Saturday, May 18, 2024

We craft the future to come

by Margaret E. Davis
| July 2, 2023 12:00 AM

Music lovers dotted the grass, tiered hardscape and patio bar on the east side of the Wachholz College Center early last month to christen the O’Shaughnessy Outdoor Amphitheatre at Flathead Valley Community College. The sun warmed us, a breeze riffled through the trees, and the free show — including the Texas boogie of Artist Robinson and the folkie rock of Halladay Quist — made a perfect venue for taking stock of a momentous year.

Last June, the Glacier Range Riders began playing baseball at gorgeous Flathead Field north of town. In central Kalispell, workers scurried to put finishing touches on the multi-use Parkline Trail. In November, the multipurpose Wachholz College Center debuted.

Any one of these things would make a community proud, and Kalispell got three new landmarks in six months.

I toured the Wachholz before it opened. The 58,000-square-foot structure features a state-of-the-art theater, practice rooms, exhibition space, gymnasium, the outdoor amphitheater and more.

“I saw an advertisement for a touring production of a Broadway musical in the greater Northwest,” said Tagen D. Vine, chief development officer of the community college’s foundation, before we took a look around last spring. “Now, just imagine, traveling productions could list Kalispell.”

On that cold muddy day, Vine led the way through the site, where crews in hard hats swarmed in every space. We circumvented guys piloting scissor lifts to the ceiling, and concrete workers as they smoothed a new pour for a surface for more than 1,000 seats in the main performance hall. The earthy smell of cement and its warmth enveloped us.

In the months since the center opened, I have attended performances from the ballet to movies, and the Glacier Symphony to guest lectures. I cannot sit in McClaren Hall with its uniformly good sightlines, extra inches of legroom and fine acoustics, and not feel the love.

Author Anne Lamott missed a career in standup (“No one’s going to be happy you’re writing a memoir,” she said, then shrugged. “They should have behaved better.”). Then there was visual artist Cey Adams, for me the sleeper hit of the speaker series.

A local employee at our new venue had set the stage for Adams with a retrospective display of album covers that Adams had designed for pioneering hip-hop acts. Onstage Adams could walk about the record bins and connect with his early work and a (mostly) new audience at the same time.

Adams’ high-wattage smile took the edge off winter as he shared how he managed peer pressure as a young man (“I go my own way”) and how he embraced optimism and love — even, and especially, if it takes a wall to express it. He has painted numerous fantastically lettered “Love” murals across the country.

I wrote most of this column in a sunny frame of mind about our new community assets. The singular but potent voices for aggression against the homeless in Kalispell and Flathead County give me pause. Community building involves both external and internal work.

In the last year, we’ve done much of the former. For the latter, there’s a lot more to do.

Margaret E. Davis, executive director of the Northwest Montana History Museum, can be reached at

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