Opinion: An earned retirement

Published 12:58 pm Wednesday, October 11, 2023

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By DONALD MOTTERN | Staff Writer

I had the pleasure of covering a series of stories over the past two weeks that focused around the retirement of Helena’s Peter Valenti from his position of fire chief.

Having just now begun my third month with the Shelby County Reporter, I have not had much time to develop a working relationship with him, but even in that short time I have come to realize a few things.

One of them being that the man is a veritable institution in and of himself. The matter of his dedication, having had a career in fire service for nearly 40 years, can in no way be denied or questioned and his list of achievements are nearly as long as the list of city officials, family members and department heads that came to wish him a happy retirement during a party held in his honor at Helena City Hall on Sept. 27.

Acting now as a writer and reporter, I cannot help but look at Valenti’s illustrious career with a mix of admiration and a tinge of envy. My own professional and career trajectories have been marked by frequent shifts and turns that stand in stark contrast to ones like his. Having had as many career changes as I’ve had years since graduating from college, each change has brought with it a new set of challenges and learning curves. The very idea of holding onto a singular profession, with unwavering commitment, for the better part of four decades seems almost otherworldly to me.

I for one can’t help but admire and envy that level of dedication. In today’s rapidly changing world, where career changes are often the norm and the idea of a “job for life” seems extinct, Valenti’s journey is a welcome beacon to me. It’s a reminder that with passion, dedication and a clear sense of purpose, one can not only build a career but also leave an indelible mark on a community.

In Valenti’s case, it also helps if you are endowed with a recognizable sense of humor, humility and honor.

I found it incredibly telling that when surrounded in a room filled to capacity with those wishing to recognize him, he insisted on recognizing and thanking everyone else for the success others have credited to him.

Even after nearly 20 years in the position of fire chief, Valenti still thanks and recognizes his predecessor, Chief Penhale, for “Taking a chance on him,” and officially hiring him back in 1989. It is the type of honest humility that commands a willing respect.

While my time working with Helena is just beginning, and my interactions with Valenti have been limited, hearing some of the stories and getting to know the man himself have left a lasting impression on me. As he embarks on this new chapter of retirement, I, along with what I am sure is the entire community of Helena, salute Peter Valenti for his unparalleled service and wish him all the best in his future endeavors.

I would also like to join the long list of those who have already welcomed Chris Miller to his new position of Helena’s fire chief. I look forward to covering the Helena Fire Department under his leadership and cannot wait to see and report on the things to come.