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56 Counties: Meagher County

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courtesy Sarah Calhoun and Chris and Barry Hedrich
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Sarah Calhoun (left), Chris and Barry Hedrich

Meagher County is named for the first territorial governor of Montana, Thomas Meagher, who suffered a tragic end when he drowned in the Missouri River near Fort Benton. Meagher’s body was never found, and it remains a mystery whether he was murdered or simply fell from the deck of the steamboat, which added to the legend of a man whose life was already pretty adventurous.

White Sulphur Springs was a thriving community until the early 80s, when the railroad left and a sawmill that employed several hundred people shut down. The county still has one of the lowest per capita incomes in the state, but thanks to one enterprising woman, it has also become a popular tourist destination, as well as the site for one of Montana’s most popular annual events, The Red Ants Pants music festival. My guests this month are the founder of Red Ants Pants, Sarah Calhoun, and Barry and Chris Hedrich, the owners of 2 Bassett Brewery, which opened right on Main Street in White Sulphur five years ago.

Barry Hedrich was raised in White Sulphur Springs, Montana while his wife Chris grew up in Sheridan, Wyoming. They met while working for a mining company near Sheridan and were married in 1988. Barry graduated from MSU with a degree in Civil Engineering and Chris began a career in banking shortly after they were married. They began their life together on a ranch near Ringling, Montana and eventually sold the ranch and moved to White Sulphur Springs. Barry began coaching football and Chris continued at the bank. They have two children, Hank, who is a mining engineer and Molly who is a RN. With both kids out of the house, and Chris nearing her 30-year mark in banking, they discussed opening a small business, and ultimately decided a brewery might be worth a shot. After several years of planning and renovating, they opened 2 Basset Brewery in February of 2016. The brewery is named after their two basset hounds Stanley and Leroy, both of whom were gifts for Hank and Molly when they graduated from High School. The brewery just celebrated its fifth anniversary.

Raised on a farm in rural Connecticut, Sarah Calhoun was inspired to move to Montana by Ivan Doig’s This House of Sky. From her home in the small town of White Sulphur Springs, Calhoun designed pants that would fit, function and flatter working women. Red Ants Pants are made in the USA, and the Red Ants Pants Foundation was born in 2011, the same year Sarah started the Red Ants Pants Music Festival. The Foundation supports women’s leadership, working family farms and ranches, and rural communities – the three things most important to Calhoun and the Red Ants Pants Community. Over the years, attendees to the festival have enjoyed headliners including Merle Haggard, Emmylou Harris, Dwight Yoakam, Wynonna Judd, and Keb’ Mo. The festival continues its success into its tenth year on July 22-25, 2021. In 2018, Sarah was named to the Montana Business Hall of Fame and the Festival received the prestigious Event of the Year award from the Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development.

As Calhoun has risen to the top echelons of success as a rural entrepreneur, she is paying it forward by actively encouraging and mentoring other women starting their own businesses.