The first chapter of my Whitefish story isn’t much different from the many others who came here on a chance and never left.
Fresh out of the University of Montana journalism school, I accepted a position as a photographer at a daily newspaper in South Carolina just a few hours from where I grew up. The work was enjoyable, the pay respectable, but no one in the history of ever has ever confused South Carolina with Montana. Eleven months into my first real job, I gave my two-week notice. Montana was calling me home.
My editor asked where I was going, assuming I had accepted another newspaper job. When I told him my plan to ski bum for the winter in Whitefish, he kind of shook his head with a mix of disbelief and envy, then almost immediately asked, “Where’s Whitefish?”
Truth is, at the time I only knew of Whitefish as a place on a map with a good ski hill. I had never spent any time here, having only passed through on my way to Glacier Park or Canada. But a few weeks later, sight unseen, I rolled into town with no plans other than to snowboard as many days as possible and figure out what’s next.
At some point between that winter of 2004 and now, Whitefish transitioned from the place where I live to the place my growing family affectionately calls home.
I credit much of that transition to the years I’ve spent in this newsroom. Serving as a storyteller and visual documentarian connects a person to their community in a way no other profession can. Through this job, this community has become family.
As a reporter, photographer and editor, you have welcomed me into your homes, schools and businesses, provided unfiltered access to capture moments of sheer joy and heartache, and trusted me to sift through more than a few long City Council meetings and vibrant community debates.
Without this job, it’s likely I never would have met many of the kind souls that have given so much of themselves to the betterment of our town. Folks like Pat Jarvi, June Munski-Feenan, Jake Heckathorn and too many others to name. Without this job, I never would have learned about the incredible way Whitefish rallies to get things done — whether it’s building a new school or protecting our open spaces. Without this job, I never would have witnessed Whitefish’s first state football championship in 36 years, or the gazelle that is Marlow Schulz, or the juggernaut soccer teams that seemed unstoppable in their run to consecutive titles. And without this job, I would have never known so intimately every single painstaking detail about that confounded planning “doughnut” ordeal.
As I type this on the eve of my final issue as Pilot editor, I want to thank Whitefish for welcoming my family into your family. It’s been an absolute honor to share in a small part of the Pilot’s 111-year tradition.
Tomorrow I pack up my office here, ready to greet another of life’s adventures eyes wide open. On to the next chapter. But this little newsroom on East Second Street will always hold a special place in my heart.
— Matt Baldwin is the outgoing Whitefish Pilot editor. Contact Baldwin at his new email address firstname.lastname@example.org