Montclair Pharmacy owners headed for Montana skies

MONTCLARION: June 15, 2012

A longtime hills couple is about to embrace life in rural Montana. After 50 years of running the popular Montclair Pharmacy, Bill and Helen Sullivan have bought a ranch near their childhood home of Anaconda, a mining town that still calls to them today.

“It’s been my dream since I was young,” says Bill, who lived through the Depression and World War II along with his wife. They’re part of the generation that dreams big.

Call Bill determined — he’s had no problem pursuing his goals, going all the way back to his courtship with Helen.

“I tried for years to date her. I’d come back to town and look for her in all the popular places, and she wouldn’t be there.”

But one day, fate took a foothold and Helen, who was running a radio station in Anaconda, called Sullivan Paint Company to spruce up the place. Young Bill appeared and the rest, as they say, is history. They’ve been married 58 years.

“I like the way you beam when you talk about that,” says Helen, lovingly. “I haven’t heard any of these stories in eons.” The floodgates open, and a wash of memories about the early days of Montclair Pharmacy pour out.

There was June Ogilvie, the bakery owner who’d get after merchants if they parked their cars in front of their stores. “She’d say ‘go up the hill and park — you’re taking a space,’ ” Bill remembers. When meters came in, he says people were in an uproar. “They would cringe at getting a two-dollar ticket.”

And therewas the drugstore fountain, a popular place for folks to meet “for a cup of coffee or a soda,” says Bill, who remembers when the price of coffee jumped from a nickel to 10 cents. “There was such a howl,” he laughs. But then, those were the days of 40-cent ham-and-cheese sandwiches and egg salad for a quarter.

“Gloria Hudson ran the fountain until she left in the mid-70s, and we had to shut it down. We just couldn’t find anybody with her dedication,” he remembers.

While Bill was running the pharmacy, Helen was building the sundries side of the business, going on buying trips and bringing back exquisite silver and other fine gifts. They were active in the community, supporting local charities and, in particular, the Little Sisters of the Poor.

As the years flew by like the pages of a Currier and Ives calendar, their children Joe, Lori and Mary Alice all worked in the store, as did — years later — their grandchildren Ryan, Tommy, Kelly, Billy and Allison. And then one day, recently, they reached the 50-year milestone and with that, a realization.

“I was working five to six days a week. I looked at my lovely wife, and there was no life — for her or me. And I said, ‘Here we are married for almost 58 years. This is the time to enjoy the sunsets we have left.’ ”

And so, the Sullivans will split their time between Oakland and a range that rises up to meet that big Montana sky, with a sense of adventure that belies their age. Their next chapter will perhaps be the most romantic one yet.


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