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Town Slathered In Seasonal Spirit

Sat., Dec. 21, 1996

In spite of a daily battle with winter weather, Clark Fork loves to celebrate Christmas.

There is a plastic Santa greeting everyone at the post office with his Ho! Ho! Ho!, and red hats on the elk antlers at Hay’s Chevron. And with the school pageant, and the proliferation of lights on many houses, a festive air prevails in this small town of 450 nestled at the foot of the Cabinet Mountains near the Idaho-Montana border.

On the town side of Lightning Creek Bridge, on U.S. Highway 200, the home of newcomers Earla and Ronald Turner brightens the winter gloom. When Earla’s daughter Marcia and her husband, Kelley Kingsley, bought the historic Derr house in Clark Fork, Earla and Ronald followed, bringing an abundance of lights and displays with them, including the nativity scene that has been with Earla “for over 30 years.”

“When we remodeled,” she said, “Ronald requested that we have enough outlets outside the house, especially under the eaves, for all our Christmas lights.”

Local electrician Nick Grigsby obliged.

Clark Fork enjoyed the results and the large evergreen by the Grange, traditionally lighted for the month at City Hall’s expense, has hardly been missed.

“The power bill’s got to be over $200,” said Mayor Ambrose “Andy” Martinosky. “Last year we took donations and lit the tree for a week, but this year squirrels got into the lights and destroyed them.”

Ronald Turner wraps big boxes and puts them under a lighted evergreen in his front yard.

“You can’t have a Christmas tree without packages,” said Earla.

And this is not their only tree. Inside they have an artificial tree decorated with teddy bears and miniature gifts, a white artificial tree decorated in gold, and a third, a 7-foot living tree, in Ronald’s “trophy” room.

Trees and lights and a post office Santa Claus aren’t the only Christmas traditions in Clark Fork. On the first Saturday in December, women from the Methodist, LDS and Lutheran churches gather at the Methodist Fellowship Hall to serve lunch and sell handmade and baked items. The money they make is used for church and community needs, including Christmas baskets for those down on their luck.

Diana Behrens, chief cook at Clark Fork Senior/Junior High School and wife of logger Danny Behrens, takes charge of the annual baskets. Names are put forth from various sources, and everyone is included.

“It’s not for me to decide who should or shouldn’t get a basket,” Diana said. “Problems happen and we’re happy to help.”

When Diana took over the Clark Fork tradition in 1992, her church, LDS, distributed baskets to eight families. The following year, the number of baskets doubled. In 1995, 27 needy families received “a complete dinner,” said Diana, “They also got extra canned goods from food drives by the Boy Scouts, the school, Monarch Market, and others.”

Word-of-mouth about baskets spread. Donations poured in from local businesses and individuals.

“Last year,” Diana said, “we had enough money that we included toys and every child got a pair of cheap mittens.”

This year, Brian Sholes started a Toys for Tots program at the new Clark Fork Auto Parts Store. These toys will be included in the Christmas baskets.

A few days before December 25, families from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints assemble the food purchased by Diana, the toys, and the canned goods.

The following day, the families distribute the overflowing baskets with the help of four-wheel-drive vehicles, often equipped with chains, and always accompanied by a joyful chorus of Christmas songs.

“People are so happy,” Diana said, “They often meet us with tears.”

Continuing a family event started last year, the Clark Fork Senior Center opens its doors and invites people to join with Bert Parenti on piano, and Helen Anderson, choir director of the Lutheran Church. Everyone “regardless of age,” said board member Alice Sutton, is invited to bring a potluck dish and join the sing-along on Sunday.

Regardless of an enthusiasm for singing, it is impossible to say bah, humbug! to the Christmas spirit in the big-hearted little town of Clark Fork.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Susan Saxton D’Aoust Correspondent

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