Outstanding citizen shares lifetime of memories

By: 
CHRIS MCCONNELL
Outlook staff writer

Richard “Dick” Black has worn many hats during his lifetime of service and it’s easy to believe Laurel is as much a part of him as he is of Laurel.
He took some time last week at his retirement community apartment to reflect on a full and rich life, lived well.
Black was born in 1932 near Cody, Wyo. and lived on a farm with his grandparents near the Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone on Bennett Creek. He attended a one-room schoolhouse and skipped the second grade which he said “was a big mistake” because he was younger than everyone else from then on, graduating high school at 16.
His grandparents were sharecroppers and moved frequently. He attended his freshman year in Bearcreek and witnessed the aftermath of Montana’s worst mining disaster Feb. 27, 1943, when 74 of 77 miners were killed in an underground explosion.
The Smith Mine #3 coal mine was the lifeblood of Bearcreek and Washoe, and Black was in the area as they were bringing the deceased out.
“The wives, sisters and daughters had cooked big pots of goulash” for rescuers and survivors, but only bodies came out, he said.
“I was one of the few who didn’t lose a family member in the disaster” Black reflected.
“When I got there the removal of the bodies was underway. I had never seen a dead body before,” he said, and there were dozens.
The mine never reopened and Black ended up back in Cody, where he finished high school and met his future wife, Virginia, while working at a filling station. He was friends with her older brother, and struck up conversations with her when she walked by.
She was five feet tall, “had bright red hair and was beautiful,” Black recalled
They were married in 1951 and he enlisted in the Navy in 1952.
He was stationed on the USS Frank Knox as a Boilerman for most of his four-year enlistment.
He can’t remember whether he was in the Sea of Japan or the South China sea when he got word of his first daughter’s birth. He was handed a radiogram with the news and the captain had written “Looks like we’re gonna send a wave [female sailor] recruiter to Cody, Wyo. in 18 years.”
Six weeks later he was granted a two-week leave and Virginia and Cindy were waiting on the dock in San Diego when he departed the ship.
“I saw my baby and I cried in front of the sailors,” he said.
He was discharged as Petty Officer 1st Class Boilerman in the fall of 1955 and arrived in Cody on December 13.
While seeking employment, he heard about a new plant Montana Power had built on the Yellowstone River and by mid-January of 1956 he was working as a laborer at their service center for $56 a week.
He was promoted several times over the next five years, moving up to groundman, apprentice lineman and journeyman lineman.
He moved his growing family to Laurel in March of 1961, to take a patrolman job and was able to put a downpayment on their first house with money he earned on a trip to Portland, Ore. “to help put in a Portland General Electric electrical system,” Black said.
At first he was skeptical about moving to Laurel because of the “dang box cars clanking and the stinking refinery, I knew I wouldn’t like it,” he said.
His view softened when Montana Power promoted him to Town Manager and he became an active community leader.
His many roles included president of the Laurel Rotary Club, Chamber of Commerce board of directors member, city councilman, school board member, Laurel city/county planning board member and, with Virginia, founder of the Laurel girls AAU track and field club.
He was also chairman of the garbage committee while serving on the city council.
“I was involved with getting the dump moved away from the river [at Riverside Park]. We got some government land at the current location past the cemetery and had a chain across the road and was all ready to go, but some citizens were mad and my Montana Power truck got filled with garbage outside my house one morning,” he said with a chuckle.
The Blacks had their three daughters Cindy, Cheryl and Casey over three decades; the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Their last daughter came when Virginia was 43.
“I don’t know what happened. The rabbit died,” Black joked, referring to a pregnancy test used in the mid-20th century.
Because of the age differences, the Blacks had at least one daughter in the Laurel School District spanning 30 years.
He retired in 1994, after “37 years, 8 months and 11 days,” with Montana Power and became a volunteer driver for the Department of Veterans Affairs, with Virginia accompanying him as a “shotgun volunteer.” They transported patients to and from Fort Harrison in Helena and other regional hospitals.
Virginia passed away in March of this year in their 66th year of marriage. She is survived by Black and their seven grandchildren and seven great grandchildren.
After his wife’s death, Blacks family did for him what he has done for them and so many others.
“It’s been my family that put up with me and loved me after I lost Virginia; they surrounded me like bees around a hive,” Black reflected.
He is proud of his lifetime of service and, based on his commitment to his family and his community, Laurel should be proud of him too.

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Wednesday, June 26, 2019
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Wednesday, June 26, 2019
Every Wednesday at 5:30 p.m., check www.laurelexchangeclub.org for more info. Find them on Facebook www.facebook.com/laurelexchangeclub . Email them to find out meeting time and to join: clubinfo@laurelexchangeclub.org The club will have a meeting or volunteer activity. Meeting location is Sid's East Side Bar & Grill on first and third Wednesdays of each month. Members and guests eat free.  Volunteer activity on the second Wednesday of each month. Check their facebook page for updates.  Every fourth Wednesday is for a club social activity. 
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Every Wednesday at 5:30 p.m., check www.laurelexchangeclub.org for more info. Find them on Facebook www.facebook.com/laurelexchangeclub . Email them to find out meeting time and to join: clubinfo@laurelexchangeclub.org The club will have a meeting or volunteer activity. Meeting location is Sid's East Side Bar & Grill on first and third Wednesdays of each month. Members and guests eat free.  Volunteer activity on the second Wednesday of each month. Check their facebook page for updates.  Every fourth Wednesday is for a club social activity. 
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