The City of Shelby is a great community with a bright future and a historic past. It is a wonderful place to live, work and play. Our community is made up of wonderful individuals who are well known for their Montana hospitality and their warm welcome that visitors and new members of our community receive. As a citizen of Shelby, we
encourages you to become involved in your community. There are many ways to serve our community and I encourage you to let me know if you have an interest. We will find a place for you to help our community. As always we welcome your comments and suggestions concerning the community of Shelby.
Thank you Larry Bonderud, Mayor City of Shelby
Shelby Mayor Larry Bonderud has served the City of Shelby in various capacities since 1977. He was elected Shelby’s 12th mayor in November of 1989. Currently he serves as the President of the Montana Municipal Interlocal Authority and is a past president and director of the Montana League of Cities and Towns. He has served as a State of Montana Governor’s appointment to various state boards and special interim legislative committees by Governors Schwinden, Stephens, Racicot, Martz and Schweitzer. Mayor Bonderud was previously presented with the American Community Leadership Award in recognition of excellence in community leadership.
Mayor Bonderud is a practicing optometrist in Shelby and Conrad, Montana. He has served on the State Board of Optometry and has been named one of the top 100 alumni in the 100 year history of the Southern California School of Optometry. He also is the Executive Director of the Port of Northern Montana. With his dog Monty as his companion, Mayor Bonderud travels the byways, streets and alley of Shelby.
Shelby Visionary Mayor Larry Bonderud
By: Claire Baiz
Dressed in a safari vest and khakis, Larry Bonderud is on the hunt. He doesn’t wield an elephant gun or butterfly net: he’s packing some serious heat for Shelby. As its mayor for almost twenty years, Shelby has relied on the arsenal in Bonderud’s head.
Bonderud could have been the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Recently named one of the 100 Most Outstanding Graduates by his optometry school in California, years ago Larry decided to follow his heart back home instead of sniffing out the best corporate opportunity.
Three times during our interview, Bonderud is interrupted with phone calls. A knowledgeable guide, he pulls facts from thin air and sends folks packing for their prey without even looking up from his notebook of crystalline doodles.
The buck might not stop at Larry Bonderud’s modest desk in Shelby’s City Offices, because chances are Mr. Bonderud shot it down cold before it got that far.
This straight-talking multi-tasking leader is the envy of just about every town in Montana, according to his high school classmate and friend, State Senator Jerry Black. Along with his bustling optometric practice in Shelby, Conrad and Browning, Bonderud’s managed to serve as one of Montana’s most active mayors—and there’s no sign he’s slowing down. Bonderud has so many irons in the fire that smoke signals can be read all the way from Great Falls.
It’s not just the mayor, either: there’s something special about Shelby. Folks in other Montana towns wear pajamas; it seems like Shelby residents sleep in gored skirts and carry pom-poms to bed. If a motion picture studio wanted to film a sequel to Pleasantville, Shelby is a real life dead-ringer. It’s friendly and almost “Canadian Clean”, with the prospect of restored Art Deco downtown storefronts and a genuine Frank Lloyd Wright designed residence a few blocks up the street.
Bonderud’s eyes dance behind his frameless spectacles as he explains his enthusiasm for a downtown revitalization project that would provide funds for Shelby to restore downtown to its full glory. It’s refreshing to hear a Montana mayor sit behind his desk and exclaim, “I’m jacked about Art Deco.”
What’s the key to Bonderud’s success? Energy, optimism, an open-door policy…and a fair dose of smarts. Bonderud knows how to listen, and he knows when to act. Shelby’s city government is up front: the reception area doubles as the City Council meeting room. No waiting. Just show up and speak your peace every other Monday night at 7:30 p.m. sharp.
Forging relationships is important, and everyone’s welcome to have their say. Bonderud points out that “the mayor is the person who runs the meetings, not the person who runs the town.”
The most important relationship for Larry is with his wife Sharon, who laughed with acknowledgement that she didn’t stand much of a chance once she met Larry. Years ago Sharon was a new teacher in town, at the same time Larry opened his optometry practice. Sharon remembers seeing Larry’s picture in the Shelby newspaper in the same issue that she was written up as a new teacher. Did the future Mrs. Bonderud really need an eye exam, or was she going to check out the new fellow in town?
An independent spirit in her own right, Sharon is a retired teacher and principal. She recently returned from a year-long stint as a consultant in the United Arab Emirates. “I was in the mood for an adventure,” she explains, “and Larry was almost as excited as I was.” Larry and Sharon have two grown children living in Bozeman. Both kids see eye-to-eye with Dad: they are involved in optics and optometry.
While other towns face deep economic challenges, Shelby’s been bucking national trends with a healthy economy. The unemployment rate is about three percent. “If you want to work, we have jobs,” he nods. Bonderud is aiming at one percent growth per year. “The community consensus is that it’s OK to change properly…The area is familiar with boom and bust, from the oilfield boom in the 1920’s, through the refinery boom in the ‘40’s and oil and gas booms that continue to this day.” Bonderud’s goal has been to diversify the local economy, while understanding there are things that can’t be changed, like oil prices and rainfall.
Shelby acts while other towns ponder. This pro-active approach has helped to create a correctional facility that employs about 225, the Northern Express Transportation Authority (NETA), and a collaborative wind farm that’s going up in two stages, creating about 100 jobs. Homeland Security, ag, small business, and medical services all have their role in Shelby’s future.
How can so much be accomplished in a rural area filled with independent thinkers? Bonderud gets a gold star for playing well with others—especially with the girls. “One key to success in Shelby is women. They get things done…Shelby’s Chamber of Commerce and business community are both ‘women-powered’,” Bonderud grins.
As a healthcare practitioner, he’s particularly proud of Shelby’s medical system. “We have one healthcare entity, a hospital and a non-profit assisted living facility, which is in the same ‘government condominium’ just across the hall from my office.”
Keeping Shelby on track is a twelve to fifteen million dollar a year proposition, according to Bonderud, who is compensated less in one month than some administrators make in one day. When asked how he manages his schedule, Bonderud says he’ll get some city work done, go to one of his three optometry offices and “look at some eyeballs”, meet with a fire chief, and go “look at some more eyeballs.” He doesn’t see the back of his own eyeballs much: it’s no wonder the guy hardly sleeps.
Larry Bonderud is Shelby’s optimistic optometrist, a man of vision in more ways than one.