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Former newspaper owner remembered fondly by friends

by CHRIS PETERSON
Hungry Horse News | August 3, 2022 1:00 AM

Back in the early 1980s a gay group called “Out in Montana” ran a classified ad in the Hungry Horse News.

One of the largest advertisers, a local grocery store, at the time, found the gay ad to be offensive and demanded that editor and publisher Brian Kennedy pull the classified, or they would pull their advertising.

Kennedy refused.

“Brian said, ‘Fine, pull your advertising,’” Scott Crandell recalled last week. Kennedy went on to write a well-reasoned editorial on why the gay ad would stay, noting he disagreed with what the ad said, but defended the right of them to say it.

That’s the sort of principled journalist the young Kennedy was, Crandell recalled.

Kennedy died earlier this month after a fall from Dusty Star Mountain.

He was the editor of the Hungry Horse News from 1978 to early 1999. Sage Publishing of Wyoming, a group of newspaper investors that included Brian’s father, Bruce Kennedy, bought the newspaper from Mel Ruder in ’78 and Kennedy and his late wife Carol took full ownership in 1987.

The Kennedys also owned the Whitefish Pilot.

Bruce Kennedy was a well-known journalist and editor, publishing the book “Community Journalism, A Way of Life.”

Brian Kennedy followed in his father’s footsteps, receiving a degree in journalism from the University of Wyoming and then working at the Sheridan Press before taking the proverbial reins of the Hungry Horse News at the age of 23.

Crandell came on board in 1979 and worked with Kennedy from ’79 to ’86.

“We worked well together,” Crandell recalled. “We put out a helluva good newspaper.”

He recalled when Vice President George Bush visited Glacier in 1983. Crandell and Kennedy learned Bush had a trip planned to hike to Hidden Lake in Glacier National Park to fish, but the press wasn’t invited.

So Crandell got up at 4:30 a.m. and snuck down to the lake to try to get Bush’s picture, but Bush was delayed well into the day and Crandell wondered if Bush would ever show up.

Meanwhile, Kennedy got an iconic shot of Bush laughing as he paused on the Hidden Lake Trail with Glacier superintendent Bob Haraden and Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson.

Kennedy had connections with Simpson through his family in Wyoming and was able to get the trio to pause just long enough for the color photo.

“It was a great shot,” Crandell said.

Another iconic moment was when an Amtrak Train derailed near Essex. Security was tight at regular crossings, so they couldn’t just walk down the tracks.

“We took off across Bear Creek and then through a foot of snow,” to the wreck. There they took photos and at one point, Kennedy boosted Crandell up on his shoulders so Crandell could get shots of a tipped-over railcar before security officers shooed them away.

The resulting photos and story won the newspaper a National Newspaper Association Award.

But it was also a challenging time for Kennedy, Crandell noted.

He was just a young man, with a young family and he was running a newspaper in the shadow of a Montana legend in Mel Ruder.

Kennedy modernized the newspaper. He brought in a press to the Columbia Falls location (it had been printed in Kalispell). Instituted modern pagination and brought color photos to its front pages.

In the late 1990s, the newspaper employed more than 40 people and also had a busy print shop.

In January 1999, they announced the sale of both newspapers to Lee Enterprises, ending their tenure here.

Carol Kennedy died in a car accident in 2015. The two divorced in 2011.

They have three grown children, Justin, James and Christina.

After Kennedy sold the newspapers he stayed in Columbia Falls and continued his passion for mountain climbing. He was the editor of Going to the Sun, the journal of the Glacier Mountaineering Society for years. He recently gave Larry Hiller, a fellow Society member, a list of all the peaks he had summited over the years up to February 2021, including summitting Denali in Alaska in 2015 with fellow climbers Warren Lane, Stephen Smith and Richard Briles.

There are 234 named peaks in Glacier.

Kennedy had summitted 230 of them.

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