If you ever saw Dwight Raup in downtown Billings, most likely on a bench under Skypoint, or at a table drinking coffee at Rock Creek Coffee Roasters, you might have thought he didn’t have much.
He carried everything he owned: his clothes, a bedroll and a green duffel bag stuffed with belongings.
But he had something a good deal more valuable than his few material items. He possessed a large network of friends and guardian angels who did as much for him as he allowed them to do, and many of them believed he gave them more than they gave to him.
Dwight, who was known universally by his first name, was a fixture in downtown Billings for many years. He died Saturday at Billings Clinic of advanced pancreatic cancer.
People who knew Dwight told different stories about their relationship with him, but they all mentioned a few things: he was unfailingly kind; he never asked for anything; he never caused any trouble; he was acutely aware of what was going on around him.
“I don’t know anyone who didn’t like Dwight,” said Joel Gargaro, the owner, with his wife, Peggy, of Rock Creek Coffee Roasters.
“It’s always been remarkable to me that someone who asked for so little meant so much to so many downtown,” said Gina McIntyre Colton, a longtime friend of Dwight’s.
“He definitely made downtown feel like a safer place because he cared,” Sharli Kiner said. “He was really a good man.”
Kiner, the owner of Limber Tree Studios, is hosting a memorial gathering for friends of Dwight at 3 p.m. this Friday in her studio at 212 N. 29th St. Dwight frequently slept in a little alcove next to the Gypsy Wind store just down the street from the Limber Tree.
Dwight’s son, who lives in Washington state, is expected to attend the memorial. Friends say Dwight’s mental illness, presumed by them to be paranoid schizophrenia, alienated him from his family. They look forward to letting his son know how much Dwight was valued in Billings.
Colton didn’t work downtown long, but she lived nearby and often went downtown just to visit with him. If she didn’t see him for a day or two, she learned that there were people she could text to check up on him.
“There was a kind of network of people looking out for him,” she said. Some people gave him money or food or vouchers for a short motel stay. The Billings Army-Navy Surplus Store kept him in boots, bedding and other gear.
Dwight told Colton that he’d been in Billings 22 years, that he came here as a truck driver. But he was mostly quiet about his past and she didn’t probe. He also had a lot of conspiracy theories to share—one that he was suffering from paraffin poisoning, possibly at the hands of Mormons, another that the Catholics were responsible for the polar vortex.
He also had some memorable quotes, Colton’s favorite being, “What we have here is interference by a long line of dirty bastards.”
Joel Gargaro said that once Dwight started to frequent his coffee shop, he was there almost every day, inside in cold weather, outside when it was nice enough.
“He never, ever asked for anything, always paid for everything,” Gargaro said, though his workers would sometimes refuse payment and other customers donated money for Dwight’s drinks.
And though Dwight used to smoke a lot—pipes in earlier years, then cigarettes—no one could remember seeing him with a drink, much less acting intoxicated. That was confirmed by Matt Lennick, one of the Police Department’s downtown resource officers.
“No open container, no alcohol, never an issue with us,” Lennick said. “He never made a mess. He never left a scrap when he got up and moved in the morning.”
Lennick also confirmed that Dwight kept a sharp eye out.
“He always knew what was going on,” Lennick said. “Whether he chose to tell you or not was pretty hit or miss.”
Joe Stout, director of operations for the Downtown Billings Alliance, said he and other DBA people who worked the streets saw Dwight every day, often multiple times a day. Since he usually wore his heavy jacket and stocking cap even in the summer, Stout said, they’d often deliver water to him.
“A man can’t live on coffee alone,” Stout said.
Coila Evans, an artist from Roundup, met Dwight while working in a friend’s gallery in the Babcock Building during the farmers’ market a couple of years ago. She said Dwight would watch over her shoulder as she worked on a painting, saying little but expressing his approval in throaty rumblings.
She said he told her he used to be a professional photographer and would talk at length about processing film and printing photographs. She took him to breakfast on occasion and loved hearing him talk.
Even before she knew him, Evans took a two-second video of Dwight smoking his pipe. After she learned of his death last weekend, she dug out a still frame she’d made from the video and began painting a portrait of Dwight. When she zoomed in on the photo, she said, she was surprised to see that his eyes, which she remembered as warm and kind, were framed by deep, dark lines, which seemed to say a lot about what he’d seen in a life on the streets.
She was still working on the painting Tuesday, trying hard to capture what she felt in that photo.
“To paint him was far more emotional than I thought,” she said.
Catherine Louisa Eithier, owner of the Catherine Louisa Gallery on the 100 block of North Broadway, was also dealing with strong emotions on Tuesday.
She got to know Dwight during the bitterly cold winter of 2014. She kept seeing him on the street and wondered why he wasn’t staying with someone during such harsh weather.
“I realized, maybe no one had asked him,” she said, and so she did. She was a little surprised when he accepted immediately, with a big smile on his face. Her husband, Steve Aaberg, had his own misgivings, and Eithier admitted that when she first brought Dwight home, “I was a little apprehensive that whole night.”
But it “was wonderful, just wonderful,” she said. “He stayed for several days. He was such a gentleman.”
He ate dinner with Eithier and Aaberg, after which he’d go into their living room and watch television. He especially loved science-fiction movies, the more action-packed the better.
“He got so into it he’d be pretend shooting at the TV,” she said. In the morning, after breakfast, Eithier would drive him from their home near the hospitals to Rock Creek Coffee, and at 5 p.m. he’d show up at her gallery for the ride home. After he’d stayed with them four or five days, she said, it was still so cold that they paid for a week’s stay at the Dude Rancher Lodge, which he also enjoyed.
She and her husband noticed Dwight had big open sores on his legs, and they offered to take him to the RiverStone Health Clinic. He refused, saying he wouldn’t go south of the tracks under any circumstances. That may be why he didn’t stay at the Rescue Mission, though others said he couldn’t stand being cooped up with so many people.
About a year ago, possibly because he’d been beaten up by other transients, Dwight moved to the West End. He’d sleep during the day in a little park behind the Pier One store on South 24th Street West and hang out at the Wal-Mart at night.
Dawn Shrinarine lives on the West End and started seeing a lot of Dwight about this time last year. But he was always neatly dressed, so she didn’t realize he was homeless at first.
When it became obvious he was homeless, “I was just kind of drawn to him, so I started stopping to see what he needed,” she said. From then on she would often talk to him two or three times a day, and she and her 9-year-old daughter would take Dwight out for a meal.
“She kind of viewed Dwight as grandfatherly,” Shrinarine said. “He would tell her stories, and if she wasn’t with me he always asked about her.”
Dwight told her he used to be a truck driver, that he’d been in the military and had lived in Alaska, New York and Arizona, among other places, Shrinarine said. He also told her he was born in 1949.
He also had a wry sense of humor. When she asked him what brought him to Billings, he answered, “An old Chevrolet.”
She drove Dwight back downtown last October, just for a visit, she thought, but he stayed downtown. She drove down to see him several times a day, and when Dwight suddenly became quite ill last Thursday and was taken to Billings Clinic, Joel Gargaro called Shrinarine and let her know.
She went to the hospital and, joined by Colton, was with Dwight during the last few days of his life.
“He really touched my heart and my soul, and I’m just so grateful to have had him for a friend,” she said.
Eithier said much the same thing, adding that Dwight helped her see that other transients, who might have seemed dangerous at first, were also human beings who respond well to being treated with kindness.
“I feel like they give us an opportunity,” she said. “They give us an opportunity to give, and you know, that’s wonderful.”
She said Dwight was special because so many people got to know him. But there are many others to know.
As for Dwight’s death, she said, “I hope, I really hope, it motivates us all to reach out. When someone’s gone, it’s too late.”