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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Photo courtesy of Stacey Hamaker

Glendive community helped raise, influence trio of brothers (slideshow 2)

By Jason Stuart

Ranger-Review Staff Writer

In the best of stories, the setting is a character unto itself, helping to drive the narrative and influencing the personalities and lives of the characters who inhabit it. Be it the equal parts splendor and squalor of Victorian London in Dickens’ novels, the fire and gloom of Tolkien’s Mordor or the genteel English countryside of Jane Austen’s works, where a story takes place can be as important to the outcome of the heroes’ journey as any other factor.

Such appears to be the case in the story of three brothers who arrived as young boys in Glendive in 1941. The trio arrived from Minneapolis from a broken home, their parents having divorced. Sent to live with their maternal grandmother, Emma Wold, the boys — Robert, Bill and Dennis Hayford — were largely raised by the community at large, with individual acts of charity and kindness by community members that stayed with them all their lives. All would go on to reach impressive professional heights. All left Glendive and never lived there again once they did, but their heartfelt affection for the town that had raised them up never wavered.

“Glendive raised them. Not so much their grandmother, but the town,” said Stacey Hamaker, Robert’s daughter, who lives in Fort Worth, Texas. “All three of them have said stuff verbally over the years (about what Glendive meant to them), which just reinforces it. They didn’t have a home, but they had a hometown, and it meant a lot to them.”

All three Hayford boys worked various odd jobs around town as they grew up, with various community members taking them under their wing. 

A letter Hamaker shared from Dennis written in 2008 noted how the youngest of the Hayford brothers was taken in by Frederick Dion, amongst others, who “taught me much about clothing, sales, and life” while Dennis worked at Dion’s department store. Dennis even fondly remembered a “Policeman Cavannah” in his letter, who frequently rounded him up when he would run away from home, and he had glowing things to say about how the community as a whole treated he and his brothers.

“Not once do I remember anyone making snide remarks about me or my home situation,” Dennis wrote. “Everyone that I remember was kind, and made me feel welcome.”

Hamaker said all three Hayford boys tried to emulate in their lives the kindness and compassion shown to them by the people of Glendive.

“I think each of the brothers tried to be good people in that image, because they talked over and over about the kindness of the people (of Glendive),” Hamaker said.

Hamaker’s father, Robert, spent a lot of his formative years hanging around the what is now the Dawson Community Airport. Around age 13, he started working odd jobs around the airport to save up enough money so he could take flying lessons.

“I think my dad had loved planes even when he was in elementary school, so the airport there in Glendive, he would hang out there as much as he could,” Hamaker said.

Robert’s love of aviation would ultimately take him to quite literally astronomical heights. After graduating Dawson County High School in 1948, Robert spent over a year at the junior college — today Dawson Community College — then joined the U.S. Air Force. He left Glendive on a train in November 1950 for flight training, and would never call the town home again.

Robert spent the next couple of years getting his flight training, becoming trained as a fighter pilot. From 1952-58 he was stationed at various bases around the country, including a stint at Thule Air Base in Greenland, where he flew F-89 and F-86D fighter jets on Cold War patrols and other missions, where he even had a few close encounters with Soviet fighter pilots.

“He saw Russian planes that would wave at him from the canopy and then fly away,” Hamaker said.

By 1960 Robert and his now growing family where back in the U.S. in Texas. In 1960 he entered the University of Oklahoma, and two years later earned his bachelor’s of science degree in aerospace engineering.

After getting his degree, Robert was assigned to NATO’s Space and Missile Systems Organization (SAMSO) outside Los Angeles. There he served until 1968, where Hamaker said he served on a “strategic panel” with none other than famed WWII aviator Col. James Doolittle (mission leader of the famed Doolittle Raid on Tokyo). Hamaker said her father and Doolittle even got to be kind of friends.

“They were friends. They weren’t best friends, but they had a drink together now and then,” she said.

Later in 1968, Robert was reassigned to the Pentagon. While in Washington, he completed his master’s degree at the U.S. Army War College. Hamaker even recalled that during that posting she and the rest of the family attended a medal ceremony in the White House rose garden where they saw then-President Richard Nixon award medals to a pair of servicemen.

Then in the fall of 1973, Robert reached the pinnacle of his military career. He was transferred back to SAMSO, where he was named the program director for the NATO III communications satellite program, which Hamaker noted helped launch GPS technology and make it mainstream. The program was completed and the satellite launched on Robert’s orders in April 1976. A couple of months after successfully fulfilling his mission, Robert retired from the Air Force in August 1976, taking a job with an aerospace defense contractor in Texas where he spent the rest of his professional career.

Despite coming from a broken home, Robert’s two brothers didn’t do too bad for themselves either. Bill, who graduated from DCHS in 1951, also went into the Air Force, where he spent a few years before leaving and taking a job with AT&T, where Hamaker noted he had a long career, rising up through the management ranks. After retiring near San Francisco, Bill got into a second career as an actor, with his full, white beard and twinkling eyes giving him an in playing Santa Clause in advertisements and films. He can even briefly be seen in a couple of Hollywood films, including “Pacific Heights” and “Interview with the Vampire.”

Dennis, who graduated DCHS in 1958, became a leading figure in the global plastics industry, spending the end of his career as CEO of the Polymers Center of Excellence.

That all three brothers found their professions in the science and technology fields may have also been somewhat of a reflection of the time they spent as kids in Glendive, Hamaker said.

“The railroad depot figured prominently in their lives because their Uncle Lewis (Wold) worked there, so they hung out a lot there because trains were cool,” she said. “I think they were all interested in technology because of the railroad being there and their uncle working for the railroad.”

Hamaker spent much of her life listening to her father’s and uncles’ stories about Glendive, but had never made it there herself until this October. As a “service brat” who spent her childhood bouncing around from one military post to another, she said she never really had a hometown of her own, so she had always imagined just what Glendive was exactly like, saying she had always imagined it as a “Mayberry RFD” kind of place. But as she stood on Merrill Avenue on October 6 of this year watching the DCHS Homecoming parade, Hamaker said she got that feeling of being “home.”

“I loved the hometown feel, I loved that nostalgia,” she said. “It was just a warm feeling.”

She added that the career heights that her father and uncles reached — and coming from a broken home, no less — should serve as an example for any kid from Glendive that they can achieve anything they put their mind and effort into.

“Any kid can do it, even if you have a couple of strikes against you. You just got to buckle up, hunker down and chase what you want,” Hamaker said. “If you just chase your dreams and believe in what you want to do, Glendive is as good a place to start as anywhere.”

After all, Glendive and its people made an impact and impression on the lives of the Hayford boys that sustained them their entire lives and helped inspire them to reach for the stars, something they never seem to have forgotten.

“And while I know I probably could never live in Glendive again, it doesn’t stop my heart from wishing that my children growing up could have had my Glendive experience,” Dennis wrote in his letter. “As my life has wandered this world, how reassuring it has been to me to know that Glendive is still there. And, not really changed all that much. I think of it like an anchor of values that holds me steady.”

Reach Jason Stuart at rrreporter@rangerreview.com.

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