Aboard his all-terrain vehicle, Larry Passmore, 89, zipped across the fields near his Creston home, maneuvering about the garden with practiced dexterity as he prepared for the start of the growing season.
His dog Tag followed along with his daily duties, chasing his ATV and sniffing ahead for critters trying to penetrate the fencing surrounding two of his four acres.
A few days from his 90th birthday, Passmore is already looking ahead to the next season and the plans he was making for the proceeds of this year’s crop.
A giving spirit has driven most of his life, pushing him to donate land, money and more to those in need across the Flathead Valley.
Born near Browning, Passmore began working and living in the Flathead valley in 1936, and built a successful career as a farmer here.
However, at the age of 65, his life found a new purpose with a call to take his knowledge across the globe to benefit the Maasai people of Tanzania. Passmore took his first trip to Africa with a church in 1994. On that safari trip to Tanzania, he encountered a Maasai tribe, a people he described as good-natured and quick to learn.
However, he said his interaction with the Maasai shed light on the limited prospects for young girls in their community. By around the age of 12, Maasai girls become eligible to be sold by their fathers as brides and are traded for cattle. The older men in the villages typically own the most cattle and can, therefore, afford to buy to most young girls. One man, Passmore said, could have between five and 25 wives.
Many of the girls Passmore encountered in Tanzania wanted more from their lives, but had no opportunities to pursue an education or career of their own.
Upon his return to the United States, Passmore said that at 65 years old, he felt he’d made enough money for himself and that it was time to start working for the benefit of others.
A successful cattle rancher and crop farmer, Passmore compiled the profits from the year’s harvest and made plans to return to Tanzania the following year.
In 1995, he arrived in Africa determined to use his good fortune and knowledge to help the Maasai tribe, sharing with them his agricultural knowledge and putting up $25,000 to establish a school for middle- and high school girls.
“It’s an investment in something a little more lasting, although I enjoy the heck out of this stuff, too,” he said, referring to his sizable garden.
Over the last 25 years, Passmore has made trips to Tanzania every two or three years, fostering relationships with locals and sharing with them his gifts and his Christian faith.
Since 1995, the school he established has produced around 1,000 graduates, some of whom have left Africa to continue their educations in Europe or the U.S.
People within the Maasai community in Tansania continue to support and feed themselves using practices and equipment brought to them by Passmore, producing crops such as coffee, beans and more.
Back home in the Flathead, Passmore also began donating produce from his bountiful garden to local nonprofits around six years ago.
Organizations including Samaritan House, A Ray of Hope, Flathead Food Bank, Northwest Montana Veterans Food Pantry and Salvation Army together receive over two tons of produce each year from Passmore’s personal garden.
Last year, Passmore said he started setting aside a portion of the crop to be sold, with the proceeds funding a scholarship for girls attending his school in Tanzania.
“You’ve got to be a little bit crazy,” he said. “I don’t keep anything for myself. I don’t need to; why would I?”
According to Passmore’s wife, Shirley, Passmore is considering another trip to Tanzania next year for the 25th anniversary of the school he founded.
“In 24 years, I’ve made a difference,” he said. “It gives you a purpose. A life with no purpose, if it’s just me, myself and I, where are you really going?”
Reporter Mary Cloud Taylor can be reached at 758-4459 or firstname.lastname@example.org.