2016 year in review
Many folks are happy to see 2016 become history. Like every other year, residents of Laurel, Park City and Joliet shared triumphant moments, as well as heartbreak. Here are some of the news highlights lifted from The Laurel Outlook published between the beginning of January through June 2016. May Outlook readers look forward to many adventures and much luck in 2017.
———— January ————
Fink Coleman sentenced
District Court Judge Russell Fagg departed upwards from the sentence recommended by the Yellowstone County Attorney’s Office for Pamela Fink Coleman who pleaded no contest in August to felony sexual abuse of children for having photos of a naked underage girl on her phone.
Laurel brewery open
For Laurel lovers of craft beers, the opening of High Plains Brewery was a long time coming. For the partners—brew meister Levi and his father Dave Bequette—it was a painful wait for federal permits. But, the results have be so well-received that the delays of the past can be put aside as just part of the process.
After five years on the job, Laurel Superintendent of Schools, Tim Bronk submitted notification of his resignation Jan. 7. He will leave the district’s top administrative post at the end of his contract, June 30. Because the announcement came just days prior to Bronk’s scheduled formal evaluation by the school board, trustees did not vote on renewing his contract at their regular meeting, but did close the meeting to review the results of the evaluations with the outgoing superintendent.
Coyote derby held
The Joliet FFA Alumni hosted their fifth annual Coyote Derby. The annual derby is the only one held in the area, with funds donated to the Joliet FFA. Despite worries about the timing of the event, which happened to coincide with five other derbies being held throughout the state, the derby turned out to be one of the most successful yet. over 50 teams entered, up from only 30 teams the year before.
Rimrock must meet conditions
A new sign has been erected on the south side of the Rimrock Chevrolet Dealer’s lot, next to the west-bound I-90 ramp. Laurel’s code enforcement officer, Gary Colley, issued a permit to the business for the sign with no conditions attached, although the dealership has since been informed that the old signs must be removed within 30 days and prior to the new sign becoming operational.
Despite Greg Gianforte’s reluctance to state for the record that he planned to announce his candidacy for Montana’s top leadership job during a visit to the Outlook offices, he was focused on pushing forward with an agenda of meeting media and industry leaders and selling his views on the economy.
Trustees need views
on schools’ future
Knowing that more than the seven elected trustees should have input into the future of Laurel Schools, the board has issued an invitation to a second “Meet and Discuss.”
playing in Super Bowl
Forty-eight hours after punching his ticket to the biggest game there is in the world of NFL football, Columbus High School graduate Dwan Edwards was still in disbelief. “I’ve been a part of teams that I thought could make it to the Super Bowl, but this is just amazing. I can’t believe it,” said the Carolina Panthers defensive tackle.
———— February ————
Going, going, gone
The Monday evening toppling of the G.D. Eastlick grain elevator went off without a hitch. Workers waited until evening to bring down the 103-year-old structure when traffic was expected to be light. The underpass was closed temporarily and the Laurel Volunteer Fire Department was on standby at the scene. As the tallest building in Laurel, the silo had been a beacon of sorts for those traveling Old Highway 10, or crossing town at the intersection of Main and 1st Ave. For years the structure has been one of the most identifiable features of the city.
Pitman seeking Laurel votes
Denis Pitman is running as a Republican against incumbent Jim Reno to represent District 2 as a Yellowstone County Commissioner. Although Laurel isn’t in District 2, Pitman emphasized that once elected he will represent the needs of the entire county.
School board begins
Laurel School board trustees are currently seeking community feedback on what qualities Laurel residents would like to see in a new superintendent via an online survey. The board plans to use feedback gathered by the survey to help focus their search for a new district superintendent.
to drop charges
Prosecutors have filed a motion to dismiss charges against a former Absarokee man accused of a 2013 negligent homicide based on a lack of witnesses who can positively identify the defendant. The prosecutors wrote the following: “Based on the results of the continuing investigation by both the state and the defense, and in response to the defendant’s notice of ‘Notice of Alibi Defense,’ the state believes there is a question based on the current evidence that a unanimous jury would find the defendant guilty.” Michael Holtz, 23, is charged with the negligent homicide of then 27-year-old Forest Dana. Dana was found by family members in the alley directly behind their home. A medical examiner determined that Dana was killed when his spinal cord was severed as the result of being run over by a vehicle.
Helping students succeed
“What are your strengths and weaknesses?” Educational Talent Search outreach advisor Rob Rust posed the question to sophomore students during and ETS session focusing on self-esteem. The session is just one piece of the program, which seeks to help students pursue and find success in post-secondary education.
No tax appeal
Although the dispute between CHS representatives and the Montana Department of Revenue over the status of the refinery’s protested 2014 taxes won’t be resolved until 2017 at the earliest, the decision is now out of the county’s hands. Both CHS and the Montana DOR are appealing the Laurel refinery’s 2014 property appraisal as re-determined by the Yellowstone County Tax Appeals Board. According to Commissioner Bill Kennedy, neither party wants to accept the compromise valuation of $510 million the board agreed upon.
Board addresses bullying
Around 80 concerned parents, students, teachers and community members packed into a standing-room-only school board work session focusing on issues of bullying and mental health in Laurel schools. Parents and students expressed frustration with the District’s communications and investigation process and related personal incidents and concerns over student safety and health.
———— March ————
Historical significance of park
A long-time Laurel man recalls his days as a caretaker for the city of Laurel’s Riverside Park with fondness. Although it’s been almost six decades since Stan Kinney lived in the caretaker’s cottage with his then wife and two young daughters, he remembers enjoying life there. “I collected fees from campers,” he said. “There were a few other guys that ran the dances and halls and took care of the ranges, but it was the happening place. Besides being the best place to go dancing every weekend people were always down there having some kind of fun.” Kinney laments the decline of the park’s amenities that happened in recent years.
We the People
Laurel High School’s We the People came home from the state competition on Jan. 26, happy with their close third place finish at the constitutional and citizenship competition behind much larger schools, Lewistown and Glacier. There was a slight air of disappointment, though, that the team would not be attending the National WTP competition in Washington D.C., as they had done the year before. That disappointment soon changed to excitement over the course of a month as first Lewistown and then Glacier decided not to attend nationals. With the two schools out Laurel was next in line. “Of course we accepted,” said LHS civics teacher Lee Deming. “It’s an opportunity that you just can’t miss.”
Man killed in Joliet shootout
A shootout with Carbon County Deputies Monday evening, March 7, resulted in One man dead in Joliet. At approximately 8 p.m., Carbon County Dispatch received a call regarding a domestic incident involving a man having “a psychotic episode and access to firearms,” in Joliet, according to Carbon County Attorney Alex Nixon. The man, John “J.C.” Graham, 42 was known to law enforcement. “He had a criminal record,” he said. Sheriff Josh McQuillan said, “He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Three Montana women, two of them from Laurel, are making a difference in the lives of poor and disadvantaged women around the globe through partnerships with no-profit industries. By buying and reselling items made by craftswomen employed by fair-trade organizations in impoverished countries and areas around the world, they help keep women employed and out of the sex trade. Denise Hammer and Sherry Sauskojus of Laurel are traveling to India later this month to meet with some of the principals at two of the companies that hire women to be craftworkers.
in zombie western
Mix popular boy bands, post-apocalyptic zombies and the western backdrop of Montana, and the result is the film “Dead 7.” When the film premiers on April 1, four Laurel residents will be watching especially close. Bobby Brooks, Peggy LeBrun, Madison LeBrun and Karlee Recor all contributed to the film as extras and in the case of Brooks, special effects. The movie follows a group of gunslingers as they look to rid a small town of a zombie plague.
Linda Filpula assuming
Linda Filpula, who was selected by trustees to fill the superintendent position, has a long history working in the district. Filpula is Laurel’s current Director of Curriculum. She’s been involved as a teacher and administrator in the Laurel school district since 1993. During her interview for the district’s top spot, Filpula focused on her lifelong commitment to students, her 23 years experience specifically in Laurel schools in a variety of capacities, and her focus on open communication with all stakeholders.
Man facing federal charges
Michael L. Wombolt was indicted in U.S District Court on eight counts of wire fraud. Wombolt initially pleaded not guilty, but entered a guilty plea to one county on March 8.
Laurel teacher named
Drama coach of the year
LHS Speech, Drama and Debate coach and LMS Spanish teacher Liz Schwartz was named the Class A Drama Coach of the Year by the Montana Forensics Educators Association.
Vietnam veterans recognized
Veterans who served during the Vietnam War lined up at the Yellowstone National Cemetery to receive pins recognizing their service during a ceremony presented by the VA, Laurel’s American Legion Post 123, VFW 3177 and The Marine Corps League.
———— April ————
When the doors shut at Head Start’s Joliet and Red Lodge classrooms in late May for the end of the school year, they will be closed permenently. Billings Head Start which manages classrooms and resources in both Yellowstone and Carbon counties, is shutting down their Carbon County classrooms as they look to stretch sparse resources over a wide area of need.
A student pins a final strip of duct tape to LHS principal Ed Norman. Norman agreed to be taped to a wall over the lunch hour as part of a Student Council fundraiser.
Zoning issues pack meeting
Opponents to three variances requests and one zone change packed the council chambers for the public hearings. Many were resident of E. Maryland Ln. concerned that their property values and the integrity of the road built and maintained by the High Pointe subdivision would be compromised if the variances and zone change were approved.
LHS athletic director resigns
Laurel Schools’ Activities and Transportation Director Danny Wirtzberger resigned April 4, choosing to finish his current contract on June 30.
Laurel man arrested
A 32-year-old Laurel man has been held in the Yellowstone County Detention Facility since April 6, and has been charged with raping a 15-year-old girl. Dustin Linley Kennedy was charged in Yellowstone County Justice Court with felony sexual intercourse without consent.
Coke dust plume
During routine cleaning or “cutting,” of the coke drum at the CHS refinery a small amount of coke dust escaped and created an ugly plume of dark smoke when it became mixed with water vapor. Although the incident is not acceptable, it posed no danger, according to Refinery Operations Manager Dan Wohlegenant.
———— May ————
Amy Mills and Osric Santiago work on the Locomotive mural at Laurel’s MasterLube during the business’ Business After Hours event. MasterLube supports all the area high schools in raising money for the seniors’ graduation parties.
Gov. Steve Bullock ordered all flags flown in the State of Montana at half-staff to honor the memory of United States Sen. Conrad Burns, who died April 28.
Joliet teacher receives award
Joliet’s Mary Koon was awarded the Patricia Behring Teacher of the Year award for Montana. The award is through the National History Day organization and recognizes teachers for showing outstanding creativity, commitment and inspiration to developing student interest in history.
Bill Kennedy to
lead MSUB Foundatio
Longtime Yellowstone County Commissioner Bill Kennedy announced he would be leaving the board to become president of the Montana State University Billings Foundation.
Jaycees cancel street dance
Laurel Jaycees recently made the decision to discontinue hosting the street dance that has preceded the Fourth of July celebration in Laurel for the past 40 years.
mobile home park
At the end of an hour-long public hearing, Yellowstone County Commissioners agreed with residents and property owners and died the request, effectively stopping the development of a manufactured housing project. Commissioner Jim Reno suggested the city and developers had put the cart before the horse and should have annexed the property first. Commissioner Bill Kennedy noted the school system in Laurel is already overburdened.
Volunteers pitch in
“Thank you. That’s all I can say,” Richard Klose, Commander of Laurel’s American Legion Post and President of the Laurel Dodgers baseball team said when describing all the work that needed to be done at Dodger Field in Laurel’s Thomson Park and the volunteers who provided thousands of dollars in labor and materials. The field needed to be readied for the Northwest Regional Class A Legion Tournament, a big deal for the city and the team.
———— June ————
Memorial Day plane crash
Laurel Police, the Laurel Volunteer Fire and Ambulance Departments and Yellowstone County Sheriff deputies responded to the Laurel Airport for a small plane that crashed upon landing May 30. The pilot was the only one aboard the plane and he was uninjured. The plane appeared to have been damaged extensively. Prior to the crash, crowds had begun assembling for the Memorial Day service at Yellowstone National Veterans Cemetery and several witnessed the plane flying low over the area.
Council chose not
to look at insurance
Laurel city employees expected to see big increases in their health insurance premiums this year. Members of the insurance committee had been told by the city’s insurance representative, Dave Allen, that the city’s loss ratio was very high. Allen recommended the committee seek quotes. The committee voted to get quotes and expected their recommendation to go before the council. “It isn’t just about keeping costs low for union employees,” said President of Local Union #316, Fran Schweigert, “it’s about protecting all the employees and just as importantly, looking out for the city tax payers who cover those costs.” According to Schweigert, the council delays action every year until it’s too late.
With summer off to a strong start, many Laurel kids are off to camp. Over 90 girls and boys participated in Laurel’s first junior cheer camp, which ended with a group performance on their last day of camp.
Gene’s Pharmacy to close
The oldest pharmacy in Montana is closing. Gene’s Pharmacy has been a fixture in downtown Laurel since 1909. And much like the historic knick knacks that cover the walls, counters and nearly every available space in the Main Street store, there is a little bit of personal history tucked into every nook and cranny and a lifetime of memories for the owners, John and Sedly Barsness.
CAO raise, land
Two topics took precedence in the comments made by residents attending Tuesday evening’s meeting of Laurel’s City Council: the $10,000 raise proposed for CAO Heidi Jensen and the city’s purchasing of a little more than 12 acres on Ridge Rd.
South Hills blaze
Crews from the LVFD were on scene through the night to ensure a blaze on Moser Dome was extinguished in late June. Other agencies including air support dropped retardant on the fire.