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Love Notes

Why they came home - interviews with Jim Parsons Jr, Kathy Conger, Mitzi Hawkins & Toby McLaughlin

Having lived in Sandpoint all my life, except for four years at the University of Idaho, I’ve often wondered what it would be like to view our community from the perspective of the folks who’ve “come home.”

I’m talking about locals who’ve left town after high school graduation, pursued their education and found niches in the professional world “out there.” Some stayed away for several decades. In each case, they eventually found their way back to Sandpoint to resume their lives and their careers.

My curiosity has been accentuated of late because of reconnecting with several former students who’ve come home. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed seeing them from time to time as they’ve re-acclimated themselves to life in the hometown. I also believe their personal journeys offer unique and positive perspectives of interest to readers, like myself, who’ve remained firmly fixed in this area.

The four individuals featured in this column occupied a special place in my teaching past. Kathy Allen Conger was a member of my Ponderettes Drill Team. Jim Parsons served as a photographer on the Monticola yearbook staff, while Mitzi Hawkins was a Ponderette and Monticola staff member. Toby McLaughlin took my sophomore honors English class. Now, he’s my lawyer.

They were all kind enough to respond to my nosy questions. Their thoughts follow.

JAMES LIKNESS PARSONS, aka Jim, J.P. and Snips, was born at Bonner General Hospital, January 15, 1955, to Clarice and Jim Parsons, Jr. After growing up in Sandpoint, he attended the University of Idaho, eventually moving to Southern California in late 1979.

Year you graduated from SHS; what was your class noted for? I graduated in 1973, and although it was longer ago than my memory usually retains things, I do remember our class being very good friends. I think I graduated with about eight or ten kids with whom I had started kindergarten. In those days I think we had only about 3,500 people in town, so you pretty much knew everyone.

I also remember “Hello Days” at the beginning of every school year. Each class, starting with the sophomores one day, juniors the next and then seniors, would dress up in a class-wide theme. Our senior year we dressed up as commandos and borrowed the local Civil Defense’ six-wheel amphibious vehicle (The Duck). When the first bell rang, we drove to the front door, went inside, “captured” the teachers and put them in the office.

Not sure what happened after that, but the next day, the teachers dressed up as cowboys and Indians, and as far as I know, it was the first time they’d ever done that. They lassoed a few whom they thought were “ringleaders” and dragged them out during a pep rally to set an example. Good stuff.

What did you enjoy most about your years growing up here? The friendships and the outdoors. Always a lot to do and someone to do it with. I was also very lucky to have a supportive and involved family. My dad used to film all the high school football and basketball games. Sometimes I resented him being so close because it made it much more difficult trying to get away with things. Mom worked at the Rexall Drug store on First and Cedar. It was like gossip central from a teenager’s perspective because she would hear about everything from someone.

What events from the past in this community are etched in your mind? At this point, even the etchings have eroded some, but a few things come to mind. I remember the Lions Club BBQ at the beach every summer. It seemed to me that the entire town showed up for that and that the weather was always perfect. I remember when Schweitzer first opened because my dad and grandfather had been involved in its beginnings. Dad had the first ski shop in town and on the mountain. He got me in the S.A.R.S. program, which was fun, but I remember every coach making us sidestep up the Junior Racing hill to do our practice runs. Obviously, the only lift that could get you there was Chair One, and the traverse was too far to be practical, but we dreaded those hikes.

What did you envision doing with your life while growing up here? I had no long-term plan. Growing up as a teenager in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s was an adventure unto itself.

Give a brief accounting of your life after high school until you returned to Sandpoint: I left in late 1979 and moved to San Diego to run the ski shop and fishing department for a nine-store sporting goods chain. After that, I lived in San Juan Capistrano and accidentally got a job with an insurance company. That changed everything from a career standpoint. I later moved to Woodland Hills and lived there with my wife and kids until returning to Sandpoint.

When did you return and why? We moved back in May of last year. It was precipitated by two things. First, my wife had been through spinal reconstruction surgery and during that, they found cancer (luckily, very early). The pace of Southern California was just getting to be too much. Second, we were waiting to see where our children might settle, and our thought was that we would move somewhere close to them. We finally (and when I say “we,” I mean my wife) decided it was better to move somewhere that the grandchildren would love to come visit at any time of the year. Grandchildren are God’s reward for not killing your own children, so we wanted them to be able to come here where we could spoil them rotten with a lot of fun outdoor activities and then send them home to whatever they had to deal with on a daily basis. Most people don’t realize we get to deal with THIS on a daily basis.

What do you currently do professionally? I’m an insurance wholesaler (Jansen and Hastings). I run the U.S. underwriting operations for a London-based firm. Insurance agents are my clients. They come to me when they have difficulty finding coverage for a high risk or an unusual class of business insurance. We negotiate the contract and price with any number of specialty insurance companies from around the world.

What were the most notable changes in the community you observed? That is very hard to say, because even being gone so long, my family still was here, and we came back often enough to see the change occur over time. I think there is certainly more diversity here than when I was growing up. I think that tourism, developed as a result of the lake and the ski area, has brought in more amenities than we had when I was young.

What has stayed the same? The friendliness... I don’t think that it matters socially or economically. The people here are just basically nice and considerate to each other. It is a special thing that does not exist everywhere.

In what community offerings, civic groups, etc. have you partaken since your return? We’ve been to a couple of P.A.F.E. functions, gone to auctions at my nephew’s school (Northside), and my wife is looking into Angels over Sandpoint and the Soroptomists.

What direction would you like to see the Sandpoint community go in the future? I hope that the planning for the community is consistent with the area and that they do not adopt the “urban sprawl” mentality that happened in Coeur d’Alene. I’ve spent enough time in areas with strip centers and mini malls that I really appreciate the local influence of businesses. If recreation is our main industry, let’s play to it and nurture it to be what we want. Consideration of some consistency in planning can create a tremendous upswing in revenue for the entire community as a whole.

What are your personal long-range plans? I plan to enjoy (again) everything this area has to offer, including my family and friends.

Anything you care to add? I hope this finally gets me off the hook for making fake I.D.’s in the school darkroom when you were my Monticola advisor in high school

 

KATHLEEN ALLEN CONGER. aka Kathy, Kath, was born September 9, 1958, at Bonner General Hospital. She spent her entire childhood in Sandpoint.

Local family highlights: My great-grandparents, John and Martha Garrison, came to Sandpoint in 1902 from Stone County, Missouri. Their firstborn was my maternal grandmother, Ethel Hadley. ... (Born) Ethel Alberta Garrison, (she) was the oldest of 14 children born to John W. and Martha M. Garrison (can you imagine being pregnant that many times?!). Half their children either died in infancy or in very early childhood. Ethel married my grandfather, William “Ralph” Hadley, when she was 17 and he was 22.

The Hadleys had moved from Wisconsin in 1902 to Waverly, Wash., in the Palouse south of Spokane. They moved to Sandpoint in 1916. Ralph was the third of nine children. Ethel and Ralph had six children. My mother Lucille was their fifth child.

My grandfather worked many and varied jobs to support his brood of six. He drove a team of horses and wagon making deliveries for Frazier’s Grocery. In the winter he used a sled. He helped build the Farragut Naval Training Base. My mother remembers that he worked in Tillamook, Ore., on a military base, and in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s he worked at Diehl Lumber Co. in Plains, Mont.

My father’s parents, Lee and Josephine Allen, along with the three youngest of their six children, moved to Sandpoint from Grass Valley, Calif., during WWII. Lee’s sister, Mary Rodgers lived in North Idaho.

My father Robert was stationed in the South Pacific, and after the war he travelled to Sandpoint to visit his family. On this trip he met my mother, returned to California long enough to be discharged from the Marine Corps and came back Sandpoint to marry Lucille Hadley on September. 14, 1946. My father worked for Pack River Lumber Co. for many years and drew the “Packy” logo. In his long career he worked in 28 different lumber mills, mostly helping to get them up and running, throughout Montana, Idaho and Washington.

He retired from Brand S Lumber (presently Riley Creek) in the late 1980s. Retirement didn’t set too well with him. He returned to work on a “temporary” project at Lignetics and stayed 14 years. At 81, he finally took off his welding helmet. My mom’s 25-plus years in retail sales included working at Penneys, Anthonys and Austin Drugstore. She was a well-loved, well-known figure in the downtown Sandpoint scene during those years.

Year you graduated from SHS; what was your class noted for? 1976. It was the country’s Bicentennial, and it seems like everything we did was geared around that theme.

What did you enjoy most about your years growing up here? Family gatherings. Small- town living. Outdoor activities, especially time spent on Lake Pend Oreille

What events from the past in this community are etched in your mind? Fourth of July parade and fireworks, Lions’ Club beach barbecues, the Sundance Fire and the winter of ‘68/69 when we were out of school for the entire month of January.

What did you envision doing with your life while growing up here? Going to college, having a career and living in a big city!

Give a brief accounting of your life after high school until you returned: After high school I went to college at the U of I graduating in 1981 with a business management degree. While there I met my future husband Ken. In 1981, we moved to Milwaukee, Wisc., so he could attend the Medical College of Wisconsin. We married in 1982. We lived in Milwaukee for eight years. I worked in retail at Marshall Field’s during his medical school and residency years. In 1989, we moved to Bozeman, Mont., where Ken joined a family practice/pediatric office, and I worked for an orthodontist.

When did you return and why? In 2006, I attended my 30-year high school reunion. While there, I talked to a few classmates who had moved back to Sandpoint. One man had returned after living in Los Angeles to help his aging and widowed mother. I was impressed with his devotion, but I thought to myself that I would never want to move back!

How surprised I was a year later to make the same decision. On a solo trip to Sandpoint in July, 2007, a dream formed in my head and my heart that I wanted to come home to live. Our life in Montana had become stressful, and we were ready for a change. Also my parents’ health had declined, requiring in-home care. On the 400-mile trip back to Bozeman, I developed what I hoped to be a convincing argument that I could present to my husband why we should move to Idaho. I waited overnight. Then the next morning I told him my plan and asked that he not make any immediate objections but to give it some thought.

I went to take a shower and noticed that he picked up a real estate guide that I had brought home. When I stepped out of the shower, he was standing there and he said, “I found us a house.” So the decision was made! It took us just over a year to wrap up our lives in Bozeman. We arrived in Sandpoint on July 29, 2008. I’ve loved every minute since I have returned. My one regret is that my father passed away in October, 2007 before we got back.

What do you currently do professionally? Give a brief explanation of your day-to-day duties. I work as a production assistant to Jim Parsons, senior vice-president for Jansen and Hastings.

What were the most notable changes in the community you observed? The growth and development that has occurred and the opportunities that have come along with the growth. Also, how few names I recognize when I read the Sandpoint (I mean) the Bonner County Daily Bee.

What has stayed the same? The beauty of the area still takes my breath away. And, the people are still friendly, caring and proud of their community.

What do you like most about Sandpoint now? The many, varied fun and interesting things to do here. Actually, there are more opportunities and events than one has time for.

In what community offerings, civic groups, etc. have you partaken since your return? I teamed up with some fellow SHS alums to support Kinderhaven’s Festival of Trees. I’m also on the Women Honoring Women committee. We’ve also enjoyed The Festival at Sandpoint, Lost in the ‘50s, the Sandpoint Sampler, the Bonner County Fair and Fourth of July festivities.

What direction would you like to see the Sandpoint community go in the future? I would like to see the return of 2-way traffic!

What are your personal long-range plans now that you’re experiencing Sandpoint again? To keep reconnecting with family and old friends, establish new relationships, enjoy local events and get more involved in the community. I hope to live here forever.

Anything you care to add? Thank you Sandpoint for welcoming me home!

 

MITZI GAY HAWKINS came to Sandpoint in June, 1961, one week after her birth and her dad’s graduation from the University of Idaho. Her father, the late Will Hawkins, is best known for his scenic postcard business, while Mitzi’s mom Joan spent many years as the friendly face behind the counter at the Sandpoint Post Office. The Hawkins family, of Litehouse, Inc. fame, came to the area in 1882. Mitzi graduated from Sandpoint High School in 1978.

What did you enjoy most about your years growing up here? Truly lifelong friends, trail rides, playing with the cousins from the “big city” (Spokane) who would come up for the summer.

What events from the past in this community are etched in your mind? That first act as a driver: the summer hay truck where 10-year-old is the one plopped behind the wheel which he/she really can’t see over. I was delighted to find out my 10-year-old niece was indoctrinated this summer. And, Fourth of July festivities, for sure.

What did you envision doing with your life while growing up here? I was going into “International Marketing” even though I’m sure I didn’t know what that was at the time or if I even do now. But it sounded glamorous, and it did set the spark for my travels.

Give a brief accounting of your life after high school until you returned? Off to U of I in the fall of ‘78, spent two years there then transferred to UMass-Amherst. Received a marketing degree with Chinese minor (thus the fulfillment of the “international marketing” plan). Graduated in May 1982, went to Xi’an (best known for the terra cotta soldiers buried nearby) in the Peoples Republic of China for the next school year. Returned to Sandpoint in ’83, gave a slide show presentation to one of Mrs. Love’s English classes. Literally bored them to sleep, ending my speaking circuit. Ultimately moved to LA and worked for Wilderness Experience, an outdoor clothing manufacturer. My supposed ability to speak Chinese (plus a well-placed connection) got me the job where I never spoke anything but English. However, it put me into the role of a purchasing agent where I have stayed.

When did you return and why? Came back for a year in early 1987 after my dad passed away to lend my mother a hand on a small huckleberry candy business they had going. Took a purchasing job with local ski-wear company Sun Ice USA. When they moved to Seattle in early 1989, I moved with them. I must say I lasted much longer than the company did, staying in Seattle until late 2007 with two subsequent purchasing positions. Circumstances forced my departure from the last position; I came back to Sandpoint briefly and then left for Cambodia where I volunteered as an English teacher. I came back for good in May, 2008.

What do you currently do professionally? Give a brief explanation of your day-to-day duties. I am the MRO buyer at Litehouse, Inc. MRO stands for maintenance, repairs and operations, meaning I oversee buying everything that keeps the factory going, but buy nothing that goes into an actual jar of dressing.

What were the most notable changes in the community you observed upon your return? 1. All the buildings for sale in the downtown core, not just the occupant changes but the actual buildings. 2. All the houses built way up on hillsides where I never expected to see a house. 3. The library is a fantastic addition. Even though that is not new to most, to me it is, and I think it is a tremendous asset.

What has stayed the same? I was going to say the Sunnyside Road, but that actually happens to be under repair right now. So, I would say the opportunity to be on a great hike or ride in seemingly minutes.

What do you like most about Sandpoint now? I’m impressed with all the musical events that are available. In leaving Seattle I never expected to have the chance to hear so many up-and-coming (or already ‘up’) musicians. The entire line-up at the Panida is just wonderful, I think, but the fact other venues also offer up opportunities is great for this pseudo-city girl.

In what community offerings, civic groups, etc. have you partaken since your return? Not as much as I should or will, but I do tutor at the library.

What direction would you like to see the Sandpoint community go in the future? Tough question. Like many, I would hope that we can solicit some small companies that would offer more employment opportunities here. I know how fortunate I am to have the good job I have. I wouldn’t have been able to stay here without it. I hope we can keep an open mind to ways of improvement. I know there is always chat about the fact “newcomers” come in and want to change things to the way of the place they just left. However, I feel some of those are very valid and could be beneficial.

What are your personal long range plans now that you’re experiencing Sandpoint again? I’m in the middle of a house remodel, but once that is done, I hope to get involved in one or more of the many offerings I read or hear about. I intend to be a very loyal volunteer and am being careful about my decision.

 

DANIEL TOBY MCLAUGHLIN, like his other family members, goes by his middle name. He was born to Dan and Patti McLaughlin July 2, 1974, in Truckee, Calif. His family was living in Incline Village, Nev., on Lake Tahoe at the time. Truckee was the closest hospital.

How much of your childhood/young adulthood was spent in Sandpoint? We moved to Sandpoint the summer before my seventh grade year. However, my parents purchased property in Sagle (Spade’s Road) years earlier, so we spent many vacations in the area prior to our moving here. My father used to own an insurance agency in the Tahoe area and decided that the area was becoming overrun with the extremely wealthy. My parents wanted a small resort town and decided on Sandpoint years before moving here.

The year before moving to Sandpoint, they sold their company and bought a motor home. We (parents, brother and sister) traveled the country for 11 months, during which we were home-schooled. We moved to Sandpoint at the end of the trip.

What year did you graduate and what was most notable about your class? We were the first graduating class of the new high school (1992), which included the school sit-in, objecting to something or other!

What did you enjoy most about your years growing up here? The lake and the ski hill, which is what I still enjoy the most! There is nothing like spending a day boating on Pend Oreille.

What events from the past in this community are etched in your mind? I remember the river being completely frozen over one winter when we were just visiting. I remember the train wreck where the train fell off the tracks next to the north end of the Long Bridge. I also recall one Fourth of July when a few of us threw stink bombs in the back of A&P’s (I think it was PJ’s back then) and ran like crazy. Trouble makers!

What did you envision doing with your life while growing up here? I always thought I would be veterinarian or a doctor, somewhere far away!!! I suppose you have to move away to appreciate Sandpoint.

Give a brief accounting of your life after high school until you returned: I attended University of Idaho from 1992-1997 and graduated with a B.S. in economics after changing majors a half a dozen times. I had trouble deciding on a career path. I then worked for a year at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory in Idaho Falls. From there, I spent a summer in Rochester, New York, followed by four years at the University of Oregon, where I received by MBA and law degree. Then, I worked four years at a Spokane law firm before moving back to Sandpoint in October, 2006, and opened up a practice with Bill Berg.

Why did you return to Sandpoint? I returned to be close to my family and to enjoy the quality of life that Sandpoint provides. There are few places where I can ski for a few hours and then work the afternoon.

What do you currently do professionally? Give a brief explanation of your day-to-day duties. My law practice centers mostly upon real estate, business and civil litigation. This means that I essentially do homework for a living, with a few court appearances mixed in. Who would have thought?!

What were the most notable changes in the community you observed upon your return? The number of real estate offices certainly had increased! That, and I think the town really grew up in many ways while I was gone. I never thought in a million years that Sandpoint could sustain multiple wine bars and a sushi restaurant. I suppose that shows that the town has become far more like Coeur d’Alene than it was back in my high school days.

What has stayed the same? There is still that odd mix of loggers and hippies that permeates the town. That, and it still feels like a small town, which I love.

What do you like most about Sandpoint now? Still the lake and the ski hill! And the people.

What direction would you like to see the Sandpoint community go in the future? I would like to see a balance between growth and preservation. We should protect some of the historic structures, but we should not stand in the way of progress and growth, both in terms of population and development.

What are your personal long-range plans now that you’re experiencing Sandpoint again? I would like to grow our law firm and, perhaps, at some point, engage in some form of civil service activity. Is that vague enough?!!!!

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Author info

Marianne Love Marianne Love is a freelance writer and former English teacher who enjoys telling the stories of her community. She has authored several books, the latest of which is "Lessons With Love."

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Jim Parsons, class of '73 Jim Parsons today Kathy Conger, Class of '76 Kathy Conger today Mitzi Hawkins, Class of '78 Mitzi Hawkins today Toby McLaughlin, Class of '92 Toby McLaughlin today

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