The Blaine County Journal News-Opinion - We've Got The County Covered

Centenarian, former county sanitarian "Sanitary John" Herndon returns for a visit


July 11, 2018

(l-r) John "Sanitary John" Herndon, John's daughter Lucia and former courthouse employee Pat Murdy catch up on local news during the Herndon's recent visit. John was Blaine County Sanitarian from 1953 to 1983. John and his daughter now live in Virginia and were back in Chinook for a visit. John will turn 101 on September 24. Though living in Virginia he still refers to Montana as "home."

Reporter's note: Last February I wrote a story about John Herndon who served as Blaine County Sanitarian from 1953 to 1983. Known locally as "Sanitary John," Herndon was famous for his stinky cigars and passions for gardening and fishing. I found many locals anxious to share "Sanitary John stories" for the article when I was writing it.

John's daughter, Lucia, lives in Virginia. John left Chinook a few years ago and lives in a senior facility near Lucia. Lucia and I did a lot of communicating to track down information about John for the story in the "Journal." Back in the winter Lucia told me that John was hoping to come to Montana in the summer. About two weeks ago she called and said she and John, along with two good friends, would be in Chinook around the fourth of July.

Wednesday of last week Lucia called and said, "We'll be at the Chinook Inn for breakfast." When I arrived there were several long time friends and colleagues visiting with John and Lucia. Other locals kept coming in to the Inn to greet John-like Mick Thompson and Ken Finley, fellow gardening enthusiasts with John. Mike Inman, a former coffee drinking friend, stopped by. And several of the greeters shared new stories to add to the lore of John Herndon. Here's some of the update I got from John and friends.

John quit cigars and beer

I asked George Adams, the guy who drove John out to Chinook from Virginia, about the four-day trip. Adams said, "John is a great traveler. When I would ask if he needed to stop he always said, "no." I finally made it a policy to stop every three hours and make John take a little walk." John said about his return to Chinook, "We came back so George and I can look around a little and do some fishing." Fishing is still important to John.

Given his reputation in Chinook as an avid cigar smoker I asked John, "Do you still smoke cigars." "No, he said, "I don't smoke cigars anymore. I quit because it got too expensive and smoking cigars is no longer socially acceptable." After the first story about John appeared in the "Journal" the local librarians told me about a special process they went through to "detoxify"

books that John, a voracious reader, checked out and returned. One librarian said, "He must have always smoked when he was reading because the books would be really rank with cigar smoke."

On his own, John added, "I also quit drinking beer." He explained, "Beer got too expensive and while a sanitarian I took several tours of large breweries. Their facilities were so dirty I decided to give up beer as well."

While doing the earlier story Lucia shared some photos of containers of plants sitting on John's patio in Virginia. She explained, "He doesn't have space for many plants but he still keeps a hand in gardening." John told during this visiting trip, "In grade school I learned to have a plant in a room to use up carbon dioxide and return oxygen in to the air. I still follow that habit started many years ago."

There were others waiting to greet John so I asked one last question: "What's changed about Chinook since you were last here?" He thought a moment and said, "Well, there are a couple of new buildings." Then with a twinkle in his eye he added, "And all the remaining buildings are getting older. I did notice some trees are missing, especially on main street." Pretty sharp observation for a centenarian. John will turn 101 on September 24.

It was obvious that both John and Lucia were enjoying their visit back to Chinook. In the previous article Lucia noted, "Dad always says he lives in Virginia but Montana is his home." The "Journal" welcomes John back home and wishes him a happy 101st birthday coming up.


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