I said I would explain how I got distracted by the past and present and missed writing this column for two weeks. Actually, the present distraction was minor compared to what happened, or at least started over 50 years ago. Besides, I have always been suspicious of computers so the hacking of our schools’ computers was not a big surprise.
In 1960 I was a green young teacher hired to teach 7th grade at Columbia Falls Junior High. That homeroom class of 28 became very special to me and even today I enjoy seeing those “kids” who are now in their 70s.
One of them was Jim Kanzler and for several years I became friends with his father Hal and spent some fine days with the family taking pictures and shooting M-1 Garands at the rifle range. Jim also had a younger brother, Jerry, and the three Kanzler males were deeply involved in mountain climbing, an activity I couldn’t get excited about. I still don’t like high places.
When Jim was a senior in high school, Hal was promoted and the family moved to Butte, where, later in the year, Hall committed suicide and his body was discovered by Jim. I was called and journeyed to Butte to help the family get through this terrible tragedy, and at the urging of Hal’s wife, Jean, rented a trailer and brought all of the Kanzler photographs and wildlife trophies back to Columbia Falls for storage.
Over the next few years, Jim and Jerry became renowned mountain climbers. Jim married a Columbia Falls girl and former student and were blessed with a son. Whenever they visited Columbia Falls they would stop by and visit. As time passed we became close friends.
Then in late December 1969, Jerry and four friends were killed in an avalanche on the west side of Mount Cleveland. Their bodies were not recovered until the following July. Leo Renfrow built the casket, George Ostrom brought the body home in the back of his camper and Jerry’s mother was a pillar of strength at the funeral. Jim, of course, spent days on Mount Cleveland in January 1970 searching for the climbers.
Jean never really recovered from the double tragedy and loss of both her husband and youngest son, and in retrospect I don’t think Jim did either.
Whatever, he became a friend, mentor, and climbing partner of yet another former student and state runner up wrestler Terry Kennedy and together they made some amazing first ascents including climbing the north face of Mount Cleveland.
A few years ago, Jim came back to Columbia Falls and we spent four days at my cabin — which he helped build, and had a great time. He told me then he only climbed commercial “climbing walls” and was finished with the high risk stuff.
Less than a year later, he took his own life, and I miss him terribly.
His younger friend, Terry Kennedy, spent years writing a book, “Searching for the Mount Cleveland Five”, which was just recently published. Brian Kennedy gave me a copy and a few days later I received a signed hard back copy from the author, Terry Kennedy.
The book is great and extremely well written. It took me a week to read because it produced so many thoughts and tears I had to put it down and come back later. Even so, thanks to Brian and Terry, I think anyone interested in mountaineering or Glacier Park would enjoy it and probably learn something too. It certainly cements my memories of both the Kanzler and Kennedy families.
Last meeting of the NFLA is next Sunday Oct. 8 at Sondreson Hall. A history slide show at 7 p.m. and business meeting at 8 p.m. Remember to bring non-perishable food or money for the Veterans’ StandDown and a snack for the social hour.
Larry Wilson’s North Fork Views column appears weekly in the Hungry Horse News.