When Ray Hoon talks about living 100 years in the West, he likes to mention “that one time” he felt the weight of a black bear’s paw swipe across his back during a shift in Glacier National Park.
“I was cleaning out a fire pit, and someone broke the rules and left food in there,” Hoon said. “Well, I guess I was in his way — I had the mark from his paw on the back of my jacket when I went home.”
Hoon has been a Kalispell resident for roughly 40 years. He moved to Montana from Washington state after he retired at age 65 from working in national parks. He wanted to spend his retirement close to his children in the Flathead Valley. Then boredom set in.
“Work was always just something to do, so I went back to the parks,” Hoon said. “Glacier was my home for 20 years.”
Hoon worked park maintenance year-round. Each changing season, he was paired with a new park employee to train. Along with preserving the rhythm of the park, he taught his coworkers to watch their backs when tourists left food laying around.
Hoon retired for a second time at 86.
“I didn’t feel too old then,” Hoon said. But his family was worried his failing hearing made it too difficult to keep an ear out for bears looking for a snack.
Wednesday morning, Hoon and several family members arrived at the Kalispell City Airport private hangers to celebrate his 100th birthday by flying along the view of the mountains he worked within for decades.
When he talks about being 100, Hoon talks about watching Glacier’s mountains change each season. But he also talks about the different stages in his life.
“Last time I was in a plane, it was 20 years ago and I was heading to a bull-riding competition in Oklahoma,” Hoon said after his family and friends helped him into the passenger seat of a single-engine aircraft. “I’ve had lots of hobbies.”
Hoon began to name his favorite Seattle Mariners baseball players he watched filter through his home stadium. He grinned as his son-in-law talked about the years Hoon spent boxing his identical twin brother for money during the Great Depression. Hoon nodded as his daughter announced he just celebrated 75 years of marriage to the woman he loves.
“A lot of things have happened,” Hoon said. “It’s life.”
Reporter Katheryn Houghton may be reached at 758-4436 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.