Big Sky Spotlight: Meet Paul Fugleberg
Story and photo by BRYCE GRAY
You wouldn’t know it from the newspaper awards that cover walls of his Polson home, but Paul Fugleberg’s 61-year-and-counting career in journalism had inauspicious beginnings.
“When I was in college, I took one semester of journalism. I didn’t like it at all,” Fugleberg said.
Luckily for his faithful readers today, Fugleberg, 84, had a change of heart after taking that Los Angeles City College course. He switched to a focus on history at UCLA, but dropped out to join the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War. Only after being assigned to the Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls and getting involved with the base newspaper did Fugleberg’s love of journalism take root.
While in the Air Force, Fugleberg also struck up two other lasting romances – one with his future wife, Mary Lou, and another with Flathead Lake and the surrounding community where he would later become enmeshed.
The latter connection began on a Labor Day visit to Woods Bay in 1953, when Fugleberg was so transfixed by the beautiful lake and mountains that he turned to a friend and said, “I’m gonna live here someday.”
After holding newspaper jobs in Roundup, Canton, South Dakota, and Bishop, California, Fugleberg made good on that statement in 1959, when he was hired as editor of the Flathead Courier in Polson.
Although Fugleberg has remained in Polson ever since, his role as a writer has varied. He juggled responsibilities as editor and co-publisher after buying the Courier in 1963, and also bought the Ronan Pioneer in 1971. Fugleberg sold the newspapers in 1980 and transitioned to a prolific freelancing career, including having his work published in more than 40 periodicals and major newspapers around the nation. He has also authored several books, including Proud Heritage, an illustrated history of Lake County.
The Pioneer and Courier eventually merged, forming the Lake County Leader, where Fugleberg would later return as a copy editor and columnist. He retired from working full-time in 2008, but still submits his wildly popular column entitled “Among Other Things” for publication every other week.
Fugleberg originally began writing the column for the Courier in 1959. Its subject matter runs the gamut, spanning anecdotes from local history to lake monster sightings, baseball, and the occasional collection of puns that leave readers groaning.
Fugleberg often uses images from a meticulously gathered and extensive photo archive, which includes his own photography and thousands of donated historical images from around the area, to complement his written work.
Despite his career successes, the ever-modest Fugleberg is quick to deflect credit to a long line of mentors and colleagues, or even luck in some cases.
“They said they got over 3,000 inquiries from that story,” he said, perusing a clip about the Mission Valley that made the front page of the Chicago Tribune’s Sunday Travel section in 1989. “I got lucky on that one.”
Though the newspaper and the reporters around him have changed, Fugleberg and his flair for detailed, witty writing have remained the constant in Mission Valley journalism for more than a half-century.
While Fugleberg has achieved a rare career balance – equal parts historian, storyteller and journalist – he refrains from labeling himself.
“I’m just an observer,” he said.
An observer, among other things.
Q: Where do you find inspiration for columns and other writing projects?
A: From “mining the morgue,” browsing newspaper archives, planning vacations and making sure the itinerary includes museums, community anniversary dates, summer theater, and keeping in mind items of interest to family members.
Q: How have you come to amass such an extensive collection of historical photos from the Mission Valley?
A: By making people aware of my interests, I’ve been given photos that people would’ve thrown away otherwise. Old glass film negatives, for instance, from pioneer photographer Herman Schnitzmeyer were discovered beneath old floorboards of a lumber office that was being torn down in Polson. I shared those ones with the state historical society.
Q: What advice would you give to aspiring journalists?
A: Keep your eyes and ears open. Something is new or different each time you leave the house. Be aware of what it might be. Read the newspapers wherever you go.
Q: Where in Montana do you go to relax?
Q: What three words describe Montana?
A: Character. Beauty. Mountains.