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American spirit on display at Happy's Inn

by KATE HESTON Daily Inter Lake
| July 9, 2024 7:00 AM

Every now and then, one of the largest flags in Montana needs a makeover.

The 60-foot by 30-foot American flag at Happy’s Inn, halfway between Kalispell and Libby, has been flying 120 feet in the sky since 2020. For Happy’s Inn, the flag is a symbol of American spirit. For patrons of the bar, it represents community.

With wind damage and exposure to the sun, the flag needs to be taken down every three to six months and returned to Wisconsin, where it was purchased, to undergo repairs. Sometimes the wear and tear requires a new flag altogether.

Recently, in anticipation of the Fourth of July, employees and bar patrons pulled the flag down, wrangling it carefully into a bag lest it accidentally graze the ground. In its place, they ran up a vibrant, brand-new flag.

“The flag represents community and American spirt,” said Ryan Kelly, a local and relative of the bar’s general manager. “It’s a good meeting point. Good people, good neighbors.”

Happy’s Inn was established in 1902 as a hitching post. Neighbors also call themselves residents of Happy’s Inn, as the surrounding Census-designated place shares its name with the establishment.

The bar is the only bar that is labeled on a road map, management boasts.

Locals frequent Happy’s, but the establishment — consisting of a general store, a cafe, a bar and a concert venue — provides a respite for visitors as well.

“It’s just such a homey feeling ... even if you’re from out of town, the people make you feel welcome,” said Melissa Vens, an employee at the bar.

The bar embraces the American spirit inside and out. One wall is decorated with beer cans, all signed by bar goers who drank them, arranged in the form of an American flag. Veterans and law enforcement always receive a 50% discount on draft beers, and the colors red, white and blue are abundant.

Given its location roughly halfway between Libby and Kalispell, the flag grabs the attention of travelers using U.S. 2. The flag is so long that, in the right wind, it can stretch out to the highway.

The flag first went up on Memorial Day in 2020. From that point forward, Memorial Day has turned into a massive fundraiser at Happy’s, where the business teams up with area veterans’ organizations to raise money for local veterans and first responders.

The owners of Happy’s Inn, Kris and Casey Cole, have revamped the bar since they took over in 2019. Those changes include the acquisition of the flag and the introduction of concerts. They bought the pole from the old raceway in Kalispell.

“The owners, when they heard it was up for sale, jumped at the opportunity to have it at Happy’s and we couldn’t be prouder to have such a big flag, to honor America,” said Lynette Shaver, general manager at Happy’s. “I think that honestly it’s just a fun, happy place,” said Shaver. “Everyone gets to know each other.”