What Brings Them Here

The mix of people who have made Sandpoint their home is changing with the area's rapid growth. Meet some of the folks who have moved to North Idaho in quest of a better life.

Reprinted from Sandpoint Magazine
. 1191 words


Who lives in Sandpoint? Statistics reported by the Census Bureau and Idaho Departments of Commerce and Employment show that the town and surrounding Bonner County is overwhelmingly white -- about 98 percent, in fact. The largest nonwhite ethnic group is Hispanic, with 516 people comprising 1.6 percent of the county's total 31,890 total population. Hispanics are also the fastest-growing ethnic group, more than doubling in number in the last 10 years. Native Americans, with 394 individuals, are the next largest group. There are 60 Asians and only 35 blacks, about one-tenth of a percent.

Fast growth is changing the character of the population. The county population has more than doubled in 25 years, adding 5,200 persons from 1990 to 1994 alone. They come even though wages here lag well below state and national averages. The average annual wage here is $18,387 87 percent of the $21,188 average wage in Idaho, and only 70 percent of the average $26,362 wage in the U.S. The largest employment sectors are, in descending order, wholesale and retail trade; government; service; and lumber and wood products.

With such growth, the fact is most of the people in Sandpoint are from someplace else. What brings these new arrivals, and what do they find when they get here? The answer is different for each one.

Kevin and Karen Watson are the archetypal new Sandpoint arrivals: they moved here just last Labor Day, after searching Northwest for their ideal town. They came from Missouri and from their first visit were struck by Sandpoint's beauty, friendliness and active arts scene. "As soon as we drove into Sandpoint, we said, `This is what we like.' It was intuitive," Kevin said.

The couple, who are white, have an infant daughter. Kevin, a copywriter, believes he can recruit work from outside the area. Regardless, they are willing to scale back their lifestyle to live a simpler life here.

Sandpoint has less racial diversity than Missouri said Kevin, "but it's more diverse as far as attitudes. More people are willing to be individuals." Echos Karen: "It's a happy community. I also felt like I could be me."

Michael Turnbull is white and his wife Junko is Japanese. They have a one-year-old named Christopher and do worry about his acceptance at school in the future. Michael is a graphic artist, while Junko works as a translator.

Before marrying Michael and moving here, Junko lived in Los Angeles. "When I moved here, it was very uncomfortable. I felt that I was stared at and perhaps not welcome. That may have been my self-consciousness," she says. "When I got to know the people I felt better. The people here are better than in the city.

Junko has had one bad experience working in a bank here. When she could not comply with a customer's request, the woman became angry and raised the question of race to another teller.

Michael sometimes feels some of the stereotyping as Junko's husband. "People assume I was either in the military, or got her out of a magazine."

Bob and Linda Aavedal own the Alpine Shop in Sandpoint and at Schweitzer. Bob did not have far to go when he moved here: he grew up in Naples, 20 miles north. Linda moved to Coeur d'Alene from Minnesota about 30 years ago. They have three children. Their oldest, Sarah, is Nez Perce and their second, John is of Hispanic and white descent. Jessica, the youngest, is their natural child.

Eighth-grade artist Malia Machada made her statement about diversity when she painted a mural on the wall of Sandpoint Middle School this fall. She titled it Milagro "miracle."

"My intention was to have faces from different nationalities, "she said. The pen drawing of her black-and-white mural is reproduced on page 15.

Malia comes to Sandpoint for the school year from her home in Oakland, Calif., which is much more diverse. "The majority of people there are black and Mexican," she said. Here she is one of the few minority students in the student body of 690.

When she first came last year, she hated it. "I felt like I was being picked on by the principle, who's Mexican, too," she said. "It wasn't my choice to be here, but now it is my choice ... and I like it."

The opportunity of sharing her artistic talents in a large mural has been a long-standing dream for Malia one inspired by her father. "My dad's an artist and does murals," she said. "This is my first."

Leon Atkinson is a black classical guitarist of national renown. He moved here from New York State 21 years ago and has had few bad incidents in Sandpoint. "My experiences have been 99 percent positive," he says.

"Most people, white or black or anything in between, with the exception of those who declare themselves racist, don't think of themselves as racist. But if those people stand by and let friends or family make racial slurs, fat jokes, anti-gay statements, I feel that person is just as guilty of racism as the person making the statement.

"The only way we're going to make it a better world for everybody is for people to speak up when they encounter sick statements and not be part of the silent majority."

Bob and Cindy Chenault are a white couple who moved from Palm Desert, Calif., in May of this year. They bought a building lot here several years ago and are now building a log house on it.

Bob is a semi-retired producer and director. His experience in television led him to conclude the attention paid to Sandpoint by programs like "Hard Copy" is a case of the media creating the story they want. "It's just a selling case," he said.

Recently, Bob left his wallet sitting on top the toolbox in the back of his pickup. When he returned he thought it was gone, but upon closer investigation found it stuffed between the toolbox and the cab of the pickup. The cab of his truck was locked and he is sure someone moved his wallet to keep it from being stolen. He is also sure that would never have happened in California.

This story was compiled for Sandpoint Magazine by Nann Alleman, Billie Jean Plaster, Sandy Compton and Chris Bessler.

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COPYRIGHT 1996 by Keokee Co. Publishing, Inc., of Sandpoint, Idaho. Reprinted from the Winter 1996 edition of Sandpoint Magazine. Sandpoint Magazine is published twice a year, in Winter and Summer editions, by Keokee Co. Publishing, Inc. Call 1-800-880-3573 to subscribe.