drug Stores in Havre, Harlem, Great Falls, Helena, Bozeman, Shelby, Livingston and Billings 14 stores altogether.
Then came the Atrium.
"I never thought of making any money in the Atrium," Vaupel said. "I knew I had a store in downtown Havre and we couldn't stand to have that building stand there empty."
James Sleeter, Vaupel and Jessica Longston became partners in renovating the building.
"Sleeter did the construction work, Longston had the money and I just sat there," Vaupel said, laughing.
Sleeter and Vaupel bought out Longston and eventually Vaupel bought out Sleeter.
Gabriele was attending airline school in Kansas City, Mo., when a friend invited her out to visit in Montana. She came and has stayed ever since.
"That was some 30 years ago," she said. "It took a long time for me to get used to this country. These days I am perfectly happy here as long as I can get to a city once in a while."
The Vaupels were married in 1974.
These days, with the stores sold, some people would think of retiring. Not Vaupel. He traded one occupation for another and it keeps him busy winter and summer.
Any spring projects on the horizon?
Vaupel thought for a moment, then said, "Well, just where you drove up the hill to the house, I am tempted to plant some trees over there. I just keep looking at that place."
"No, we have enough trees," Gabriele Vaupel interjected.
"Maybe we do," Vaupel said. "If I can just keep the front and back going, that might be enough. I'll have my hands full with that. But I'll tell you one thing. This is a great life. The Lord has been awfully good to us."