Havre Daily News - News you can use

Wherefore art thou Class of 1970? A Tale of Two Commissioners


Maureen "Morb" Callahan Wicks

"Amazing. Isn't it? How we're led to the place we really should be?" Recently I was privileged to share with two of my Havre High School Class of 1970 classmates, and this is the quote that I was left with as we concluded our conversations.

The idea for this article came to me as I was driving the care center bus back to Havre. I'd just met up with a classmate that I hadn't seen in years, Maureen "Morb" Callahan Wicks. We had taken residents to the Senior Center in Chester for lunch. A woman who looked pretty much like she did 45 years ago came and started talking to me and I realized that it was Morb Callahan. She mentioned that she had taught school for many years, was farming with her son south of Chester and was currently serving as a Liberty County commissioner.

"Serving as a county commissioner ... ," I pondered, and then I added to myself, "That's what Mark Peterson does for Hill County ... and they both graduated in our HHS Class of 1970." Where could that story lead? Of course to a "Tale of two commissioners."

"So, Morb, how did it all come about that you're a county commissioner?" I asked.

She answered: "I was retired from teaching and staying on the farm, helping my son, John. He encouraged me to branch out and try something new and different. About the same time Rlynn Rockman retired from being a commissioner. He asked if I would be interested in running. I'm in my second year of a six-year term. I'm still involved in the farm, but I love serving as a commissioner."

Maureen Beth - nick- named "Morb" by her grandfather - Callahan was born in Havre to John and Jane (Zygmond) Callahan. Her parents have passed away, but she still has two aunts living in Havre, Patricia Callahan Morris and Margaret Zygmond Webb.

Morb attended St. Jude Thaddeus School and then Havre Central through her sophomore year of high school. It was in the fall of 1968 that Central closed and Havre High was blessed with the transfer students from Havre Central. Morb spoke fondly of that time.

"Havre High did a great job of assimilating the Central students. That's continued even through the Fossil Festival," she said.

When Morb was born, she joined older sister Shannon, and later they were joined by Carrie, Pat and Tim. While teaching she had Tim as a student. After graduating from HHS she attended Montana State University and received a degree in government. She taught social studies for three years in Bozeman and then transferred and taught at Havre High School. It was in Havre that she met future husband, Russ Wicks, a Chester native. They moved to Eastend, Saskatchewan.

"That's where I learned farming." Morb told me.

Morb is the mother to step-daughter Celeste Knipping of Minneapolis and the grandmother of Ingrid and Leighton. Her daughter, Cali, lives in Helena and is married to Andrew Swallows. Her son John lives on the farm south of Chester.

As a Liberty County commissioner, Morb represents the Tiber area south of Chester. The most challenging part of being a commissioner is trying to maximize the budget while providing as many services as possible for the residents of Liberty County. She believes residents are fortunate to have their own critical access hospital in Chester.

Morb's husband, Russ, passed away in 2006, and she is so grateful for the wonderful neighbors and friends who helped them through that very difficult time. She is particularly grateful for the encouragement they gave her son, John.

With fondness Morb remembers special friends in the Class of 1970 -  Signe Schuster, Kim Sather, Pam Stark, Patsy Sasaki, Jude Schnurr, Darla Smith, Kris Fuglevand and Theresa Runnion.

In her spare time, she likes to travel and has been to Cuba twice. In 2014, 12 Callahans traveled to Ireland and visited relatives.

"I'd been there before but, with all my relatives, it was even better," she said.

I've known Mark Peterson most of my life having come from the same area north of Havre and riding the school bus into high school. In recent years I've gotten to know Mark better, and my appreciation for him has grown.  

As I spoke with Mark and Morb the other day, I was amazed at their knowledge and their passion for making life all it can be for the constituents of their respective counties. Mark is three years and four months into his six-year term as Hill County commissioner.

"To be a public servant," Mark said "you need to have an open mind and discuss the issues and possible solutions. We're restricted by the law and sometimes that's very tough because the budget has to be balanced yearly. Lots of things have to be planned out far in advance even before you know how much money there is going to be to pay for it. We look for grants to help with everything, and we make decisions based on need, working with all the entities involved. I love people, and that's how you learn ... you need to talk to them."

Mark is the son of Russell and Venita Peterson and has lived north of Havre all his life. His life of service probably started when he often went with his dad to Hill County Electric Cooperative meetings. After high school graduation he enrolled at Northern Montana College.  That only lasted a quarter until he realized he could learn the same thing by reading the book ... and it would cost him a lot less.

"Self-taught and self-learning" could be his middle name. Mark has been involved in improving agricultural all his adult life from Farmers Union, to MSU College of Agriculture, to working with the Northern Agricultural Research Center and CARET - Council on Ag Resource Education and Teaching. He believes that life is a continual learning experience.

Mark started farming when his father became too ill to do so. On March 3, 1973, he married Nancy Kurt, and they have two sons Kody and Kyle.  

Kody is married to Gabrielle and is involved in construction and farming. Kyle is married to Kodi and works for NorthWestern Energy. Mark is grandfather to Peyton, Paige, Laramie, Kage and Kacen. Kody lives in Kremlin and Kyle lives south of Gildford.

So Mark, I inquired, "if you could change anything what would it be?" He pondered for a while and then looked me in the eye and answered, "There are two things I'd change. What are they? I'm not telling. Some things are better left unsaid."

It is evident that Mark cares deeply for Hill County and its residents. Whether it was volunteering for the Wild Horse Fire Department, training first responders or having research seed plots, Mark Peterson has always led the way.

Mark Peterson

"Life is short. It changes often. We've got to be willing to learn and change to make things better."

Morb and Mark sometimes meet at state meetings. Both share a love and appreciation for the land and the residents they represent. On behalf of the Havre High School Class of 1970, may I say how very, very proud we are of Morb Wicks and Mark Peterson. May God bless you for your service.

"Amazing. isn't it? How we're led to the place we really should be?"

"For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:1.

(Ila McClenahan is the pastoral care and activity director for Northern Montana Health Care.)


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