The celebration is over, but today is Athol’s birthday. The North Idaho town marked its centennial over the weekend at the annual Athol Daze. Named for a Scottish duke and incorporated Aug. 10, 1909, the town initially grew up around a railroad depot and lumber mill at the southern end of Lake Pend Oreille, then boomed during World War II thanks to the formation of the Farragut Naval Station. It’s a lot smaller now, with some 684 residents, according to Census estimates for 2008. That’s the way Mayor Lanny Spurlock likes it. Spurlock, 71, is in his fourth term as mayor. Here is an edited version of an interview with Spurlock last week.
Q.Where are you from originally?
A.Oh, God, all over the place. Spencer, Iowa, is where I graduated from high school. But I’ve lived in Turkey, Vietnam, England, Michigan, Nebraska, Nevada.
Q.So what strikes you as different about Athol?
A.No extremes in weather, and the people. It’s a laid-back thing. There aren’t all these suits and ties and stuff like that.
Q.What are the most important aspects of being Athol’s mayor?
A.Being mayor of a larger town, you’ve got a lot more things to worry about – more money, more people, all that. I don’t have a police force or anything like that. I’m just kind of a complaint department, and somebody to sit there and look over things, because the council makes most of the major decisions.
Q.You’ve researched a lot of town history.
A.I’m the only mayor in Athol who’s ever been to where the name comes from, and that’s Blair Atholl, Scotland. My wife died, and she was English. I took her ashes back to London, and while I was there, I rented a car and drove up there to Scotland to see it. Where the name comes from – Blair Atholl – is smaller than Athol, Idaho.
Q.The name of the town has been the subject of a lot of sport over the years. What’s your feeling about that?
A.I have fun with it. I have my Athol T-shirts. One time I was talking to a gal from back East, I think somewhere around Georgia. She said, “Who named it that?” I said, “Somebody with a lisp.”
Q.Do you want to see the town grow?
A.No. Growth does nothing but cost you money. People think, Oh, you’ll get that property tax. But it takes money to support that property. We’ve got a lot of people in this town who don’t have extra money. By raising their cost of living, are we doing them a favor? I don’t think so.
Q.If you had to pick a handful of the most significant developments in the history of the town, what would those be?
A.One thing would be, we got the streets blacktopped and paved. They were all gravel when I became mayor. Also, at the time we had about $150,000 in debt to the U.S. government. Now we have no debts.
Q.What’s the next goal for you as mayor for the town?
A.Don’t really have one. I just like it the way it is.