By Eric Brockett
When one builds a house it is critical to have a strong foundation, such as stone or concrete. This type of foundation will support whatever is built above to weather storms and/or the difficult times that might lie ahead. Dale and Patricia Burk, owners of the Stoneydale Press Publishing Company in Stevensville, have endured much in their lives, but have never wavered on building a strong family and supporting the environment in which they live – the Bitterroot Valley. This is a story about the groundwork that they have laid and how it has affected you and me in the place we call home.
Just outside of Kalispell in the late 1940s, a newspaper delivery boy gets up before sunrise to begin his route of distributing the local newspaper. This 12-year-old has a voracious appetite for reading. He checks out five books at time from the local library and reads over 200 books a year. Inspired by what he is reading, he also writes an article that is published nationally at that tender 12 years of age. The boy is Dale Burk, and that experience was a defining moment in his life. From that point onward, it became his goal to become a writer.
Growing up in Montana early in his career he worked for the Daily Inter Lake, plus having many of his free-lance articles published in national magazines, Dale’s appreciation of just how special and privileged he was to live in an area surrounded by such beauty continued to expand. This connection grew more intimate with time, and as he says today, “Nature is such a wonderful system that works so well.” However, during the 1960’s, national attention was focusing on the harmful effects of strip mining, clear cutting of the forests, water pollution, etc. Dale’s writing began to take on a theme, “Are we doing what is right environmentally, and if not, what should we be doing?” While he was working in Butte, Montana, in the mid-1960s, an environmental concern occurred that forever changed his approach to writing and ultimately led to writing many articles centered on protecting our beloved Montana. Consequently he made the decision to quit his job there, due to the ethical issues involved with the impact the company he was working for was having on our waterways. He got a job with the Missoulian the following week, moved to Missoula and attended the University of Montana at the same time, graduating in 1971 with a degree in philosophy.
During this time, Dale Burk began solidifying his foundation as an environmental journalist. From 1969-1975, Dale won eight national awards for his contribution to protecting and preserving our environment, including the prestigious Nieman Fellowship for Professional Journalists to Harvard University, the first Montana journalist so honored. Here in the Bitterroot, our mountains and forests were experiencing excessive clear cutting. Dale wrote many articles for the Missoulian on the subject, and his work became the subject of a UM Journalism School student’s Master’s thesis on this issue. During that time, Dale also attended every meeting across the USA that focused on the controversial subject of national forest management. Due to this hard work, and that of many supportive collaborators, the “National Forest Management Act” was passed in 1976. Dale was also involved as a writer and speaker on many additional issues involving legislation regarding critical environmental issues in the Montana. He endeavored to present all sides of the issues involved while focusing on a principle of “bringing light into dark places.”
In 1971, Dale and Patricia moved to the Bitterroot Valley, settling in Stevensville. The aspiration of “bringing light into dark places” was augmented at that time when Patricia and Dale Burk had made the decision to move to the Bitterroot with their young family. It was a decision based on what was best for the family. He had a number of offers to move to the big cities and make big money. However, he chose to support his family by freelance writing and the opening of a regional publishing company. Dale’s love for the outdoors and this community led him to center in his book publishing efforts on providing helpful information for outdoorsmen. His objective was to augment the relevance and joy of being in the outdoors.
Since the inception of Stoneydale Publishing, Dale and Patricia have expanded their publishing theme to include historical books, reminisces, and nature. They have helped many local writers get their work into print. For example, a group of ladies from Stevensville calling themselves the Discovery Writers were encouraged by Dale to collaborate and write a book titled “Lewis and Clark In The Bitterroot.” The average number of copies of regional books that Stoneydale publishes is about 3,000 per book. However, this book, “Lewis and Clark in the Bitterroot,” sold 5,000 copies in 17 days and in a second edition reprint several thousand more. Recently, a member of the Discovery Writers commented how Dale helped them “discover their latent talents in writing.” That group went on to do six books for Stoneydale Press, including “First Roots,” which chronicles the story of Stevensville, the oldest permanent community in Montana. Another recently published Stoneydale book called “Colter’s Run” by Montana author Stephen Gough, has been recently contracted to be made into a movie. Do you remember listening to the song about this amazing run from the Blackfeet Indians years ago? It was on the flip side of an old 45 record of “Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier.”
Dale and Patricia’s involvement with our local community continues to this day. Their son Ted died in an automobile accident in 1987. Due to the local support and the outpouring of love by the community at that time, Dale and Patricia established in 1988 and have been able to present the “Ted Burk Memorial Scholarship” at Stevensville High School every year since his death. It is given to at least one male and female student at Stevensville High. Getting to know the students and helping to motivate them to achieve more through education has been inspirational to both of them. They feel each recipient of the scholarship has become like a surrogate son or daughter. Dale, himself always makes the presentation, regardless of how difficult it is emotionally.
Dale and Patricia have worked and fought hard during their lives to maintain their integrity and commitment to family and community. They have affected so many lives in the process, but their true joy comes from giving back to our community. Dale recently commented that of the awards he’s received throughout the years, the one he cherishes most is a local one: Stevensville’s Citizen of the Year award in 2004.The Burks have embodied the insightful quote: “You make a living by what you earn; you make a life by what you give!”
Take the time to visit Stoneydale Publishing at 523 Main Street, Stevensville. Not only will it be time well spent, it will enhance your appreciation for the foundation of this community.
523 Main St. Stevensville