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Clark Fork's Quiet Hero

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Bob Hays at right. Photo by David Broughton Bob Hays at right. Photo by David Broughton

Why Bob Hays deserves to be recognized as Panhandle State Bank's Community Star for 2008

To picture Bob Hays, think of Sean Connery with darker hair and minus the accent. Soft spoken, Bob didn’t discuss his years in Vietnam swooping in and rescuing injured soldiers. Instead, he talked about working as an ironworker and taking over the Chevron Station when Paul Thornton, the original owner, got a job at the post office.

    Bob, 68, greets his customers with a smile and a handshake. When I first met him, he was pumping gas for an elderly woman. Bob has lived in Clark Fork for 61 years and run the Chevron Station for 45.

    “Gas,” Bob said, “was 29 cents a gallon when we started.”

    It took me a while to ferret out why Bob Hays was receiving the Community Star award from Panhandle State Bank this September. According to Tami Wood, the bank gives one award in 15 to 20 communities each year.

    Tami says all the nominations come from different organizations. The bank’s Council of Excellence members research all the nominees and choose a winner.

Finally, I asked Bob point blank, “Why are you receiving the award?”

    Bob gave me a slow smile, and said, “Oh, that.

    “It’s supposed to be a shiny armor award. I’m not sure what it’s all about. I’ll get $1,000 to give to a charity of my choice.”

    Bob said he will probably give the money to the Booster Club at Clark Fork High. They need the money to finish their project of building new bleachers.

The bank will recognize Bob at a special ceremony during Clark Fork’s first home football game, at 5:30 on Sept. 19.

    When I discovered that John Connor’s mom lives in Clark Fork, I asked him, “Do you know Bob Hays?”

    “Funny you should ask me that,” John said. “I’m a singer/songwriter, and I wrote a song about him called ‘Veteran Savior.’ Bob rescued me and my buddy a couple summers ago.”

John and his friend, Aaron, had decided to go on a fishing/camping trip on Sugar Loaf Mountain. John brought along his old German Shepard, and they set up camp late. They had a couple of beers while listening to the radio. Unfortunately, they left the radio on, and in the morning, the truck battery had died.

They knew the dog couldn’t walk five miles back to Clark Fork, so Aaron stayed at camp with the dog while John hitched a ride back to town. When he got to the Chevron Station, Bob greeted him with his customary smile and handshake.

“He had this old truck that looked like an army rig,” John said. “I didn’t think it should be running at all, and we had to drive real slow because of all the ruts in the road. Bob told me about his experiences in Vietnam, jumping out of airplanes and rescuing injured soldiers. I told him, ‘You deserve the Purple Heart.’”

According to John, Bob jump-started their truck for free, and left the way he came. Later, John wrote the song for him.

Turns out, Bob is instrumental in organizing the annual alumni basketball/volleyball tournament in Clark Fork, which raises money for the athletic department at the high school.

“The alumni (tournament),” Bob said, “started with the class of 1980. There were two or three families. This year, we had ten teams and about 100 players. We invite kids from Noxon and some come from Bonners Ferry, Sandpoint and Spokane.”

Each team pays a fee to play during the tournament the second week of March. The proceeds, usually between $5,000 to $7,000, are donated to the high school to help kids compete at the state level. The money helps pay for traveling, lodging and meals.

“I kind of head that up,” Bob said quietly.

Bob also helps organize the July 4th celebration, via the Rod and Gun Club. Every year, Clark Fork features a parade, turtle races, games, a raffle, watermelon eating contests, tug-of-wars, and of course, a firework display.

“I get things going,” Bob said, “and then everyone falls in.”

About 1,000 people show up for the parade, and as the day warms up, many of them end up in the lake for a swim.

The entire town of Clark Fork kicks in for the celebration. Local merchants put in tickets for candy and pop, and an airplane flies over the baseball field and drops them for the kids to chase.

“It’s an old Fourth of July family deal,” Bob said. “It’s for the kids.”

Nobody wants to tell all Bob’s secrets, because he doesn’t want to have them told. But when there’s a need in the community, Bob is one of the first to jump in to help out. “He’s a sweetheart,” said Bugsy Craig, who works at the Chevron. “He’d do anything for anybody. It wouldn’t be Clark Fork without Bob Hays. No matter what someone needs, he’s there to help, from a hug to financial support. There’s not a day that goes by that he’s not doing something for someone.”

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Desire Aguirre Desire Aguirre lives in Sandpoint with her daughter, DaNae, and numerous pets. An LCSC student, she plans on graduating May, 2009, with a bachelors in communication. Her favorite sport is riding her horse, Splash-of-Paint, into the wilderness with Cholo, her son's faithful dog.

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