Vol. 4 | Fall 2019

PHOTOS by KEVIN LEAGUE WRITING by CLAIRE LARSON L AM P L I G H T E R

we came to Helena. We started out working with people who were really struggling, you know, to get back on their feet or had just come from a transitional home situation. We wanted to work together with people and meet them where they were at.” Sue says they met many people who were working hard everyday and doing their best to succeed in life. These people were trying to provide warm, safe homes for their families, but because they were in a lower income bracket, were often being taken advantage of or just not receiving the care and service they deserve when it comes to renting a home. “You have to show people that you’re on their side and that you’re willing to work together. Renting a home is a partnership and you have to be a team,” Sue says. She describes the process whenever she meets a new tenant. “I always sit down with them and explain that we are here to help. We’re not looking to line our pockets or get rich from their rent money. I want them to know that we work hard and will always keep up our end of the bargain and that this is our family business. This is how we provide for our kids’ needs and create a warm loving home for our own family.” These conversations help to spark an initial bond and mutual trust between the Hills and their tenants. “It’s why we have such wonderful, long-term renters,” Sue says. After years in the property management business, Sue and Dan have acquired a rare set of skills and an incredibly dependable, loyal team. These strengths, combined with their love of people and their affection for the idea of home, make them uniquely qualified to turn something like the humble little Lamplighter into a smashing success. So, when The Lamplighter Motel hit the market, they purchased the property and dove into the renovation and remodeling process. I can picture Sue on her first day as the new owner, arriving on the scene and having the same type of heart-to- heart with the suffering and struggling cabins as she does with her new tenants. “Look,” I imagine her saying to the scruffed up carpet and tattered curtains, “I know you’ve been through a lot. I know you want to get back on your feet and feel strong and capable again. I’m here with you. Let’s work together to get things back on track.”

C A B I N S & S U I T E S 1006 Madison Ave, Helena, MT When I set out to capture a story about the Lamplighter, I must admit my own skepticism. Years ago, I looked at purchasing a home just across the street from this small, semi-rundown motel and I recall our real estate agent hurriedly glossing over the subject in a way that reminded me of how someone might play soothing music to drown out an incessantly barking dog or light a scented candle to cover up the faint smell of mildew in the basement. In other words, it wasn’t exactly a selling point. So, on the day I was set to visit the Lamplighter I was filled with curiosities. Who in their right mind would purchase this place? How in the world was I going to pull this story off? I parked, took a deep breath, killed the engine and glanced across the street to see a smiling, petite woman giving a friendly wave. As I stepped onto the Lamplighter’s grounds, I noticed the air of mild danger and not so mild desperation I had felt a few years earlier no longer existed. Instead, I felt welcome and at ease, like an honored guest. The friendly woman turned out to be Sue Hill, the new owner. She’s a small framed powerhouse of a thing and, from the moment you meet Sue, you are treated as family. She exudes warmth, respect and a genuine spirit of hustle and hard work. Hospitality seems to come as naturally to Sue as breathing or blinking and I’m about to learn that finding homes for people—whether it be for the night or long term—is something she has mastered. We sit down right outside the front office on a cozy cushioned bench among thoughtfully arranged potted flowers. “How the heck did this happen?” I inquire honestly. Sue shares with me that she and her husband, Dan, have been in the property management business for years, but they’re not your typical property management power couple. They operate from a place of true service and deep respect. “Providing homes for people is something we do because we found a real need for affordable housing when

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