By Tim Eberly
The Lannings went from the Hi-Line to the high desert.
In July, Bob, a Montana Hall of Fame coach at Havre High, and Linda, a longtime teacher, moved to Kemmerer, Wyo., a 4,000-population mining town about 7,000 feet above sea level in the southwest corner of the state.
After moving to Havre from Big Sandy in 1979, the Lannings molded young minds as teachers Bob at Havre High School and Linda at Havre Middle School for more than 20 years. By the summer of 2001, they felt it was time for a fresh perspective.
Originally, the couple wanted to move to Idaho or Washington. But at a job fair in Missoula last May, the Lannings were heavily recruited by representatives from the Lincoln County School District in Wyoming. The prospect of that move was too attractive to ignore.
By the Lannings' last year in Havre, Bob, now 56, had logged 32 years in the Montana school system. Linda had 30.
By moving out of state, the Lannings can draw their retirement from teaching in Montana and continue to teach full time. Montana teachers who want to move to a different school district within the state can draw retirement only if they work part time. They can earn an amount equal to a third of their final salary at their previous school district.
So the Lannings are able to collect their Montana teaching retirement, all the while starting fresh in a new town.
"It was definitely a financial boost for us," said Bob, a physical education teacher at Kemmerer High.
But, Linda said, it hasn't been an easy move.
"The move was pretty traumatic," said Linda, now a seventh-grade English and social studies teacher at Kemmerer Middle School. "We crammed a lot of changes in our life in a short period of time."
Days after they left Havre, the Lannings attended the wedding of their daughter, LeeAnn, a 1989 Havre High graduate, in Gillette, Wyo., on July 10. Two days later, Bob took over as the new head coach of the Rangers football team.
They also had to move all their belongings twice. Upon their arrival Kemmerer, the Lannings put everything in storage before being able to move into their new house two weeks later.
On Sept. 22, Linda's mother passed away in Big Sandy at the age of 84, and the Lannings returned to Hill County for the funeral.
"We've been through quite a transition," Bob said.
Scott O'Tremba, the principal of Kemmerer High, has provided a sense of miliarity during the move. O'Tremba is originally from Wolf Point in Roosevelt County.
Antelope, moose and deer make casual appearances in downtown Kemmerer. The town is on a dry plateau high above sea level known as the high desert.
"We didn't know all this until we moved here," Bob said.
Both of their children 26-year-old Lance and LeeAnn, 30 live a six-hour drive from the Lannings LeeAnn in Gillette, which is in the northwest portion of Wyoming, and Lance in Dillon, where he is in his senior year at Western Montana College.
Come early January, the Lannings will have been in Kemmerer for six months. Yet Havre remains in their thoughts.
"It's been a very warm community to move into but our hearts lie in Montana," Linda said, "and they probably always will."
This June, the Lannings are planning to return to Havre to visit family and friends. Bob's 80-year-old mother, Bernice Lanning, lives in Big Sandy, while his younger sister, Alma Terry, runs the family ranch 18 miles south of Big Sandy "about 50 yards from the Missouri River," Bob said.
Linda has a brother, Ron Bitz, who runs their family's grain farm west of Box Elder. In addition to an assortment of cousins and uncles, her aunt, Irene Holden, lives in Havre.
"We want to come home," Linda said. "We don't want to lose our ties. You don't live in an area that long and not put down roots."
Said Bob: "We miss being able to go downtown and run into somebody. We're developing friends here but at the same time, we miss our friends and family in Montana."
Bob double-dipped as an all-conference athlete in football and basketball at Northern Montana College now Montana State University-Northern where he met Linda before graduating in 1968. "I was very proud to be a Northern Light," said Bob, who earned a bachelor's degree in physical education. He is also in MSU-N's Hall of Fame for his athletic endeavors. "I was pretty lucky to get more than a little recognition, probably more than I deserved."
With the successful lobbying of former football coach Tom Reynolds, now the director of the MSU-Northern Foundation, Bob was drafted in the 15th round by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1968 NFL draft. A 6-foot-3, 250-pound defensive end, Bob participated in a Steelers tryout for three weeks before being cut.
"That was an experience, when you wake up in the morning and your sheets are still sweating from the previous night," Bob said of the East Coast humidity.
Shortly after returning to Montana late in 1968, Bob played in a national collegiate all-star game in Minnesota before hanging up his cleats.
Born and raised in Big Sandy, he returned to his former high school to teach and coach football, basketball and track for a decade.
Yet the main reason for Bob's induction in the Montana Hall of Fame for high school coaches was for his athletic accomplishments at Havre High. In the 1990s, Bob directed the Blue Ponies boys basketball team to the Class A state tournament six times, placing in five of their appearances. With 6-foot-5 Lance anchoring the middle, Bob coached Havre to the 1994 state title.
In all, Bob spent 17 years coaching basketball and assisting the football team at Havre, and 15 as the head coach of the track team.
"I'm really appreciative of the calibre of athletes I was allowed to work with in Havre," Bob said.
At the 250-student school, Bob wrapped up his first season as Kemmerer High's head football coach about a month ago. Though the team only won one game last year, the Rangers wrapped up the season with a 4-4 mark and lost to the eventual class 3A state champs in the first round of the playoffs. Twenty-two players will return for next season.
Bob turned down an offer to coach the boys basketball team this winter because he "wanted to spend more time with my wife," he said. But, he admitted, "they still may harrass me into coaching track."
Six months remain before the Lannings' scheduled return to Havre. It won't be easy, because they have more than family and friends on their minds.
"We just want to go to Quench & Bench and eat those good cookies that LeAnn makes," Linda said, referring to owner LeAnn Evans.