Wayne Hill, a World War II veteran, will light 100 candles on Aug. 14
By Jack Reaney ASSOCIATE EDITOR
He doesn’t look a day over 80, but Wayne Hill will celebrate his 100th birthday on Aug. 14.
Big Sky residents since 1985, Wayne and his wife Marilyn, 91, continue to live unassisted—they climb two staircases in their three-level home and take road trips for concerts. They’re done skiing, but Wayne is proud to say he never hurt himself before he stopped at age 92. Marilyn still considers an occasional bike ride, but Wayne gave up his two wheels around age 95. Above all, they enjoy health and happiness in Big Sky.
They discovered Big Sky while camping and fishing the Gallatin River in 1976 when a friend and fishing guide from West Yellowstone recommended they fish between mile markers 40 and 50.
“We saw [the Big Sky] entrance down there, and said, ‘Oh that’s that place Chet Huntley started,’” Wayne recalled. “And so we drove up in here, and that was it for us.”
Two years later, they purchased a lot on a dirt road called “Little Coyote” and eventually built their retirement home in 1985.
On a sunny morning in July 2023, the Hills welcomed EBS into that cozy home to share memories from the past century and nearly four decades spent in Big Sky.
“I was born in 1923, and that’s some kind of a TV-series or something right now, I don’t understand. But anyhow, I was born in northern Idaho in the panhandle and grew up during the Great Depression,” Wayne began.
He said his generation was toughened by the Great Depression.
“It was preparing us, my generation, for World War II,” he explained.
America joined the war while Wayne was in college at Eastern Washington University. He put his big-league dreams to rest—a long-ball-hitting first baseman, Wayne knew he lacked speed—and joined the U.S. Army for three years, including 19 months in Europe. Ever grateful for the G.I. Bill, which he called “the greatest thing that you could ever have,” Wayne finished college at Stanford University after returning from war.
Next, he spent more than three decades teaching sociology at San Diego State University. He was thankful to find a comfortable and enjoyable way to make a good living.
When he retired and the Hills moved to Big Sky, Wayne got right back to work.
He became the first president of Big Sky’s water and sewer district. Wayne told EBS his favorite memory from years living in Big Sky was the successful creation of a formal water and sewer district during his eight years of volunteer service.
“But what are your favorite memories of living here for 38 years?” Marilyn pleaded, after Wayne—a lover of rivers, trails, music and the great outdoors—cited a public works project as his top highlight.
“Well, when we finally got the district set up that was the favorite,” Wayne responded.
After all, current district General Manager Ron Edwards remembers Wayne stopping by the office for coffee on his morning walks, years after Wayne gave up his seat in 1995.
“Wayne was always community minded,” Edwards wrote to EBS. “He had no agenda other than making Big Sky a better place.”
“And he’s one hell of a fly fisherman!” Edwards added. Nevertheless, Wayne said his favorite days were those spent setting up the infrastructure upon which Big Sky has vastly grown.
“I’m afraid that water and sewer is not my favorite memory,” Marilyn said, laughing. She reminisced about helping establish public concerts as a board member with the Arts Council of Big Sky—Marilyn laid the groundwork for Music in the Mountains, bringing acts including the Bozeman Symphony to the concert tent at the present-day community park.
Wayne conceded and told another story: with his son and grandson, he capsized his small boat at House Rock, an infamous rapid in the Gallatin Canyon.
“I always had known how you get yourself set for the rock,” Wayne remembered. “I just didn’t get it quite right, and we hit the damn thing and turned the boat over, right in the middle of House Rock.”
Marilyn added that they used to fish and float rivers across the region. Wayne’s favorite fishing spot has always been Earthquake Lake on the Madison River, he said.
“Big Sky was just a centrally located, beautiful place to live,” Marilyn said. “Centrally located for all the things we like to do.”
In their early years, Wayne said Lone Mountain Ranch was their center of life, almost like extended family. In those days, he remembers knowing every person in Big Sky.
“When I go to the post office now, I don’t see anybody I know. Nobody. It’s just so different than it was, way back then,” Wayne said. Marilyn agreed, they aren’t “in the know” anymore. When they first arrived, they never imagined homes being built between Lone Mountain Ranch and Big Sky Resort.
“There’s so much going on here,” she said. “I don’t even try to learn the names of different developments. It’s out of my purview.”
Though increasingly unfamiliar, Wayne said they’re still very comfortable with their Big Sky life.
“Of course, she’s stuck with an old guy who can’t do very much. It’s a problem for her, she just works her tail off trying to keep things going,” Wayne added.
Four secrets to a long life
For a man who’s kept his mind sharp and his body strong aside from a touch of hearing loss, Wayne keeps humble about his age. He’ll say his memory is slipping, but Marilyn disagrees.
“Oh, he remembers,” she said. “He knows how to get any place in the country. He knows every river—which river runs into other rivers, whether [a place is] low elevation, high elevation… When we’re going someplace, I’m driving now but he’ll tell me what’s over here, or which way to turn.”
“Or where the first rest stop is,” Wayne added with a chuckle.
“He absolutely knows where the rest stops are between here and San Diego,” Marilyn confirmed.
Wayne shared his four secrets to a long, healthy life:
“The first one is… you have to have Norwegian ancestors, that’s No. 1. And No. 2, you gotta be married to a girl like this, who insists on healthy diets. The third one is living at Big Sky, with the elevation, all the activities, and so on.
“And the last one, I can’t remember what it is,” Wayne said, a playful jab with a youthful smile.
So here’s to Wayne Hill, likely Big Sky’s oldest and surely one of its finest.