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A Commitment To Community: Sharon Bengtson
Montana Senior News June/July 2015
If you wanted to compare Sharon Bengtson to anyone, George Bailey from Frank Capra’s It's A Beautiful Life would be an ideal candidate. Like George, Sharon is always thinking about the other guy, about her neighbors and how she can be of help.
"I don't go looking for people to help, but if the opportunity crosses my path to do an act of kindness, I do it. My goal is to get people independent, not to carry them but for them to carry themselves," says this energetic grandmother of eight who loves to ski, bicycle, and hike in nearby Glacier National Park. As Sharon's record of volunteering testifies, lots of opportunities have crossed her path.
One of the most far-reaching occurred when her husband, Tom, received a phone call last winter from a coworker who was watching his home burn to the ground. The Beard family escaped with their lives but little else. The fire spread so quickly they did not have time to even grab coats or shoes as they fled into the snow.
“My wheels started turning. How can I help? What can we do?” were the first thoughts that dashed through Sharon’s mind when she and Tom appeared on the scene. “It’s devastating to stand by someone who is losing everything. How do you comfort somebody in that situation when you can go home to a bed and a roof over your head?”
True to form, Sharon soon took charge. She phoned the Red Cross and enlisted their aid for finding immediate shelter; she created an on-line fundraising campaign through; and she opened an account to receive donations at the Whitefish Credit Union. An email blast to everyone on her contacts list and that of the Glacier View Golf Club, where the couple works, soon followed reaching thousands of people. Sharon then notified local television stations and a newspaper, which reported the story and indicated the need for support. Through her efforts, enough money was raised for the Beards to buy a mobile home and receive a houseful of furniture along with—among many other things—food, clothing, and toys.
Sharon cannot praise area businesses enough for their largesse in offering generous discounts or making outright donations to the family. As she says, “One of the best things from the fire is the wonderful stories of people helping out.”

Originally from Columbia Falls, Sharon married her high-school sweetheart in 1976 a year after graduating and moved to Tom’s hometown of West Glacier shortly afterwards. She has been one of the community’s most valuable assets ever since.
When she had children at home, over 25 years ago, Sharon learned that a Japanese couple with minimal English language skills and a toddler had moved nearby and needed occasional daycare. The toddler, now a successful college graduate, still calls Sharon, "my American mom" and for good reason. Though she had never met them, Sharon told the couple to bring their daughter to her house when they wanted a babysitter. As the children grew up together, Sharon never even considered charging for her assistance, which extended beyond daycare to enabling the parents to understand and fill out important documents written in English.
Her sense of compassion runs deep, formed both from a desire to assist others and from the challenges she has faced in her own life. One of the most difficult was losing her third child within a week of the baby's birth. A friend involved in a grief support group encouraged her to attend their meetings but she did not go because of the 70-mile-round-trip distance from her home. However, Sharon felt strongly that the hospital where she had given birth could do more to aid mothers facing a similar situation. So she initiated meeting with the nursing staff to offer suggestions on how they could help young moms cope with their loss.

“It was important to me that no one would have to go through what I did,” recalls Sharon. “I felt driven.” Following that, whenever the hospital called for assistance Sharon would contact maternity patients she didn't know to console them and bring a sense of hope.      
After a train derailed near her home, Sharon realized an emergency call list would be useful to notify the area's 276 residents of any potential future danger. That prompted her to spearhead a four-person project to compile the list and create a phone-tree. Her efforts proved their worth in 2003 when the Roberts Fire broke out and forced people in and around West Glacier to evacuate their homes.
Beyond these instances, Sharon served several terms on her local school board and took a lead in bringing high-speed internet to her rural community. From the first time she saw a Missoula Children’s Theatre (MCT) production at the Canyon Elementary School in Hungry Horse some 20 years ago, Sharon saw the potential for bringing such a program to the West Glacier Elementary School and helped raise the money for the students’ first performance. MCT has remained a popular annual event for people of all ages in West Glacier ever since. And come summertime, for the past 15 years she has served with an interfaith program providing worship services in Glacier Park.
"It's so much more satisfying for me to help somebody else than to do something for myself," sums up Sharon. "I think everyone should volunteer. The world turns because of volunteering."
Contributions to the Beard Family Fund can be made through the Whitefish Credit Union, Dennis Beard Fund, P.O. Box 1322, Columbia Falls, MT 59912.