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Charlo grad's lessons go beyond the classroom

by KRISTI NIEMEYER
Editor | June 1, 2023 12:00 AM

From Montana, to Alaska to Texas, Charlo graduate Gus Shrider has traveled a long way – and surmounted challenges beyond those offered in the classroom or on the football field or track.

Gus began his school journey attending preschool in Dixon, where his grandmother, Susie Loughlin, lived. As a kindergartner, he and his family moved to Alaska where his mom, Randi Shrider, taught in remote native villages and his father, James, worked for British Petroleum. The family moved often, and while that offered Gus an opportunity to meet new people, “it’s hard starting over all the time,” he said.

“Every place is different – like this school is way different than all the other schools I’ve been to – it’s a small school where everyone knows everyone.”

The Mission Valley is also a place with a rich family history. His mom, who teaches in the education division at Salish Kootenai College, was born and raised in St. Ignatius and graduated from Charlo High. His grandmother was also born in St. Ignatius and spent many years working for the Tribes prior to her death in 2022.

It was on one of the family’s trips back to Montana that Gus’s parents first noticed a black spot on Gus’s hip during a swimming excursion to Flathead Lake. “We got it checked and it was stage three melanoma,” he said. “I’m really glad they noticed it.”

Although Gus knew the spot was there, “I never told anybody – I thought it was a weird birth mark,” he said. “I just got used to it.”

During his freshman year, he had surgery in Anchorage to remove the growth and three lymph nodes from his hip, leaving a six-inch scar and requiring several weeks to recover. “Walking was really uncomfortable.”

“When I first learned about it, I was in denial,” he said.

Gus’s family moved to Texas his sophomore year, where his mom taught at a charter school in South Houston and his dad continued to work for BP. But after his grandfather died, the family moved back to Montana to help his grandmother, and he attended Charlo High his junior and senior years.

In Alaska, track and hockey were his “go-to sports,” but at Charlo, he also had opportunities to play football and basketball – sports he didn’t get a chance to play at larger schools.

“Here, I could just join in and learn,” he said.

But those pursuits were curtailed toward the end of the basketball season when another worrisome spot was detected on the back of his leg, near his ankle. That also proved to be melanoma, requiring another surgery to scrape out the cancerous tissue, and plastic surgery to repair the area around his ankle and Achilles tendon.

His two encounters with cancer have taught him lessons beyond what he learned in the classroom.

“I’ve definitely changed a lot,” he said, beginning with his first bout in his freshman year. “I was kind of cocky. I got a lot nicer after that.”

His girlfriend at the time was a positive influence. “She was there for me, just really nice, really supportive,” he said. “And then we had to move to Texas and I thought maybe I should be that nice person now.”

His grandmother, who died last June, was also a role model when it came to kindness. “I have a lot of happy memories of her,” he said.

In addition to participating in sports, Gus is president of the Charlo Junior Stock Growers, and raises hogs for 4-H, along with his 13-year-old sister. This summer, he’ll be helping his family build their house at his grandmother’s place and plans to attend 4-H camp with his sister as a counselor. He may join the Air Force next fall and aspires to become a pilot.

After such a varied education experience – ranging from stints of home schooling to attending village schools, large public schools and charter schools, Gus gives Charlo a positive report card.

“Teachers are more one on one, there’s not so many people, and it’s funner, not so assembly-lineish,” he said. “Because there are fewer people, there’s more time for everyone – it really helps.”

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