Leaders in rural Montana towns have tried numerous approaches for saving their communities from extinction. Some have established cooperative stores. Others have brought in businesses that add value to products raised by adjacent farms and ranches. Some have marketed the tourist attractions nearby.
Winifred, at the end of a paved road in northcentral Montana, has been fortunate to have a benefactor to assist them in building up the community with improved infrastructure and businesses that draw visitors.
Built by Norman Asbjornson, the International Suites, along with the 1028 Steakhouse, is the pinnacle of visitor-related businesses in this Montana community with a population of about 200 people.
Asbjornson grew up in Winifred. His mother was a teacher, and his father was a mechanic and a farm implement dealer.
Norman learned the advantages of hard work from an early age by hauling garbage for 25 cents a barrel. At the time, he thought that was good money.
After graduating from high school in Winifred and serving in Korea with the U.S. Army, he earned a mechanical engineering degree from Montana State University and eventually found himself in Tulsa, Okla. He bought the HVAC division of a company, and from there his ingenuity and hard work paid off as he built AAON, Inc., to become a NASDAQ-traded company.
As the years went by, he wanted to give back to his hometown that gave so much to him. Along with improving the airport and swimming pool; providing scholarships for Winifred High School graduates; and building a community center that has space for the ambulance, library, city offices, post office, and meeting rooms, in 2013 he completed the International Suites and 1028 Steakhouse.
The suites are decorated and named for International sites, including the Amsterdam, Shanghai, San Francisco, Paris, Grecian, and New York. Most have kitchenettes, and the apartment-sized Grecian Suite has a full kitchen plus a hot tub. In addition to the suites, a hostel has eight beds and restrooms across the hall.
All the rooms have natural gas fireplaces. The rooms, except for one New York Room and the hostel, are located on the second floor. Because the building had to fit between two active businesses on Main Street, murals of a view of each respective international site can be seen out the windows on the wall of the sign company next door. For example, a view of the Eiffel Tower is outside the Paris Room.
An exercise room and four-lane, state-of-the-art bowling alley is found on the main floor along with the steakhouse, which is open on Friday and Saturday evenings. Thursday evening is pizza night when customers can eat in or take their pizzas home baked or ready to be cooked. Desserts are made at the restaurant. People come from all over that region of Montana to dine at the steakhouse.
Groups of hunters often use the hostel, but other groups reserve it too. A high school basketball team stayed overnight, ate, played games, and bowled with the purpose of bonding as a team. The manager of the International Suites, Kristine Southworth, said, “Reservations, especially around hunting season, are often made a year in advance.”
A south-central Montana couple who accidently came upon the International Suites was so taken with the establishment that they rented a school bus to travel around the state, so they could pick up their children and grandchildren the week after Christmas—but they wouldn’t tell them where they were going.
When they pulled up in front of the International Suites, the woman told her family that she had to stop there for a few minutes. She went in and then didn’t go back out. Finally, the rest of the family got off the bus to investigate. They stayed several days, had the whole hotel to themselves, and had a wonderful time being together.
The 1028 Steakhouse’s name is a reminder of the Milwaukee Railroad locomotive that came as far as Winifred from Lewistown routinely for years. Overhead in the steakhouse is a miniature train on a track that goes around the restaurant.
Asbjornson goes back to Winifred frequently. He has family there.
“He has already driven here from Bozeman, where he had meetings at MSU twice this year,” said Southworth. “He occasionally flies his plane into the town’s airport. When he comes, he spends several days with us.”
Winifred, Mont., is worth your time to check out. Take the opportunity to discover the Missouri River Breaks, throw a fishing line into the river, and take a ride across the river on one of the area state ferries. MSN