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Successful Business > Successful Life: One Entrepreneurs Success Story

by Deborah M. Shelley , Supported Living Coordinator, Beartooth Industries Herb Noyes, Area Manager, Beartooth Industries Bernie Klundt, Business Owner.

At an early age, Bernie showed signs of "disturbing" behavior. At times he displayed an uncontrollable temper, bit other children, tried to flee from his home. He received limited attention and guidance during his developmental period while enduring serious emotional trauma due to sustained abuse. He was placed in foster care at the age of 10 and lived in several homes until he was 13 years old. From 1969 until 1975 he resided at Boulder River School and Hospital (Montana's developmental disabilities institution) and Warm Springs State Psychiatric Hospital. During his stay in these institutions, he was prescribed Haldol and Mellaril, which served only to increase his violent outbursts and episodes of depression.

Bernie came to Red Lodge, Montana, in June of 1976. The Red Lodge Group Home and day services workshop staff supplied Bernie with support for community living. His often violent and aggressive behaviors increased. He was admitted to a local hospital psychiatric unit and immediately placed on a series of medications from Valium to Ritalin to Lithium to Ardane. After six weeks, the doctors felt that Bernie's condition was degenerating and asked for an electro convulsive therapy permit. Bernie left the hospital, against physician's advice, with the director of developmental disability services in Red Lodge.

Often during these years, a much gentler and more coherent side of Bernie would appear. He loved children and animals, and formed strong attachments with his peers, staff members, and many members of the Red Lodge community. He had a sharp and incisive sense of humor, and he saw beauty in things that others did not. His keen insight and understanding of the people around him, and his compassion for those close to him, led the staff to continue to search for an answer that might facilitate a healthier, happier Bernie. We needed to open doors that had been shut for many years and address his mental health issues.

In April of 1997, Bernie began seeing a new psychiatrist at the Billings Mental Health Center. Although we were apprehensive about introducing Bernie to medication because of past experiences, she, through process of elimination, found a medication called Zyprexa that began to reduce his emotional and violent episodes. Although the staff continued to report difficulties in Bernie's work and home settings, his violent episodes were significantly reduced.

New Services

Bernie's quality of life at the group home was very trying for him. Living with seven other people and trying to comply with a hectic, noisy, and demanding atmosphere caused him to retreat into his bedroom and seclude himself from the activities going on around him. If he did involve himself in projects or activities, he could only maintain his composure for short periods of time before having an episode or escaping into his bedroom.

On February 5, 1998, Bernie became part of a new developmental disabilities service expansion project through the Montana Department of Health and Human Services for Supported Living. The expansion money allowed him to consider other living alternatives and have the opportunity to choose the agency that would support him. He was approached by a community merchant whose place of business Bernie had patronized for several years. When she heard that Bernie was looking for a place of his own, she offered to rent him an apartment that was attached to her home. Bernie moved into his new home on May 1, 1998.

Bernie purchased new furnishings for his home. He placed and organized every article and piece of furniture to his liking. He chose his own color schemes, chose his own food, and planned his own meals. Given a sense of ownership and the ability to control his own life, Bernie created a quiet, calm, and happier environment for himself. His behavioral and emotional needs began to decline as he became more comfortable in his apartment. Previously, the staff was documenting 20 episodes per week in both the home and at the workshop. After Bernie had moved into his own place, episodes diminished to 1-2 per week over the following six months! The amount of time spent by the staff in supporting him decreased by at least 75%.

Starting a Business

One month after his transition into his own home, Bernie started a new business. He and his supporting staff members initiated the business with the assistance of David Hammis, Organizational Consultant from the Rural Institute at the University of Montana. The team used their resources and history with Bernie to visualize and implement a plan for a business that fit Bernie's interests, and with a $250 contribution from Dave, the business, called Klundt's Kritters was up and running.

Bernie sells stuffed animals at the Beartooth Nature Center. The Center is a nonprofit facility that cares for wild animals that are injured or too tame to return to the wild. Bernie's products depict the actual animals cared for at the Center, and his business is doing quite well. In fact, he makes many times more money through his business than he earns through his real job cleaning a local restaurant after hours two days per week. Bernie pays 10% of his profits to the Center in exchange for the Center exhibiting his display. For this fee, the Center's volunteer workers oversee sales for him, and Bernie takes the responsibility for making sure that the inventory is counted, the stuffed animals are labeled and priced, and his display stand is stocked and ready for business each week.

Bernie has been featured in the local newspaper, The Carbon County News, and during the 4th of July, his animal stand was available at a benefit for the Center hosted by Jack Hannah, a well-known TV personality and director of the Columbus Zoo in Ohio. Bernie met Jack and conversed pleasantly with him (as two contributors to the community would). He mingled with the large crowd and spoke to friends. A year ago, we would all have known that this event would have been too much for him to handle, and would have prepared for a possible explosive and violent episode. Now he is a local business owner with a place of his own. Bernie is part of the gang.

Life Transition

Bernie had two things working for him when all these new opportunities were presented to him. First, he had staff members working for him who had known him for 10-20 years, and when presented with a series of obstacles, they were able to pull from their personal experience and knowledge to facilitate solutions that benefited Bernie. Secondly, Bernie had his own inherent strength. Although Bernie had experienced some personal difficulties, he is charming, polite, compassionate, endowed with a magnetic personality, and has developed friends throughout the community and in the organizations that serve him. These community members and staff dedicated a lot of time and support to assure that his life transition went smoothly. It was not a matter of being compensated with money or recognition. It was the dedication of many of his friends who wanted him to succeed and become that happy and healthy man we now know and enjoy.