Rich St. John, Chief of Police, Billings Police Department
“I have found that real life is much funnier than anything one can create,” says Rich St. John, who has spent 38 years serving in the police department. “If I wrote a book it would be entitled You Can’t Make This Up.” His experience has granted him an endless supply of interesting stories, as well as a healthy affection for sarcasm. “When I am in need of material, the fire department is an easy target,” he adds wryly.
When you are responsible for the day-to-day activities and operations of 186 employees, a sense of humor and a taste for the interesting is a necessary job requirement. “We are a 24/7 operation, tasked with detecting, preventing, and solving crime with the goal of providing public safety,” St. John explains. “The Billings Police Department is the largest department in the state with 153 sworn officers policing approximately 44 square miles.” This massive undertaking suits St. John’s character. He believes if others could use one word to describe him, they would say “supportive”, an apt adjective for the leader of an entire city department. His favorite quote also speaks of his disposition. “‘People carry their own weather. You can choose to be sunny and bright or cloudy and gloomy.’ I have found that carrying a positive attitude helps in even the toughest times,” he states.
St. John was born in Juneau, AK and raised in Anchorage until the 5th grade, when his family moved to Federal Way, WA (30 miles south of Seattle). “I graduated from Federal Way HS in 1976,” St. John says. “I was recruited to play football at Rocky Mountain College and attended from 1976-80. Following graduation, I had a short stint bartending at the Cattle Company in Rimrock Mall, and teaching swim lessons.” These eclectic experiences culminated in his hiring by the PD in March 1981, where he has remained for 4 decades. Even after all this time away, he still holds a soft spot for the beaches of his childhood. “Growing up on Puget Sound and the surrounding lakes offered endless things to do. I’m not much of a fisherman, but got pretty good at waterskiing,” he adds.
Over the course of his career, St. John has been afforded some incredible opportunities. “My time in law enforcement has allowed me to meet presidents, vice presidents, dignitaries, etc. and travel to associated locations,” he recalls. “I have had the opportunity to network with law enforcement and military officials across the country for various reasons.” In addition, he coached high school football for more than 30 years, which allowed him to meet big-name coaches, spend time behind the scenes at some large college programs, and continually network with people. Yet, St. John is no stranger to tragedy. When asked to describe a “turning point” in his life, he replied “The line of duty death of Detective Alex Mavity. His death put things in perspective, bringing mortality to the forefront and forcing one to re-evaluate priorities.”
His own priorities include his wife, children, and grandchildren, who have kept him active and busy. “Raising three children, now helping with grandchildren, and work requirements, have kept us close to home,” he says. If granted 100% financial independence, he has one simple dream. “I would spend time traveling with my wife.”
Jason Foster, Drummer/Instructor
There is a rhythm to life that we all experience, some more deeply than others. For Jason Foster, rhythm is life. Within his chest thrums the beat of a drum, and he loves to share his passion for music, whether from a stage or in a classroom.
“I love to do anything that has to do with drums,” Foster says. “Build and design, teach lessons at Hansen Music, and of course play in many groups in town.” He boasts an impressive repertoire of bands. “I play with The Bucky Beaver Ground Grippers, Word Of Life Fellowship, The Brick House Band, Rich & Joe Acoustic Show (some of the BBGG line up), and Jim Jensen & The Reflections Band on occasion. Along with teaching close to 30 drum students weekly.”
Born in St. Paul, MN, Foster has called Montana home for most of his life. “My mom & I moved here when I was two years old,” he explains. Although he moved between the two states a few times from middle school to high school, he finished his senior year in Hardin and has been in Montana ever since. An avid skier, he recalls hitting the slopes in Red Lodge as early as age 4 and has spent time at Bridger Bowl and Big Sky as well. “I skied almost every weekend in the winter growing up from an early age.”
The turning point in Foster’s life was when he met his wife. “ I met my wife my sophomore year when I was here between MT & MN,” he says. “She was playing drums in her former band and instantly I was mesmerized by her. We have one amazing daughter who is already carving her own path in the theater circuit in town.” He believes his family is the best thing to ever happen to him. “Not to sound cliche, but being a husband and dad is pretty amazing and fulfilling.” His love for the mountains has come full circle, as he now enjoys hiking the Beartooths with his wife and daughter.
One of Foster’s dreams would be to start a drum company with his friend Clay Green. “Clay is a super fine drummer, mentor, and very close friend,” he affirms. “There are so many new crazy ideas we share that most or all current drum companies do not create, that we’d love to see come to fruition.” This flair for inventiveness and creativity gives him an edge as a teacher and performer.
When asked to choose a favorite quote, Foster muses, “I know most people can relate to movie quotes. A day doesn’t go by without me using a line from any Bill Murray movie.” This sense of humor fits naturally into the cadence of his life; a witty remark or notable bit of dialogue to accentuate a moment, like a drum carrying a beat. “I’m doing the work! I’m baby-stepping! I’m not a slacker!” Foster quips, honoring Murray with a few memorable lines. “What if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today!”
Derek Aspinwall, Owner and Founder of Aspinwall Mountain Wear and Hogan’s Designs
“We see dimly in a mirror and don’t get all the details. We are required to walk by faith and not by sight; however, seeing my family and businesses come together is without a doubt the doing of the Lord in my life.” -Derek Aspinwall
The summer of 2003 brought forth the turning point in Derek Aspinwall’s life. “I became a Christian,” he affirms. “It has set my life in a positive motion and I’m grateful for what the Lord has done in my life and will continue to do….To be quite frank I don’t know how other business owners, and parents for that matter, do it without knowing the Lord. There are certain foundational truths that a Christian falls back on that carry us through ‘the hits’ that life dishes out.”
Aspinwall’s strong beliefs, both spiritual and creative, have allowed him to forge a successful path in business and at home. “Having four daughters, two dogs, two businesses, and a wife has been pretty interesting,” he says. “Every day is a new development, to say the least. I never thought I would be the dad of 4 daughters. I don’t know how one prepares for that? I have gotten much better at ponytails and have learned to always comment positively on accessories.”
While Aspinwall grew up in Great Falls, he married a Billings native, which led to their settling here. Together, he and his wife started Aspinwall Mountain Wear from their home in May 2014. “The goal for Aspinwall Mountain Wear was to build impeccably high-quality products that fit the mountain lifestyle and met the demands of mountain activity and living.” His own love for bow hunting and skiing fostered a connection with the mountains which inspired their brand. From the back of their downtown Aspinwall Mountain Wear location, they also run Hogan’s Design (named for Derek’s childhood epithet) which specializes in custom artwork design and screen print. “What I bring to the table for both these companies is the creative design, attention to detail, and forward vision for both the brands,” Aspinwall explains. “Most people that know me well would say that I am a true blue creative.”
If blessed with 100 percent financial independence, he would continue to keep both hands on his businesses, overseeing operations and providing insight for the overall vision. Yet, he admits he would also take time to explore some other creative outlets. His passion for art extends beyond design. “I would love to paint western landscapes and wildlife, mostly oil on canvas. I believe it to be the pinnacle of creativity; take $20-$30 in oils and a blank canvas, and build out something totally original, then be able to sell it for thousands. I also want to start a baseball brand company. Under that separate baseball umbrella name, I’d like to make custom wooden bats in house that also was home to a baseball academy, a workout gym facility equipped with indoor batting cages, etc. The works!” Most importantly, Aspinwall would spend as much time as possible with his wife and daughters, coaching sports and being involved in their lives.
Those who know Aspinwall can attest to his great sense of humor. “There are a lot of squares out there and I do feel like God put me on this earth to help round off some of the corners,” he quips. “Humor is a key ingredient to my life and I am always trying to make people laugh or loosen them up.” He is also incredibly humble. “Way more humble than you,” he adds with a wink.
Kevin Red Star, Studio Artist, Kevin Red Star Studios
“Focus, like Yoda,” Red Star chuckles, describing his favorite bit of wisdom.“Putting all of your energies into what you are doing….focus on what you want to do and see it complete in your mind.”
For as long as he can remember, Red Star’s focus has been art. He recalls sketching as a young child, using crayons, tablets, or whatever he could get his hands on to bring his imagination to life. “I just drew. There were no tools or an environment that was conducive to creativity, the way I wanted.” At times, his youthful exuberance tried the patience of adults. “A lot of graffiti in my mom’s friends’ homes,” Red Star admits. “When I was a little kid, there was a story where one of my friends said ‘My mom would complain about you! When your mom brought you over, you were bored, so you would sketch little figures on our floor.’ I always drew.”
Growing up in Lodge Grass and Pryor, Red Star spent much of his time outdoors. “When I was a kid, they never took us anywhere,” he laughs. “We just hung out by the creek… hiked and hunted. Played outside. No TV, no cell phones.” Simpler times afforded simpler pleasures. He loved the mountains and felt blessed to be in an area surrounded by such natural beauty. “My uncles had horses, so we were always on horseback, from about 5 or 6 years of age. Or we were out in the sun in the summertime…we ran out around with no shirts, just trousers….until we had to go back to school. I loved growing up there…it was so innocent. You didn’t have to pay bills!” His upbringing also afforded Red Star the chance to connect with his Native American heritage, an inspiration which shaped his art forever onwards. “I’ve always loved the culture. It fascinated me, the ceremonies and rituals that the Old People did. They still do, the Crow Indians, the elders. They were special things and my fascination grew. Even up to this day, I like to create some of the thoughts and visuals of those gatherings of the Old People.”
In the mid-’60s, a unique and groundbreaking opportunity was presented to Red Star, then just a teenager. In Santa Fe, New Mexico an art school was founded for Native American youth on a shared campus with the Pueblo groups of the area. Tribes across the country, from Inuit to Apache, were invited to select aspiring artists in their own communities to attend. “They sent representatives to different agencies…and asked who would be a candidate, with any potential artistic bent. When the representatives came to the Crow area, people in the community said ‘That little Red Star kid, he really loves to draw!’”
His parents quickly agreed, knowing he needed to explore this blossoming talent. Red Star found himself experiencing his first taste of air travel, on a plane bound for Santa Fe. “It was a dream. It took a lot to get us there, programs and grants… but it was exciting.” Young native artists with little exposure to proper tools or instruction were finally given a chance to develop and hone their skills. “We had some really fine instructors, which was great for us, fresh off the reservation…it really inspired us to be like them.” Students were introduced to sculpting, dance, pottery, weaving, literature and other cultural arts. For Red Star, it was painting that held a special allure. “I was introduced to the world of painting, with proper instruction. It was an eye opener for me,” he recalls of the exposure to artwork from across the globe. As a child from Montana, he had little knowledge of galleries or museums. “We did a lot of exploring, with the color wheel and light and shading. That’s what the school was all about.”
Red Star now works out of two studios, one in Santa Fe and a main studio in Roberts, MT, which has been a refuge for him for the last 20 years. “Once I close the door, it’s like another world,” he explains. “It doesn’t matter where you are.” His daughter, Sunny Sky, is also a painter and helps him oversee operations. “Sunny has really been great, with everything that pertains to business,” he adds. Tragically, his oldest daughter Merida passed away in an auto accident 10 years ago. “She left us with her legacy, Mason,” Red Star says of his grandson. “He looks just like his mom, he’s a handsome guy.” When Merida was pregnant with Mason, over 18 years ago, Red Star made the switch from oil paints to acrylics, wishing to spare his daughter from the fumes; acrylics have been his medium of choice ever since. He remembers his children responding to artwork very early on. “Merida, every time she saw a Dali as a young child, she went bonkers. The energy she got from that artist’s painting,” he remarks, “it was incredible.” When Mason was young, she even named their chocolate lab “Salvador Doggie” as tribute, a memory which still brings a smile to Red Star’s face.
In a life shaped by art, both pursuing and creating it, Red Star has discovered two great passions “I love waterfalls,” he divulges. “I want to see waterfalls all over the world. It’s one of my things before I go to the ‘Other World’…they fascinate me with their power. And traveling.” Traveling has constituted a major part of Red Star’s journey, visiting the great museums around the globe and viewing and hosting galleries, both of which serve to inspire and instill a sense of awe. Overall, Red Star has developed a deep understanding of focus, the ability it takes to put an idea onto a blank canvas. “Truth, honesty, and respect,” Red Star summarizes. “Truth to yourself in creating something, not just doing something to please somebody. Be honest to yourself, what you are creating…not just be doing it because it is easy or it sells. And respect.” No matter what, Red Star carries what he learned from the Old People inside. “Things come to me, as old as I am. ‘This is what they were trying to tell me’,” he reflects, always finding a way to balance his creativity with a respect for one’s space and for nature.