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Compton White, Jr.

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"To thine own self, be true."

At this year's Clark Fork 4th of July celebrations, the Clark Fork Rod and Gun Club gave special recognition to member Compton White, Jr. The timing was no accident: the recognition was given on behalf of his dedication to the club from its inception and most especially for White's tremendous efforts on behalf of the 4th of July.

"It seems that all too often people who keep communities and service groups going pass on and no one takes the time to thank them," said Rod and Gun Club president Lewis Speelmon. "We get about 4,000 people that return to our community for the things that Comp and people like him started. It's an old-fashioned community celebration here (on the Fourth) that's rare in many communities."

There are many accomplishments that White could be honored for, but Clark Fork's Fourth of July has been special to him from the beginning. Born in 1920, some of his earliest memories are of the Fourth of July.

"I remember the celebrations of the 1920s," he said. "They set off skyrockets in two troughs set up in front of the old, old school. There were all kinds of races and watermelon-eating contests. It was a real community gathering."

After a sting as a design and flight test engineer at Boeing during the war, White returned home to manage the family mine and to begin a lifelong involvement in community affairs. He served as a school board trustee and as mayor, and was a founding member of the Clark Fork Rod and Gun Club.

"It was around '47 or '48 when the guy that re-opened the Sportsman's Tavern pushed to start a club," he reminisced. "We were going to work for better hunting and fishing, better habitat, stream improvement restoration. But primarily, I think, it was to bolster the bar business!"

The Rod and Gun Club did, however, take on many community improvement projects. An early effort to build a rifle range failed, but the club was successful at putting in a stoplight in front of the school, providing scholarships to students, and at supporting school athletic events. Its biggest success, however, was with a project close to Compton's heart - the annual Fourth of July celebration.

"I remember it was such a happy, wonderful time," said White. "I wanted all the kids to have it."

While many credit White with the activities on the Fourth, he is quick to credit others for their involvement. "There were all kinds of people who made it happen. Bobby Hays and his dad, the Ruen boys, Harold Shields and others." And he remembers them fondly. "(Bob Hays, Senior) was one of the truly great people I've known... as a humanitarian. If anything ever happened to me, I always felt my boys would be okay if they had someone like Bob Sr. around."

White took a short break from his local activities to follow in his father's footsteps as a U.S. Representative for two terms in Washington D.C. before returning to active involvement in his hometown area. He still serves on the Hospital Board and maintains his involvement with the Rod and Gun Club, and its Fourth of July festivities.

"The one thing I didn't foresee," he said, "was how it would become a reunion period for so many families in the area. (Even this year) I saw many families I knew and (there would be) three or four generations there."

White has especially enjoyed raising money to help pay for the fireworks extravaganza at the end of the day. "I'd go up and down the street before the parade and people would hand me money. Sometimes I would collect $1,000 just on the street. The fireworks display began with a $200 budget; "Last year, we spent $1,400."

The show is spectacular and easily rivals those put on by larger communities.

White's decades of community service have somewhat tempered his early idealism. "I used to think that, with communication and education, we could settle our differences. But we're no further along than when Cain slew Abel. It bothers me to see people who want to eliminate me just because I think differently (than they do)."

His best advice, therefore, to those who follow in his footsteps: "To thine own self be true." It's advice that White feels he has heeded well, himself. "I still like to think I've done a good job. I've raised five sons and a daughter, and they all excelled. I managed to impel them with an inner drive."

May we all be as successful.

SIDEBAR: Some History Behind the Man

It was 1889 and Benjamin Harrison had just been elected President by the electoral college, defeating President Grover Cleveland, who had won the popular vote. The wars against the Indians were all but over; the final chapter of the free Indian nations would be written 18 months hence with the death of 150 to 300 Indians killed while surrendering their weapons at Wounded Knee, South Dakota.

Back east, corruption was rife, driving resentful farmers to form the Populist party. Within a decade the Spanish/American war would be fought, and JP Morgan and Andrew Carnegie, meeting at a party, would sign papers for a partnership to be known as U.S. Steel.

The Northern Pacific Railway, meanwhile, was advertising for a telegraph agent at Clark Fork, Idaho. The discovery of gold had lured many to the West. In 1883, at Gold Creek, Montana, the Northern Pacific Railway's Golden Spike was driven, representing the second linkage of the coasts by rail. It was the age of the railroad, and many thriving towns were created around railway stations throughout the West. John E. White, an itinerent telegrapher, whose wife was managing a hotel in Britt, Iowa while he was working for the Northern Pacific in Bonner, Montana, saw the advertisement and moved his family west for their next adventure.

Gold had been a short-term dream in Idaho, but silver was more enduring. John E.'s son Compton Sr. opened the Whitedelf Mine in Clark Fork in 1926, after a tree blew over in a wind storm, exposing a silver/lead vein two feet in width.

The Whitedelf Mine and two others provided employment for over 100 people and Clark Fork was a thriving community, with a school, businesses and its own baseball team.

The first Compton, named after John's early employer at the Western Union, was an involved member of that community. It was Compton Sr. who tookt he stumps out of Main Street, and who helped to locate the Kullyspell House, the first settlement of white men in Idaho. He would go on to serve his state for 16 years in the U.S. House of Representatives; his son, Compton Jr., would serve as a young Congressional Page during his father's tenure and would experience events that would remain ever vivid in memory.

SIDEBAR: The Clark Fork Rod and Gun Club

The Clark Fork Rod and Gun Club was started over 40 years ago by A.G. Allen, then owner of the Sportsman's Tavern. The club is dedicated to improving hunting and fishing in the area and is a big supporter of local education. The club also sponsors Clark Fork's annual Fourth of July celebration and fireworks.

The club, which meets on the second Tuesday of each month, is open to anyone interested in maintaining and improving the hunting and fishing opportunities of our area. Anyone interested is invited to call this year's President, Lewis Speelmon, for the time and location of the next meeting.

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Landon Otis

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