Dennis Frownfelter ~ MTTA Hall of Fame 2004
There is much to be said for having a rural background that fosters close family ties, familiarization with equipment and driving, strong work ethics, and the application of good old common sense, all of which stand a future tower in good stead. These characteristics are found in abundance in our Hall of Famer for 2004. The fact that these traits were acquired in North Dakota really shouldn't be held against him.
Growing up on a farm north of Jamestown, North Dakota, in 1949, this fellow tower's parents had six children, Donald, Raphael, Bernadine, Kenneth, Christineand, well, this particular towerwho started driving in the field at age three. His older brother set him behind the wheel, put it in low low, and told him to steer to the other end of the field. Unfortunately, a rock pile got in the way of his initial success. But in third grade, his mom pulled him out of school for three weeks in the fall to drive truck for chopping corn. His dad bolted blocks of wood to the pedals and they took the cushion off of the couch for height and a backrest. No doubt he enjoyed driving truck much more than going to school.
At the age of ten, he and Kenneth received a nine-month-old horse (Flicka) for Christmas. But since the horse took a dislike to Kenneth, (the feeling was mutual after the mare had tried to slice off his leg in a barbed wire fence), the horse became all his. He spent every spare minute riding her bareback around the country, and even won a local horse raceafter riding 17 miles to get to the racetrack. When he was 14, his mother died of cancer and his youngest sister went to boarding school. While going to high school, he also worked at least 40 hours per week in a grocery store and had enough money saved by his senior year to buy a new 1969 Pontiac Catalina two-door hardtop. (The Catalina is still in his possession and it looks and runs great.)
Between the Pontiac and the family's '57 Chevy, he gained a reputation for having a lead foot. Becker, listen up. The Jamestown city cops and the local highway patrol were usually watching for him, but he never got caught. Back then, they had to catch you in the act. One night the car wasn't running quite right. Rather than get a ticket, he managed to detour the patrolman into a local slough of water. (But he did stop long enough to make sure the officer was okay.)
Although his dream was to join the Marines, his brother Raphael had promised their mom before she died that he would make him join the National Guards instead. He spent seven years in the ND National Guards, making E5 within five years (with E6 pay.) They couldn't give him the E6 stripes because he couldn't pass by the head of the kitchen. They must have cried when he left. He could actually make Army food taste good! I know you're wondering who this reckless speedster and wonderful chef is and he is none other than Dennis Frownfelter of Bolster's and Mountain Towing.
In 1972, Dennis bit the bullet and got hitched to Margo Holmgren - and yes, that's the Margo that makes those super de-luscious caramel rolls. Since there weren't any local farming opportunities available after they were married, Dennis got a job working on a feedlot and grain farm north of Bismarck. He worked there for four years and would have stayed if the farmer had just given him a $100 per month raise. He was then making $500 a month plus housing, utilities, and meat. (1976) The farmer had to hire two men to replace him.
Dennis's older brother, Donald who had moved to Montana, had been after him for a year to come out and work for him as a carpenter, so the couple and their two children, Todd and Tina, headed for the Big Sky Country. Even though Dennis didn't know anything about pounding nails, Donald knew he definitely knew how to work. As luck would have it, Dennis loved carpentry and worked for his brother for ten years. His finish work was superb.
Dennis and Margo bought a 70-acre farm six months after moving to Montana and were milking cows and raising pigs, cattle, horses, hay, and grain on their land and 200 acres of rented land. Between irrigating, farming, gardening, and all of the other work that had to be done, the Frownfelter kids definitely learned how to work! The building industry in the Flathead Valley has always been feast or famine. During the mid-1980's, it got especially bad and Donald moved to California for a couple of years, so Dennis worked on smaller building jobs on his own for a couple of years.
Then along came Bolster's Towing. Maynard Bolster had purchased the ten acres next to Dennis and Margo and Maynard's brother and nephew moved onto the property. They became friends and suggested that Dennis talk to Maynard because he was looking for some part-time winter drivers. He applied and was hired. That worked quite well along with the carpentry for a couple of years, then Dennis went to full-time for Bolster's in about 1987. Maynard had started towing in 1970 with a -ton wrecker, working out of his filling station. It didn't take long before he was too busy for the service station and went to straight towing.
By the spring of 1989, Maynard started talking about selling out to Frownfelters. Maynard wanted to retire and go fishing. He made it impossible for Dennis and Margo to turn him down. They took over January 1, 1990. At that time, Bolster's had five one-ton Chevy and GMC wreckers and the storage lot was moved to Dennis and Margo's land. Towing has been their only business ever since, although they did keep on farming 150 acres until the kids graduated from high school in 1992.
In 1999, Dennis and Margo bought Mountain Towing in Whitefish, along with the 3.5 acres, storage lot, and RV 20 stall building. The business came with a one-ton 1989 Ford/Holmes hydraulics and wheel lift and a 1991 F450 JerrDan 19' flatbed.
Dennis and Margo operate out of two locations, Whitefish and Kalispell, provide light, medium-duty, and heavy-duty towing, have a rollback and a 53-foot Landoll trailer pulled by a Freightliner. They started out with just Dennis, one full-time driver, and Margo. Todd came on board in 1992 as a part-time driver and became full-timer a year later. They now have five full-time drivers for Bolster's (counting Dennis), one full-time driver for Mountain Towing, two full-time and one part-time dispatchers/bookkeepers, and six extra storm drivers. All have become part of the Frownfelter family, along with their families.
Margo has always told her friends that she got the pussycat of the Frownfelter boys. They roll their eyes and say "Oh, my God!" But Margo says that Dennis is like a burnt marshmallow - crusty on the outside and soft and mushy on the inside. He just doesn't want anyone to know it. Sorry, Dennis, your secret is now out. Dennis's family is very important to him -- that is why he has always worked so hard and been so focused.
For Dennis there is no such thing as gray - it is black or white. He can't do a half a job - it has to be done right and thorough -- preferably his way. He has never been a chauvinist and is usually fair. Margo says that throughout their marriage, they have always worked side by side and made all major decisions together.
Bolster's Towing became a member of MTTA in 1992 and they attended their first Tow Show at Great Falls in 1995. Margo has this to say about Dennis and the Montana Tow Truck Association: "MTTA is very important to Dennis because he sees it as a way to better the industry and help other towers, not a means to line his own pockets. As all of the board members know, it costs a lot to get a lot in return. He treats his customers like he would like to be treated and believes that you can never have too much training. We have a lot of repeat business, so it must be working." Their motto: "Our family serving yours."
Congratulations, Dennis, for being selected as this year's Hall of Fame inductee.