Clayton Stahley Emmert of Bigfork and Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, passed away after a sudden illness on Dec. 26, 2017, at Kalispell Regional Medical Center.
Born of Crist Morris Emmert and Marion Hamm Emmert in Goshen, Indiana, he became a standout in high school basketball, track and field, and golf. He attended Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana, for one year. He found his wife-to-be by seeing her picture in a publication of nearby DePauw University, which published pictures of all freshman girls. He knew that she was the one, just by seeing her picture in the magazine. Rejected after his first phone call, he called again a week later, and she accepted a date. Kay never had a date with anyone else after that day. She was 18 years old and he was 19. It was instant and lifelong love.
They both transferred to Indiana University, where he graduated magna cum laude, receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in finance. He was awarded the William A. Rawles Key Award for the senior student having the most distinguished record in the School of Business.
Clayton began his business career at National City Bank in Cleveland, Ohio, then became vice president of commercial lending at First National Bank of Elkhart, Indiana. While in Elkhart, he was a leader in many civic organizations, and received an award for the most outstanding young man in the community.
Always having a passion for entrepreneurship, he became co-owner of Amerigo, a recreational vehicle manufacturer, which he sold five years later to Kampgrounds Of America. After selling the business, he and his beloved wife Kay took their daughter and son, who were 14 and 10 years old, out of school for a semester and traveled throughout Europe. After returning to the states, they lived in Vero Beach, Florida, where they were members of John’s Island Club. They then moved to Santa Barbara, California. While living in Santa Barbara, he owned a lighting fixture manufacturing company, and also the oldest music business in the city. Having an idyllic life there, Kay read a book by Gail Sheehy that stated that “To change is to grow.” They then started considering where they might relocate, in order to have an entirely different experience. They discovered Southern Pines, North Carolina, and while there, Clay established a nonprofit corporation with the objective of revitalizing the potentially quaint downtown. Chairmen Clay and Kay transformed an old movie theater into a performing arts center; Clay was instrumental in beautifying the downtown, redoing all the visible wiring to underground wiring, creating landscaping and planting trees on Broad Street, and developing new parking spaces behind all the commercial buildings by buying property from individual landowners. They were members of North Carolina Country Club. With the idea that it was something they could do together, they established S.M. Bradford Co. Apparel Store, naming the store after their two children, Stephanie Michele and Bradford. Both children later became, and still are, instrumental in the business.
Still seeking new experiences, they discovered Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, where they have lived for 32 years. The family now has four stores there. Clay has always loved living on the harbor in Harbour Town, where two of their shops are also located. Clay and Kay also have been members of Wexford Plantation Club in Hilton Head.
Clayton was thrilled when they discovered Bigfork, where they built a home in 1997, and opened S.M. Bradford Co. Nine years ago, they built the beautiful building that houses S.M. Bradford Co. in downtown Whitefish.
In addition to support for many community organizations, he is recognized by Mayo Clinic as a major donor. He and Kay are also special benefactors of Kalispell Regional Medical Center, as well as being members of the K.R.M.C. Signature Society.
The core of Clayton’s entire life was his family; the motivating factor in all the actions that he took was the well-being of his family.
Clayton’s character, which embodied high ethical standards and respect for others, and has always been a shining example to his family and others. In every business transaction, his mantra was it that it has to be good and fair for both parties. Clayton was a true gentleman and gentle man who was always kind and caring, and interested in others.
He leaves behind to continue his legacy, his beloved wife, Zonda Kay Stanley Emmert, and his treasured children, Stephanie Michele Emmert, Bradford Hamm Emmert and his wife Claudia Adams, Emmert, and his precious 7-year-old grandson and namesake, Clayton Emmert II.
In addition to leaving behind his valued friends, his survivors include his sister, Anne Taylor of Fort Worth, Texas, and her three children, Catherine, David, and Philip and their seven children; his brother-in-law, Paul M. Stanley Jr., of Terre Haute, Indiana, his nephew, Gregory and wife Kimberly and their two sons, and niece Sherry and her two daughters.
Services will be 2:30 p.m. today, Dec. 31, at Community United Methodist Church in Bigfork.
In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be made to Glacier Symphony and Chorale at P.O. Box 2491, Kalispell, Montana 59903; or Child Bridge, P.O. Box 310, Bigfork, Montana 59911.