Since at least 1956, Fairview, the town that spans two states and more than 100 years of history, has had a tradition that has shown the strength of its community.
They call it the Old Timers’ Festival, and, although 1956 is the year the first Old Timers’ button was created, the tradition goes so far back, no one is sure exactly when it began.
Butch Renders, a committee member for the festival, has consulted with several of the town historians to learn more about the origins of Old Timers’.
“They think it could have just evolved from the old timers getting together,” Renders said. “That was as close as anyone could remember. They don’t think it was formal when it started. Maybe they did it a few times and decided we should do this on the third Saturday of July, so we know when we’re doing it.”
At some point, the festival became a solid thing, and an organizing committee was born. They planned an event that would bring people back home year after year, and that has helped a strong tradition take root and grow..
“For me, Old Timers’ is the meeting and seeing of people I haven’t seen for a year,” Renders said.
He recalls fondly the many friends he has searched out during Old Timers’ and renewed acquaintance. Among these is one Harold Engen, who grew up kitty-corner from Renders. Although Engan has passed away, Renders remembers fondly their many meetings over the years at the festival, meetings that but for the event would never have transpired.
“He was four or five years older than me,” Renders said, “but we’ve known each other since I was this big. He’d been living in Great Falls, and I’d just get to see him once a year.”
Renders would walk through Sharbono Park three or four times, running into different people each time, looking for all the special friends, including Engen. Those special friend and the renewal of acquaintances represent celebration of good times past, present and future.
Even if the origins of the festival itself are unclear, the tradition of the Old Timers’ buttons, which began in 1956, has helped shine a definite light on the highlights of Fairview and its history. And not the sort of dusty dry history in text books either. These are the living breathing histories of people who lived and helped the town grow, as well as interesting places, patriotic efforts and more.
Every year, the committee chooses a person, place or thing as the centerpiece for the annual button, which for $2 will buy you a hearty beef lunch in the park, as well as grant you free admission to Fort Buford and Fort Union for the weekend. Fort Buford, as it happens, is celebrating a 150th anniversary this year.
Buttons are available from nearly any Fairview business. They are also available from Advanced Communications in Sidney.
For those interested in collecting, a selection of old buttons will be available for sale during the festival, although there are none available for certain, hard-to-find buttons. These would include the first 1956 button, which featured a historic photo of downtown Fairview.
There have been buttons for people such as Mel Miller, an Olympic hopeful in boxing; Kate Alstott who ran the pool hall and made famously good pies; and Doris Taylor, who was a driving force behind the gazebo that now graces Sharbono Park.
Places, too have found their moment to shine on a button, including Fairview’s Lift Bridge and Tunnel, which was an engineering marvel for its time and is still today one of the most unique bridges in the nation. A section of it can be lifted to allow barge traffic through — although barges stopped using the Yellowstone not long after it was built. The tunnel cuts through the mountain to the other side and offers a breezy hike where you can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel, if not your feet on the ground. Bring a flashlight for the trip if you intend to go.
Other places featured have included the Brodhead house, which was a maternity home where many of Renders’ generation were born, and no less than three schools have been featured on a button, including Fairview’s old school in 1968, East Fairview in 2001 and Central School in 2007.
Some buttons have saluted the military, others have celebrated various anniversaries, whether of the festival itself, or of something else in town, such as the school, which was 100 years old last year.
This year’s button is in honor of Dick Shannon, a long-time active community member. Committee members say they chose him because he is an “all-around nice guy.”
But he is more than just that. Shannon believed in giving back to his community and did so often. Some will recall Shannon’s involvement in the boxing club, which helped build a lighted football field for the community. He was also a volunteer firefighter with the Fairview Fire Department.
He was also a well-known business man, hauling gas all over the area to farmers for about 25 years.