By Tim Leeds
Antoinette "Toni" Hagener said that when she arrived in Havre in 1949 she noticed that there didn't seem to be an emphasis on tourism here. She said, coming from the tourism-oriented area of Colorado Springs, Colo., she thought that should change.
Hagener has been promoting tourism in the area ever since. During her long and busy history in the area and the state, she has worked with many people and organizations.
Some of Hagener's positions include having been curator of the H. Earl Clack Museum, president of the Montana Museum Association, member of the Montana Institute of the Arts and the Eastern Montana Historical Society. She was on the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce Tourism Committee. She is one of the board of directors of the Fort Assinniboine Preservation Association and is on the Havre Historical Preservation Society.
In the past, she has written articles for the Havre Daily News promoting tourism in the area. While she was a county commissioner, she also worked to promote the museum and tourism in the area. In 1997 she carried the Old Forts Trail legislation in the state Legislature, linking Fort Benton, Fort Assinniboine and Fort Walsh for tourism.
Hagener has been rewarded by organizations for her efforts. She has received the Montana Historical Society Award, the Governor's Humanities Award and the Montana Tourism Advisory Council's Award. Hagener said the work itself has been rewarding.
"I've enjoyed my work with tourism, really," she said.
Hagener said her work at the museum was especially enjoyable.
"The museum was a wonderful experience," she said. "I got to talk to young people about their heritage."
Hagener said she was drafted into that job. She and her husband, Louis, a science instructor at Northern Montana College, were out of town while he was on sabbatical for coursework. She said when they returned she found out she was the curator.
"It was a wonderful experience," she said. "I met wonderful people."
She said the museum was always an interpretive center, not a collections museum. Part of her job was to interview people to find out about the history and heritage of the area for the museum's exhibits.
She said she has always been interested in archeology, that and her husband's connection with paleontology and paleobiology, it was natural to become involved with area attractions, such as fossil hunting in the area, the Wahkpa Chu'gn buffalo kill site and Fort Assinniboine.
She said she and her husband brought many groups to the area to see area attractions. Her connections have also brought meetings of the museum association and the institute of the arts to town.
Hagener has worked to promote many attractions throughout the area, such as the Chief Joseph Bear's Paw Battlefield and Beaver Creek County Park. She still works with many attractions, even giving tours at times. She said she only does that as needed, preferring to leave it for college students who get paid for the service.
Hagener said she has worked with many people over the years to promote tourism in the area. She said the Clack family has been very supportive, especially with what the museum and the Heritage Center have done for the area.
Shawna Albrecht, of the Havre Town House Inns, and Clarence Hennings, owner of the Rails Inn Motel, are the current co-chairs of the chamber tourism committee. Albrecht said the purpose of their committee is to promote the tourism industry in the area. She said they want to let people know there are things to do here.
Some of the projects the committee is involved in include distributing brochures promoting tourism to different locations in the area, working on setting up rail loop tours for the area, setting up the tourist center at the fairgrounds, and working on new billboards at the highway.
Hennings said something he would like to see the chamber promoting is seminars to train business employees how to respond to tourists' questions and promote local attractions. He said this was done with great success in Marinette, Wis., where he owned a motel before moving to Havre.
Gary Wilson said he has worked with many people to help tourism in the area as well. Wilson, the president of the Fort Assinniboine Preservation Association, has also been chair and co-chair of the chamber tourism committee, and has worked extensively on tourism in the area with many community members.
Wilson said the chamber of commerce and Mayor Phyllis Leonard deserve a lot of credit for promoting tourism in the area. He said Leonard brings a new prospective for tourism.
"She is the first mayor I know of that considers tourism a major industry," he said.
Wilson said Debbie Vandeberg, general manager of the chamber, has also been a major factor in promoting the industry.
"Debbie really fosters a positive spirit," he said.
Wilson said many in Havre, past and present, deserve credit for promoting tourism. Frank DeRosa is one such person, he said.
Wilson said that along with his success with Havre Beneath the Streets and the Railroad Museum, DeRosa did a lot of work on the Montana Centennial and worked to get the fountain at the railroad depot with no profit for himself. He said DeRosa knew the heritage of the town is so linked to the railroad he worked to make the fountain a success.
Wilson said that Emily Mayer-Lossing's work getting the Havre Historic Preservation Commission started is also noteworthy. He said preserving Havre's heritage is key in promoting tourism.
Wilson said Craig Erickson's work with Bear Paw Development North Montana helping groups receive CTEP funding in the town and planning and coordinating projects has been a major benefit. He said funding for projects to promote tourism is a major problem, and that the red tape involved in CTEP is so difficult, it is a great bonus to have Erickson's help.
Wilson said Dick King of Bear Paw Development has also been a major help. He said when King began helping with Fort Assinniboine, the director of Bear Paw Development at that time didn't see tourism as economic development. He said King helped with the project on his own time.
Wilson said Bill Dritsulas also helped with the fort project.
"He gave us our operating budget," he said. "Gave us funding to get started."
Wilson said the only way to get tourism moving is to work together. He said tourism is in its infancy here, although it's moving in the right direction, step by step. He said if the people of the community will continue to work and cooperate, Havre will reap more and more of the benefits of tourism in the future.