Phillips County News - One Nation, Under God

By Edward Mangis
PCN Correspondent 

The Story of Fern and Vern


February 6, 2019

Vern Mangis

This January marks the 100th anniversary of two Phillips County pioneers. On January 4th, 1919, Vern Mangis was born the third child of John and Linna Mangis – the first of their children born in a Malta Hospital. His older sister, Dorethea, was born on the homestead in the Bennet Lake Community some 12 miles South of Malta.

On March 5th, 1920 Fern Compton was born in the Malta Hospital as the third child of Henry and Leafy Compton. This was after her mother suffered through a three-day wagon ride from the homestead north of Loring in the dead cold of a Montana winter.

Vern was an intelligent young man. He was, and maybe still is, the youngest student to graduate from Malta High School. And his transcript from the college in Havre shows good grades in difficult courses. He also mastered the Federal Tax Code and spent many hours each winter/spring helping family, friends, and neighbors file their returns.

Fern attended the Lawraine Grade School north of Loring and the Loring High School. Then she attended the Havre College completing a two-year degree in education.

While at college, Vern met Fern, the sister of his roommate, Duane Compton. After college, he worked at the Agriculture Service in Malta before transferring to the Bozeman office in mid-1940. Fern taught at schools in Malta and Strarter. They dated for a couple of years then in the Fall of 1940, Vern came back to Malta for the weekend. They were married and returned to Bozeman. A couple of months later they returned to his old office in Malta while Fern returned to her teaching position at Strater. Those six month were the only time in their lives that Vern and Fern had an address of other than Phillips County.

Even though his job was among the best paying in Malta, Vern returned to his farming roots, first by sharecropping land around Malta and then in 1945 by buying the Simon Hunt homestead north of Loring – near Henry & Leafy Compton's homestead.

During WW II, Vern reported for service, but was rejected for flat feet and anemia. Later when the second call came, he was a farmer and father, so he was excused.

In the next decade, Vern and Fern expanded both their family (to a son and two daughters) and the farming operation through purchasing adjacent plots of land and by going into partnership with brother-in-law Duane to buy out his father-in-law (and Fern's Father), Henry Compton. During this time, he also served as County Commissioner.

Fern was a mainstay for the Loring community serving on boards for the community hall, the school, and social groups. She loved having fun and was universally loved.

In 1956, Vern was dealt a cruel blow when cancer took his beloved wife, Fern. Her funeral was attended by a massive crowd. One attendee remarked, "Phillips County has a Fern sized hole in its soul."

Although having moved to Malta so Fern could be near a doctor, Vern continued to operate his wheat farm/cow-calf operation for another decade, before selling out to Duane. Vern was an innovator in trying different crops, machinery, and farming techniques.

From the Malta base, Vern ventured into another business by buying, again with Duane, the Great Northern Hotel, Bar, Café, and Supper Club. They later sold that property and Vern moved into Real Estate as a broker until his death in 1981.

He also quietly supported the Episcopal Church and the Malta Schools as his three children moved through them. Vern also was a member of several Malta organizations including Masons, Shriners, and the "Bucket."

Vern was a quiet, generous man. I recall asking him on two occasions, First, why he helped neighbors he was not particularly fond of, and second, why he financially helped so many people. His wise answers were as follows, 1) "Out here we help each other" and 2) "It is man's duty to help others strive for success if one can." As the executor of his estate, I was astonished by the number of people he gave money to when times were tough, or for kids to go to school, or to start a business, or to buy a house. Many were never repaid – he probably never expected them to be. But he held a quiet satisfaction knowing he did his duty.

Fern Mangis

In spite of very challenging family situations, Vern raised his three children to see them all married. All of them and their spouses graduated from college and many earned advanced degrees. His six grandchildren and their families all have done the same as has his first great-granddaughter. The list of degrees included a medical doctor, a veterinarian, two lawyers, five advanced education degrees- including a Ph.D., and a ton of masters degrees. In addition, a small army of stepchildren and other county children were financially helped along. Vern Mangis believed in education!

Although he had his faults and weaknesses, as we all do, Vern was a very smart man, a visionary, a very hard worker, a supportive neighbor, a generous friend, and a loving family man. In addition, he was a successful businessman in several ventures and a public servant.

Many individuals owe a great deal to Vern and Fern. Phillips County is a better place to live due to Their lives here. I know the lion's share of credit for the success I may have had is due to Vern and Fern.

We should all pause a moment for a silent thanks for what they contributed.


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