In the spring of 1988 on a beautiful sunny Easter Sunday, I went to the Lochsa to do some hiking. After a long day of hiking I wandered into the bar at the Lochsa Lodge for a couple beers. I noticed the woman working is getting slammed with thirsty and hungry customers. The next thing I knew I got behind the bar to help her out. After a couple hours of that, she asked if I wanted to come back next weekend to bartend for Pete Dean’s a Forest Service employee going away party. I said sure! That was the beginning of three years behind the bar with Gus, three summers plus hunting season of bartending and little did I know, the beginning of my life in the outfitting world on the Lochsa and the Lolo Trail and beyond.
It was also a very special time to be at the Lochsa Lodge, watching the Denton family kids grow up working at the Lodge. Within a few years, under careful Gerry’s direction, Sadie & Amy were waiting tables, Ryan, Drew & Zach were always out hunting something or trapping the Lodge cats. All the while, Droopy the Dog keeping a watchful eye over all the goings on at the lodge.
In those three years behind the bar, I liked to listened to Gus talk to his guests and did I learn a lot. Our conversations would often wander into Lewis & Clark Expedition and the rich history in mountains and trails all around the Lodge. He encouraged me to start an outfitting business on the Lolo Trail and he taught me so much about owning a small business. Then came the Lochsa permit… When Bob Anderson offered his Lochsa River business up for sale, Gus said this would be a great opportunity for my business and it would bring more spring time business to the Lodge. So on a handshake, a mischievous grin, and in Gus’s way was saying welcome to the outfitting world and business ownership. In other words the real world. Gus & Gerry gave me an interest free loan for $5000 to help get the Lochsa River business up and running, no contracts, no papers, he just said “pay us back when you can.” As a good businessman Gus wrote the check out to Bob Anderson not some college grad fresh out of school. Well, I paid him back in the first couple of years and that small loan steered the course of my business. I didn’t realize at the time that business also came with a mule-packer named Packer Bob. Gus used to say to me “thank you for taking Packer Bob on”.
I also remember Gus leaving the Liar’s lounge at the store every evening to come over and help me bartend, with his signature swing at the end of bar, he oversaw the bar with a smile.
While Gerry was working hard in the dining room, with a wink and smile Gus always used to say “Hell Wayne, I came here to retire!”
When the kitchen was closing, Gerry would come to the bar, grab the till… AND Gus and together with their dinner-to-go made at the Lodge they would walk hand to hand back to their cabin for the night. UNLESS he told me, just one more Coors Light…
Still after 25+ years of business, Gus was always interested & concerned about the aspects of our business – everything from snow pack, fire season, bookings, water levels etc. only just a couple years ago, he wanted to go with us up on the Lolo trail, including my dad Gene and Hyside Dan, Gia, to scout out a trail that had washed out.
Gus was always like a 2nd Father to me and my family and our family of guides over the years. He will be greatly missed. His presence will always be felt at the Lodge, on the river and on the trails within Clearwater National Forest. Like Gus said before” Hell I came up here from kooskia to retire”.
Thank you Gus.
Donald A. “Gus” Denton, 84, of Powell, passed away Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016, from complications from kidney failure. He passed peacefully at Tri-State Memorial Hospital, surrounded by his family.
Gus was born Dec. 4, 1931, in Kooskia, to Ed and Frona (Fitting) Denton. He graduated from Kooskia High School and attended the University of Idaho until he was called home after his father died in a horse logging accident near Syringa. Upon returning to Kooskia, he married his high school sweetheart, Geraldine “Gerry” Lee, and they had three children, Terri, Don and Tim. He went to work logging, and eventually formed Denton and Sweet logging with his wife, sister and brother-in-law, Ruth and Buzz Sweet. They logged for Potlach Corp. throughout the Clearwater National Forest and also produced cedar poles for L.D. McFarland in Kooskia.
In 1963, in anticipation of the completion of U.S. Highway 12 to Montana, Denton and Sweet built and operated the Syringa Cafe and Truck Stop. It was a going place known for its great home-cooked food and homemade huckleberry pie.
In the early ’70s, Gus and Gerry went on to form Syringa Land and Timber and purchased a cedar mill in Syringa. The family-run operation produced a variety of cedar products that were shipped throughout the country. In 1984, Gus and Gerry purchased the Lochsa Lodge and enlisted the assistance of many family members in the restoration and operation of the historic lodge, which had fallen into disrepair. Many of the grandchildren learned the value of hard work by working alongside Gus and Gerry. For many guests, sitting on the front porch of the country store, sharing a beer and visiting with Gus was the best part of their visit to the lodge. The Lochsa Lodge is still owned and operated by the family today.