Saturday, June 12, 2021

Apgar gift shop is Glacier Park institution

Hungry Horse News | June 6, 2021 12:00 AM

One October day years ago Monica Jungster went to the store and was unloading groceries from her van into the Montana House.

She had set a garbage bag down to take to the dump and had just turned around to set the grocery bags down inside the shop when a black bear strolled by and tried to haul off with the garbage.

The bear was shooed away by an employee before it could get the loot, but as Jungster was putting away some cookies a grizzly was just 10 feet away outside at the back of the shop. She didn’t even know it until later.

It was just another day at the office for the store in Apgar in Glacier National Park, now in its 61st year.

Apgar might be the hub of human activity in the park during the summer months, but it’s also a wildlife corridor. A big old deer trail runs right by her place and where there are deer, there are predators and other creatures in the park; sometimes just passing by, other times making their mark.

Take the red fox a few years back.

It stopped out front and peed on the post next to the door.

Fox urine is tough to get out of the woodwork.

“It’s strong,” Jungster said in a recent interview.

The Montana House was founded by Jungster’s parents, Hans and Toni Jungster.

Hans Jungster got out of Germany in 1936 and came to America. He enlisted in the U.S. Army and was part of the elite 10th Mountain Division.

After the war he went to the University of Washington on the GI Bill and there he met Toni. He became familiar with Montana after a field trip in the late 1940s. Hans graduated from forestry school and took a job as a ranger in Rocky Mountain National Park, working with Bob Frauson, who was also in the 10th Mountain Division. Frauson went on to be a legendary ranger in Glacier National Park.

Hans might have also had a long career with the Park Service, but in 1953 he had a heart attack. As a result, Toni and Hans started a shop in 1955 in a little log cabin in Bigfork. They put together a catalog and began selling Christmas novelties and other items. Monica recalled going out into the woods to gather pine cones and lichen with her sister, Leslie, to make Christmas window displays for area businesses.

“You did what you had to do,” Monica said.

An empty privately held lot in Glacier National Park about a quarter of a mile from Lake McDonald came up for sale and the Junsgters purchased it. The Montana House was born, part of a subdivision originally crafted by Milo Apgar back in 1908.

Monica said that had the fire of 1929 not burned most people out, Apgar might look a lot like Whitefish today.

Even when she was growing up, there were more private cabins and residences than today.

“It was definitely a village,” she said.

The family lived in the back quarters of the shop and Monica and her sister went to school in West Glacier, riding their bikes through the woods when there wasn’t too much snow.

The Montana House was, and still is, unique in many ways in that it features only Montana artists, authors and craftsmen. You’re not going to find T-shirts from China.

They’ve represented more than 500 Montana artists and craftsmen over the years, many of them locals.

It’s a remarkable accomplishment. “Typically a gift shop shouldn’t have lasted this long,” she said.

Hans died in 1967 and Toni and the girls kept the business going. Monica took it over entirely in 1994 after she finished college.

THERE HAVE been plenty of challenges over the years. The flood of 1964 washed away huge chunks of the Sun Road and nearly ruined the summer season. More recently massive wildfires have closed or severely limited access to the park over the past 20 years, including fires in 2000, 2003, 2016, 2017 and 2018.

The Robert Fire of 2003 threatened to burn down the store itself.

The business has expanded over the years. In 2017 Monica and her husband, Chuck Brasen, added the Kintla Camp to the store, a meeting place where artists, photographers and authors could tell their stories to the public.

It has a simple mission to “celebrate and promote the natural and cultural resources of Glacier National Park and the Crown of the Continent for the mutual benefit, enjoyment, education and inspiration of this and future generations.”

The space has also been quite popular as a place to hold public meetings and training sessions as well.

The name Kintla Camp comes from Hans — one of his favorite places to go was camping at Kintla Lake in the fall.

Monica has been thinking of the future of the store.

“The goal is to continue this entity in the future,” she said, perhaps as an artist cooperative.

The creatures will still walk by no matter what. And perhaps, a mountain lion just might peek in the window, just to see what there is to see.