Not so Average Joe: Craving the wilderness
From the Big Apple to Big Sky
Richard Schultz and I were introduced by a mutual friend while attending the Lone Peak High School home basketball games. “You need to write about him,” my friend said. Richard launched into good-natured razzing thick with a New York accent. As a sucker for quick wit, I found myself wholeheartedly agreeing with her as they engaged in skillful repartee. He seemed a little surprised that I wanted to write his story. “This is just letting people get to know you as a human,” I explained as the premise of “Not So Average Joe.” “I appreciate you calling me a human,” he replied.
Richard Schultz has been in Big Sky since 1993, when he and his wife Nazha married and moved to the mountains. He grew up with a self-proclaimed “average Joe” kind of childhood in the suburbs of Long Island before attending State University of New York Dehli to study hotel and restaurant management.
“When I was a little kid and we used to travel I just loved hotels – running around. As a small kid that always interested me. So, when I was in college and looking around, my mom suggested it,” he said. “I stayed in that business for 25 years almost, which is a long time to be in the service business – pretending people are right when you know that they are wrong.”
It was actually that field which initially brought Schultz to Big Sky after positions in Phoenix, Lake Tahoe and even back to New York in Manhattan. The city was fun, he said, but it got old. He was excited to trade rush hour for rushing streams.
Schultz initially worked as executive housekeeper at Big Sky Resort. It was his acquaintance with resort employee Meg O’Leary which eventually led to his current position as operations manager of the Big Sky Transportation District. He remains the only fulltime, non-contracted employee of the district.
Both of his sons graduated from Lone Peak High School in the past four years. The oldest is in Seattle and youngest is a manager at Roxy’s Market. He and his Nazha would attend basketball games when their boys played, and decided to continue the tradition, which gives them a deeper sense of community.
Schultz said high school basketball games are an outing for them, because he and his wife don’t drink, and so they’re not in the bar scene. They do know a few of the kids playing basketball: their niece and the children of some of their friends. Still, they don’t know many of the kids. It’s more a social outlet.
Big Sky locals run the risk of putting their heads down and working through the winter without seeing friends until spring unless they make a point of getting out and about.
“My wife, she works lots of hours. I’m kind of a wallflower sometimes. I like to stay at home. My wife drags me out [to the basketball games] and I always so, ‘Oh, I’m glad I went.’ It’s good to connect with people,” he said.
Schultz is a quiet guy who minds his own business and takes care of his family. Yet, he has opinions and is very much a “tell it like it is” type of person, and has his thoughts on the pros and cons of Big Sky growing and becoming busier as the years pass. He agrees Big Sky has been significantly busier this year – a far cry from what he knew when he first moved here. In the current debate prevalent in Big Sky he could be described as a moderate.
On one hand, he encourages locals to be patient and kind.
“The bottom line is – without the tourists – we don’t have jobs. I think people should remember we need to be patient. These people are supporting us,” he said.
Yet, he said it was a shift this winter in Big Sky that many residents didn’t get any down time because they were so busy. But on the positive side, bills are being paid and, he said, “We have the luxury of knowing that come April 21, we get a break. We just need to be patient.”
On the other hand, he argues that, “everybody wants to have this cool get-away-from-the-big-city idea but they want to come and bring a big city mentality.” He continued, “Leave it alone, that’s why we came here. We didn’t come here to transplant things from other parts of the country,” he said. “We came here to make it our own.”
Schultz feels Big Sky locals are more primed to do that than many other places in the world. With other small communities, he explained, you often encounter people who grew up there and never left. With Big Sky, the population is diverse: transplants from all corners of the world.
Initially, he had a difficult time convincing Nazha that they should stay in Big Sky. Then, she was introduced to skiing. She loves it.
“I’ve always loved the mountains. I’m not a big skier. I fall down a lot so I decided to stop,” he said about his own attempts down the mountain. He’s also not much for hunting or fishing and acknowledges he’s an anomaly in Montana.
Nazha loves skiing and Big Sky so much Schultz said he likely won’t get to retire in the warm climate he had his heart set upon. He predicts the natural beauty of the area and his wife’s insistence will keep him beneath the big blue Montana sky indefinitely.