Former local was Dillon parade grand marshal

J.P. Plutt
Thursday, September 15, 2022
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Dillon leader and former Glendive teacher Evelyn Lohman was selected as the Dillon Jaycee Parade Grand Marshal for the Labor Day event. J.P. Plutt photo

Evelyn and Tom Lohman began their second careers in Dillon 40 years ago when they converted a bar into a restaurant and named it Papa T’s. The couple were educators – Tom teaching math at Dawson Community College and Evelyn teaching (27 years in education) in the Glendive public school system – when they decided to retire and relocate to western Montana to be closer to Tom’s hometown of Butte. The couple and their children found Dillon a perfect fit and ingratiated themselves into the community offering delicious food, great service and a family friendly atmosphere at their restaurant. Within that perfect setting, Evelyn would go from table to table learning family stories and sharing special moments with the people from the area.

On Labor Day, the Dillon Jaycees honored the Lohmans (Tom has passed away) with the group’s selection of Evelyn to lead the annual Jaycee Parade as grand marshal.

“It is a great honor,” said Evelyn. “We’ve been in Dillon 40 years and it has been an awesome adventure and it couldn’t have happened without the great people of Dillon and the surrounding area and their support.

“Watching the youth of Dillon become productive young men and young women makes one burst with pride. We’ve had a lot of them work for us and they’ve gone on to be orthopedic surgeons, CPAs, teachers. There are many groups in Dillon – the Jaycees, the firemen, search & rescue, the Y, UMW, seniors, Soroptomists – that are continually adding to the health of our community. It is a great gift to have those people working towards a better community.”

Those children who have grown up visiting Papa T’s with their families have memories of the mouse ride. Some 40 years ago, Tom and Evelyn traveled to a Chucky Cheese bankruptcy sale in Las Vegas and bought the ride.

“That mouse has been the best piggy bank anybody could ever want,” admitted Evelyn. “We brought that home and there has been about four generations that have ridden on that.”

Evelyn has been the face and community relations committee at Papa T’s for the past four decades. She has chatted with families and groups, getting the feel for the area’s desires and beliefs. She has shared birthday parties, retirement gatherings, family reunions and first dates with community members.

“You just feel like they’re your neighbors when you have a business,” says Evelyn. “When they have a heartache, your heart aches for them because you feel that close to them.”

Evelyn says she has been blessed with three children, 11 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, and feels lucky to have the growing family.

“This has been an awesome business, but it is really disheartening now because we can’t get enough help to keep it going,” admitted Evelyn. “We have three to five family members in here every shift and there is a chance we won’t be open for Labor Day because we can’t get enough help.”

Forty years ago, downtown Dillon was a wild weekend over Labor Day. Papa T’s would bring in Butte musician Andy Larsen and his band, and the transition from restaurant to night club would absolutely pack the bar with people jumping and dancing and drinking. Evelyn was surprised the floor didn’t collapse. All of the downtown bars would be packed with people spilling out onto the sidewalks and out into the streets recalls Evelyn.

“I remember back when we first started we had some great old times in here,” said Evelyn. “We used to have music and after we closed at 2 o’clock, we’d be up all night and all these tables and chairs would go downstairs. We’d take a scoop shovel and shovel out the stuff on the floor and mop and then bring all the tables and chairs back upstairs. We’d barely get setup to open at 9.”

Change is inevitable and drinking habits have definitely changed the nature of the celebration over the past four decades.

“I think the whole scenario has changed but I think the heart and the spirit is still in people,” Evelyn stated. “They still love Labor Day, look forward to Labor Day, have a good time on Labor Day.”

She also realizes that the celebration has slowly moved from downtown Dillon to the fairgrounds as traditions have changed.

“When they had the concert at the high school gym there was a lot more activity downtown,” said Evelyn. “I think the Jaycees have a good concert this year and people are really talking that up. The concert has gotten bigger and better and it outgrew the high school gym so it was inevitable that they had to do something, but the move from here to out there really made a difference.”

Evelyn’s family developed their own tradition of putting chairs outside the Montana Street restaurant to watch the Labor Day Parade. This year, she was able to wave to her family from the Dillon Jaycee fire truck as she led the parade down a new, temporary route around the street project through downtown Dillon. “I thank the Jaycees,” Evelyn said. “I think this is a great honor and I don’t know why I got it, but they are a great group of young men and young women and they put a lot of effort to the betterment of our community and we are lucky to have the Jaycee program. I’ve lived in Dillon for 40 years now and for myself and my family it couldn’t have been better and that is because Dillon is full of great people.”