Western Montana Lighting proudly celebrated its centennial as a Missoula business in 2017. After more than 100 years as part of the community, we’re pleased to share the family story behind the business from the sons of former owner, Vern Reynolds.
Western Montana Lighting opened its doors on Higgins Avenue in 1917 as Root Electric, under the ownership of Joseph Root. In the early 1920s, Joseph was joined by Everett James High, Bob and Bill Reynolds’s grandfather. Everett was a newly-minted electrical engineer and, at the time, was one of the few electricians in town with a degree. Together, Joseph and Everett built both the business and a tight-knit brotherhood of electricians who provided much-needed electrical service throughout Montana and beyond, including work on the Hoover and Grand Coulee dams.
By 1930, Root Electric had moved from Higgins to Broadway and changed its name to Western Montana Electric. Whatever the name and exact street location, the business continued to be one of the cornerstones of Missoula’s downtown community. When Joseph died in 1945, Everett and his wife, Patricia, purchased the business and their son-in-law, Vern Reynolds, joined them as the office manager after returning from service in the Navy during World War II.
With the inclusion of Vern and Patricia, Western Montana Electric had evolved to become a truly family-run business, which their sons describe as a “family tradition.” Brothers Bill and Bob started working at the shop as kids in the 1950s – shoveling the sidewalks, washing windows, and cleaning up around the store.
Bob remembers his grandmother, Patricia, as “a petite little thing with an uncanny ability to understand how things worked and could fix most any electrical device… She, like most entrepreneurs, undervalued her worth and probably did not charge what her services were worth, but people loved the service they got. That tradition continued as long as my family was involved.” Their father, Vern, was deeply engaged with the Missoula community. Vern was an active member of the Chamber of Commerce, a Missoula County School Board member, an Elk’s Club member, and a founding member of the Missoula Country Club.
After Everett retired in the 1960s, Vern shifted the business focus from electrical contracting to lighting sales and service. The storefront moved to Front Street and the showroom expanded dramatically in order to provide a big city-style selection that served Western Montana from Kalispell to Hamilton to Helena.
In the 1970s, Bob left home for college and to serve in the Air Force during the Vietnam War and, when he returned to Missoula in 1976, he settled back into business with his parents. When they both retired in 1979, Bob took over with two main priorities: Using early computer technology to streamline billing and customer records and hiring hardworking employees who provided exceptional customer service. One of those employees, Scott Derenburger, is still serving customers at WML today.
The family’s dual legacy of service and civic involvement laid a firm foundation for Western Montana Electric’s success as a business and community leader. Thanks to the Reynolds family’s values, Western Montana Lighting has survived and thrived as the Missoula business and community landscapes have evolved over the course of a century.
Drew Mihelish and the WML family would like to thank Bob and Bill Reynolds for making the time and effort to share the history of their family and business with us. Your stories paved the way for what Western Montana Lighting is today!