“But That’s How It’s Always Been”: My Journey in Butte, Montana by Brandon Rubertus

April 16, 2024
Brandon is a VISTA serving with the Science Mine in Butte, MT

As I sat down with Dr. Cory Sonnemann and Dr. Doug Coe at Vu Villa pizza last October, I already knew that this casual meeting would mark the beginning of an enlightening journey in Butte. I was still trying to play it cool, they had a whole sales pitch ready for me and I’m not the type to burst anyone’s bubble. And while they did speak of the uphill challenge awaiting me at the Science Mine, a hands-on science discovery center that I would soon be calling home, the conversation quickly steered towards outdoor recreation and the quirks of life in Butte.  Just a few weeks later, I found myself settling into an apartment right behind Vu Villa pizza, ready to immerse myself fully in whatever lie ahead.

Before I even arrived in Butte, I was repeatedly told that I would either love it or hate it. After Anthony Bourdain visited in 2015, he said “At first look, you’d think this is the worst place on Earth. A ravaged, toxic, godforsaken hill threatened from above, riddled with darkness from below. But you’d be wrong”  Before I even immersed myself in the fabric of this historic city and began to understand the nuances that make Butte truly unique, I had already made my own decision to love Butte and all of the faults that came with it.

In the heart of Butte beats a distinct pulse, setting it apart from its Montana counterparts. While other towns may have more hustle and bustle, more wealth, or even their own Costco, Butte maintains a rhythm uniquely its own, echoing the timeless tempo of the encircling mountains. Here, tradition runs deep in the veins of its inhabitants, guiding their every action and decision. Unlike the rapid evolution seen in some Montana communities, Butte stands as an upholder of heritage, where the memories of the past reverberate through every street and alleyway. Loyalty to roots is not just a sentiment but a way of life. Plus, Butte is the only place you can stop in to Pork Chop John’s, where the only thing better than a Pork Chop sandwich is the crew making them.

Butte, in its own enigmatic way, truly is the center of the universe. Despite its rugged exterior, there’s a warmth and resilience in its people that’s palpable. It’s a city that wears its scars proudly, a testament to the grit and determination of its inhabitants.

Yet, for an outsider like myself, trying to introduce change can feel like swimming against the current. I’ve found myself grappling with resistance, facing the daunting task of inspiring a new day while treading carefully on the delicate threads of tradition.

Despite the challenges, I have to believe I’m finding my footing here. With each passing day, Butte reveals a new layer of its complex identity, welcoming me to delve deeper into its rich history and culture. And as I navigate the labyrinth of its streets, I’m learning to appreciate the beauty in embracing the past while still daring to carve out a path for the future.