A Life Well Lived
Winter 2020 Issue Written by Karen Grosz Photography contributed from Imer Family
Retired Coach and Rancher, Dick Imer Lives Life Largely
Dick Imer says, “Being optimistic is the only way to be because everything is a new experience, and you just draw on the past so you can enjoy the future.”
Dick is a well-loved coach and teacher who spent most of his career at Hardin High School. When asked if there was one student who was a stand-out, someone he is especially proud of, he said there are too many to list. It wouldn’t be fair to call out one, he said, because they all were stand-outs, in one way or another.
Dick said teaching and coaching were the most exciting parts of his life. Part of what kept it exciting was participating in life alongside his students. He often counseled them to not be “just a number” going through school. Many of the students knew they were excellent at track and basketball, winning state championships in both, and they would “save themselves” for those sports. Dick encouraged them to do something, anything, so they were always learning, always moving, because that’s what makes life exciting.
As an example from his own experience, Dick recalled the time a music teacher in Hardin encouraged him to sing with his team. She was someone that Dick “didn’t want to tangle with,” as she convinced him it would benefit his team to learn to sing, to understand the discipline, the breathing techniques. He didn’t argue, and stood right beside his team, singing with gusto, showing them, in real time, that life is for experiencing. She eventually told Dick that he should just mouth the words.
“That ended my singing career,” he said with a laugh.
Dick, 89 years old, grew up, the oldest of three children, near Chicago.
“It was a lively time,” he said. “With war manufacturing, and all sorts of comings and goings, it was quite a deal.”
His parents were divorced working people who didn’t have time to watch him in sports until later, when he became a star athlete. His athletic ability landed him a scholarship at the University of Washington, a place that really opened his eyes.
“There were over 20,000 students when I got there in 1950,” he recalled. “The place was so big and full of learning that it was really exciting.”
Still, Dick always felt like a cowboy at heart and he pined for the wide-open spaces, so he transferred to the University of Montana.
Life sometimes has a way of giving us exactly what we need, a grounding, a home away from home, and that is what Dick says he found when he met his wife, Betty. Working a summer job building railroad in Colstrip, he and the fellas would go to the cowboy dances on Friday night.
That’s where he saw Betty.
“She was the cutest one in the room, naturally!” Dick said. Then he stopped for a moment in the telling, probably imagining himself as a young man dancing with her again. Betty’s family had a ranch near Colstrip, and a deep history there which, after they married, enabled Dick to finally be the cowboy he always wanted to be.
There was one catch however, one that has been a lifelong problem for the two of them.
Betty attended MSU in Bozeman and is a lifelong Bobcat fan. A Montana house with Bobcats and Grizzlies living in it is a house divided! Over the years, their children and grandchildren have gone to school in both Bozeman and Missoula, evening the playing field. Dick has done his best to get Betty to come around, as he joked, but she is just as loyal to her alma mater as he is to his.
This one problem aside, Dick and Betty raised three children together, Shari Koyama, Patti Ballock and Mark Imer. They also welcomed six grandchildren into the world. Mark lost a battle to cancer several years ago, which took a toll on the family.
But Dick claims, his voice filled with emotion and pride, “It’s family that keeps us together.”
He and Betty look forward to daily conversations with their kids and grandkids. They have watched their grandchildren grow up right before their eyes and keep in touch with each of them through Facebook.
The couple, married for 67 years, recently leased out their Hardin farm and moved to Billings.
“I’m not acclimated to a life with so much concrete,” Dick said. “It was easier to be active on the farm. But if you sit too long you never get up, so I stay active.” He’s sure that he will live to be 100, as several family members have.
“If,” he said with a warm laugh, “Betty just keeps whipping me.”
Dick recalled that when he was a kid it seemed that if you lived to 60 you were an incredibly old man. Now, well past that, he feels great, and can hardly wait to get each day started, even if today’s politics give him paralysis.
Dick’s advice for his students is his advice for everyone: “Get involved in things you enjoy. You might not get an easy pass, you might not learn it the first time, but if you keep at it, you will be successful.”
Dick has obviously kept at it, in many ways, for many years, and that has made him a colorful, happy character who is living life with a smile, a laugh, and a penchant for helping the team to win the title.