This week I had the distinct pleasure of helping with the milk delivery to a rural school, K-12 in Raplje, MT. The son of one of the church members, Viv, is the superintendent at this little school and she offered to do the weekly milk run. She and another church member, Mary, invited me to experience this.
Rapelje was originally called Lake Basin due to its geographical landscape, but in 1913 it was named after J.M. Rapelje, who was one of the heads of the Northern Pacific Railroad. Rapelje was first established as a town where local railroad workers of the Northern Pacific Railway would live in the late 1800s. As more people began to work at the railroad, the town grew bigger in both size and population. They had multiple establishments such as a hotel, a grocery store, a town hall, a K-12 school, and many other things. A post office was established in 1913, and the four grain towers (which are still there today) were put in business. A railroad destination point, Rapelje developed into a reasonable town with a number of grain elevators, its own school district, an evangelical church, a cafe, and later a violin shop and clothing business. I learned that the mother of Mary, who grew up in the Raplje community, was the one who opened the café and who rented a little apartment at the back of the café to a couple who offered violin lessons.
In 1980, the railroad was taken out of Rapelje, and the population declined, as well as sales and business. Businesses and residents of Rapelje largely dispersed from the town over the following decades. The hotel burned down, the town hall was removed, and the grocery store was closed. I saw the building that had housed the café and the site where the bank had stood. Curiously, the vault still sat in a vacant lot, a lone survivor of the long- gone bank building.
So what remains is the church and the school—those two basics deemed necessary to establish every little town. The church looks well- tended. The school is an impressive three story- brick building, housing 60 children from kindergarten to grade 12. An art class at some point had covered the walls in murals with a woodland theme. On the arch over the stairway was painted “Raplje Park.” The atmosphere was bright and cheerful. The teachers and staff I met were so very welcoming. The cooks had painted the kitchen in school colors to brighten it up. I had a sense of melancholy for what is lost without small towns, farm communities, and the people who love them and keep them alive.
May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter. Shalom, Kate
Hope’s Café Bonus: “Living in a rural setting exposes you to so many marvelous things – the natural world and the particular texture of small-town life, and the exhilarating experience of open space.”
– Susan Orlean.