On this day, September 13 in 1939, in Flint, Michigan, was born a person who changed my life and those of countless others – all for the better.
His name was Robert Dwayne Hopper. Bob Hopper was the most brilliant person ever to haunt the Silver Valley. He was a fighter and a philosopher, and a writer, and always a student. His curiosity about things universal and local was insatiable, as was his appetite for literature new and old. His mind was a sponge.
Not often do you meet a mine-owner who can discuss the delicate differences between Plato and Socrates, wax rhapsodic about “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” and “I Heard the Owl Call my Name,” then turn to the flaws in Nietzche’s outlook, all the while diagnosing a stubborn Diesel engine. He lent me a few of his books. Each page of every one was annotated by him in tiny print, underscored, and usually ending in a question mark which would send him off to another book or research.
Did I tell you Bob Hopper was a mine-owner? More like a mine-rescuer. He was living in Seattle, having traveled most of the West and Alaska as a prospector, trucker, and scrap-dealer. He received a flyer one day advertising an auction of some of bankrupt Bunker Hill’s assets: Bobcats, iron, timber and such. They were scrapping the place. He dashed to Kellogg as fast as he could, then asked himself, “What happens to the mine? The Bunker Hill Mine was to me, even as a kid in Flint, Michigan, the shining city on the hill.”
The EPA was in the process of demolishing the Bunker Hill smelters, but the mine was in limbo. EPA took it for granted that it was theirs, but neglected to bid on it. Hopper, being a lot smarter than any bureaucrat, submitted a bid for $10 and COVC and acquired title. In the ensuing decades, the EPA tried to wrest it from him, at one point even drafting a seizure plan, and fined him for every step he took. His opposition was local, too. His first welcome was from a water district employee, now mayor of Kellogg, who cut off his water supply – not just by closing a valve, but by ripping out pipe.
Ironically, it was Bob Hopper who scrambled around to pay all the un-paid bills, ranging from the pension fund to the bar-tabs in uptown Kellogg, left deadbeat by the mine’s former owners.
It seemed Hopper had no local friends, but in fact he did. Lovon Fausett and Bill Calhoun, two of the mining district’s very brightest bulbs, were his close friends. I was invited into their inner circle and every Thursday we had lunch at the Broken Wheel in Kellogg. One day the trio ordered Spam for lunch. “I’ll have the Spam,” Lovon said. “I’ll have the Spam,” said Calhoun. Hopper concurred, but he wanted his fried.
Bob Hopper was lied to and shat upon by the EPA on a daily basis. They used every ruse in the book to deprive him of his private property rights and his mine. But he fought back. One determined man against 15,376 federal employees, each of whom make more money in a month than Bob took from the mine in a year. They even stole some of his private land from him.
I don’t wish to portray Robert Hopper as a victim, although it could be played that way. The Spokane-based Spokesman-Review newspaper berated him on a regular basis for not rolling over and playing dead, fed by “leaks” from EPA Region X, who at one point tried to tie him to the Mafia. His probate disproved that, but what a cruel thing for those bastards to do.
I’d rather remember him as a guy way ahead of the curve. He was not some Silicon Valley asshole who thought he had all the answers. He was living in excruicating physical pain, which he never talked about even to his closest friends, trying to save a mine and fight off the federal criminals. When the EPA started to really beat on him, they went to federal court, and pro se, Robert won.
So, my dear departed friend Robert Hopper, I give thanks for your friendship and for saving the Bunker Hill. I’ve still got your number on speed-dial. Can’t believe it’s been six years since you left us. Yet I still feel you’re here.