By Evelyn Pyburn

While most people know about the Northern International Livestock Exposition, and realize it has to do with the showing and selling of livestock, and promotion of  agriculture, they may not know how much NILE is focused on young people and supporting them in their education as the future of agriculture.

On a Tuesday morning, there were 1700 kids – members of FFA and 4-H – at the NILE, to participate in horse judging and meat evaluation. They came from California, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming, and of course, Montana. The day before a similar number of youth participated in other judging contests including livestock evaluation, meat science, sales and service, etc.

They come because, not only is the program and competition good, explained Leah Clark, NILE General Manager, but it is the last event in which FFA members can hone their skills prior to the National FFA Convention, which will be held in Indiana in November. She noted that the ages of the participants begin at age 9, which is the age at which they can join 4-H.

 In addition to those competitions, 1,800 fourth graders, from all over southeastern Montana, attended NILE for a 2.5 hour ag education program and hands-on experience, which is held in six sessions over three days. In the program they attend stations on livestock, grains, seeds and soil, honey and other special aspects of agriculture. The program is a collaborative effort of the NILE, the Montana Farm Bureau, Montana Extension Service, with volunteers from such organizations as the Beef Council, Montana Cattle Women, etc.

The youngsters arrive at the NILE by bus or in cars loaded with family members, trucks hauling livestock, etc. Not only do the teachers and chaperones of the youngsters attend, but so do trainers and judges and some of the top livestock growers in the nation, as well as the administrators and sponsors of the NILE. The event garners lots of headlines across the nation, and puts Billings on the map as an epicenter for agriculture for the entire region, which gains much support from local business people, the Billings Chamber of Commerce, the Yellowstone County Commissioners, many of whom were volunteers in serving the kids’ breakfast early on Monday and Tuesday mornings at MetraPark.

NILE raises money for its “Agriculture Youth Program” to award scholarships to deserving youth, to providing internship experiences for college students, to help young cattlemen and women start their own herd.  One of the events through which funds are raised is the annual Stetsons & Stilettos. Over the past 20 years the NILE Foundation has contributed a million in scholarships.

“Supporting youth in agriculture is a key component of the NILE Foundation’s mission,” says Clark, explaining that NILE has fundraising events to fund scholarships for youth as they enter college. “It is critical that we continue to provide financial assistance to the next generation of agriculture leaders so that they may pursue higher education and reach their personal and professional goals.”

Starting them out early in life is what happens at the NILE. The opportunities get them involved and focused at a very young age, giving them a view of what is possible and a hand-up in getting them started.

Youngsters who are members of FFA or 4-H, between ages 12 to 16, may participate in the NILE Merit Heifer Program, which was developed to help them get a start in the beef cattle business. Selected recipients are awarded a heifer based on merit, future goals and ability to care for the animal. Each program participant will own their heifer jointly with NILE until the completion of the program, at which time NILE officials will sign off and the participant will take full ownership of the heifer. Participants are responsible for raising the heifer, arranging for her bred, and completing the record keeping procedure. They bring the animal back one year later as a bred replacement heifer for exhibit at the NILE Stock Show.

The purpose of the program is to help the participant start his or her own cattle herd.

The NILE partners with Bill Oliver Horsemanship for the NILE Colt Classic to teach training and horsemanship skills. It has a similar goal as the Merit Heifer Program of helping to launch youth into owning their first horse.

Among NILE programs is another that provides for internships through which 10 college students are selected to help in the production of the annual NILE Stock Show & Rodeo. Besides exposing them to the agriculture world it gives them hands-on experience in management, organization, media, marketing and communications.

Branden Stevens, the current Fire Chief for the Miles City Fire Department in Miles City, Montana, will be the new Fire Chief for The Lockwood Fire District. He will assume his new position on December 1, 2023.

The Lockwood Fire District Board of directors made the announcement on Tuesday after interviewing four potential candidates, last Friday, who submitted resumes during a nationwide search.

Stevens will replace current Fire Chief John Staley who has announced his retirement.

Chief Staley has been with the Lockwood Fire District since 2014, and was previously the Fire Chief in Thornton Colorado. Chief Staley also served with the Billings Fire Department for 26 years.

“We are excited to have been able to attract such and experienced and enthusiastic individual as our new Fire Chief” said board member Frosty Erben. The board had 18 applications from various states and organizations. The Fire Board narrowed the choices to four candidates and had them attend an assessment center process to determine the best fit for Lockwood. Chief Stevens distinguished himself in that process.

Chiefs Stevens is the 4th career Fire Chief in Lockwood’s brief existence, since 1988.

James Allen recently joined Stockman Insurance as an agent in Billings. His responsibilities include developing and servicing new client relationships and assisting them with both their business and personal insurance needs.

 Allen, a licensed insurance agent has a strong background in sales, which will be an asset for Stockman Insurance as they continue to grow in the communities that they serve. He is currently working towards his Associate’s degree in Business Management from Montana State University Billings. He is active in the community serving on the City of Billings Community Development Board and volunteering for Billings TrailNet Ales for Trails. He will also participate in Stockman related events.

Stockman Insurance, an affiliate of Stockman Bank of Montana, is a full-service insurance agency offering most lines of insurance. Their mission is to become the preferred leader in agribusiness, commercial and personal insurance by serving their clients’ needs with personalized and professional customer service.

Allen is located at the Stockman Insurance office at 1405 Grand Avenue. He can be reached at 406-896-4860. Stockman Insurance, headquartered in Miles City, has other offices located in Belgrade, Big Sky, Conrad, Glendive, Great Falls, Helena, Kalispell, Missoula, Richey, Stanford, Worden and Whitefish.

The Pacific Northwest Admin Awards recently recognized Tonia Wiseman, executive assistant to three of Kampgrounds of America, Inc.’s (KOA) top leaders, with their Leadership Award. In just two years with KOA, Wiseman has evolved the standard for executive assistance and became a stalwart partner for the organization’s leadership, said CEO and President Toby O’Rourke.

Wiseman supports O’Rourke, Chief of Staff Brandi Simpson, and Senior Vice President of Strategy Whitney Scott, ensuring seamless coordination and alignment of initiatives and schedules.

 Wiseman orchestrates an administrative team that collaboratively supports and reinforces the company’s goals. Wiseman actively seeks training and achieved rigorous certification to become a certified administrative assistant (CAA).

O’Rourke commended Wiseman’s accomplishments, “Tonia’s impact on KOA is profound. She elevates our operations, streamlines our processes, and consistently brings out the best in her colleagues. She truly is an invaluable asset to our organization.”

 Wiseman is also a champion for KOA’s community outreach. Her volunteer work includes initiatives such as the recently held “Get Out There Event,” a day that connected Billings’ underprivileged youth with the outdoors.

The Leadership Award acknowledges administrators who consistently display outstanding leadership qualities, such as persistence, integrity, empowerment, and a fervent passion for advancing colleagues and their organizations.

Jaxon Banfield  recently joined Stockman Bank as a Real Estate Lender at the Billings Grand Avenue location. He will develop and originate real estate loans while assisting clients in home purchase financing, consolidating debt, lowering monthly payments, construction financing or utilizing their home as an investment tool.

Banfield brings over four years of banking experience to the position, which includes account openings, consumer lending, loan management and business development. His experience will be an asset to Stockman Bank in deepening client relationships and expanding our real estate loan portfolio.

Banfield earned his Bachelor of Science Degree in Mathematics from Montana State University Bozeman in 2018 and is a certified Notary in the state of Montana. He will be active in the community by participating in Stockman Bank related events.

Banfield is located at the 1405 Grand Avenue Stockman Bank.

Edward Jones Financial Advisor Mike Vondra of Billings has been named to the 2023  Forbes Top Next-Gen Wealth Advisors Best-in-State ranking by Forbes/ SHOOK Research. The list is comprised of more than 1,460 financial advisors nationwide, all under age 40.

“This is an incredible honor, one I could never have achieved without the tremendous support from my branch team. And I am forever indebted to my clients for the trust they have put in me and the relationships we’ve built as we work toward the financial goals that help give them the freedom to live life on their terms,” Vondra said. “This work inspires me because I know that, for years to come, I can make a meaningful difference in the lives of my clients and colleagues, and in my community.”

Teresa Gilreath has recently joined Stockman Bank as a Real Estate Loan Officer at the Billings Heights location. She will develop and originate real estate loans while assisting clients in home purchase financing, consolidating debt, lowering monthly payments, construction financing or utilizing their home as an investment tool. Gilreath brings over 39 years of banking experience to the position, which includes 22 years in the mortgage banking industry. Her vast expertise will assist Stockman Bank in deepening client relationships and expanding our real estate loan portfolio.  She has been active in the community and will continue by participating in Stockman Bank related events.

Montana State University Billings Professor of Communication Susan Balter-Reitz, Ph.D., has been named a University of California National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement Fellow for 2023-2024.

Balter-Reitz and her co-author, Michael Bruner, Ph.D., University of Nevada Las Vegas Professor of Communication Studies, together round out the class of ten Fellows who will be examining issues impacting democratic exchange and free expression on college campuses. Specifically, Balter-Reitz and Bruner will be assessing the impacts of the FORUM Act on free speech on public universities in the United States.

Balter-Reitz and Bruner have been concerned with the attacks on public colleges and universities under the guise of protecting free speech in their collaborated research over the last decade. Examples include their 2017 publication about the manipulation of university free speech rules by individuals such as Milo Yiannopoulous and their recent work on the passage of FORUM Acts in state legislatures around the country at the National Communication Association Conference in 2022. Additionally, the two won the Franklyn Haiman award given by the National Communication Association to honor distinguished scholarship in Freedom of Expression in 2015.

“Dr. Bruner and I are thrilled to have been selected to develop our research as part of this distinguished group of scholars from across the nation,” says Balter-Reitz. “We look forward to sharing our findings about the impact that state legislation has on shaping free expression on college campuses and the implications it has for the future of public universities.”

Aly Eggart, MSPR, CATP, recently accepted a promotion to become the Director of Leisure Marketing for Visit Billings, managed by the Billings Chamber of Commerce.

Eggart was hired as the Leisure Marketing, Sales and Social Media Manager in 2016 and has since become an integral part of the Visit Billings team.

“We are proud to promote her into this well-deserved director position for Visit Billings and the destination,” said Executive Director of Visit Billings Alex Tyson. “During her seven years with the organization, Aly has become the leisure marketing leader for Billings. She has elevated this crucial visitor segment greatly impacting the visitor economy for the destination.”

Eggart’s responsibilities will include managing and leading leisure marketing and consumer sales efforts, growing leisure visitation through attendance at travel shows, and fostering the international group tour market. Additionally, she directs and manages the social media, publicity and leisure communications activities and campaigns. Eggart’s work to promote Montana’s Trailhead has been recognized as she led efforts for a campaign that won a bronze Adrian award in 2022 and the 2018 Marketing Campaign of the Year at the Montana Governor’s Conference on Tourism and Recreation.

Stoney Field of Montrose County Colorado has been named as MetraPark’s new general manager.

According to a press release, the choice was unanimous among Yellowstone County Commissioners.

Field most recently served, for the past six years, as the Fairgrounds and Events Center Director in Montrose County, Colorado. Field’s first day on the job will be August 7.

His experience includes background in rodeo, livestock and ag related events and programs, along with community events and concerts. 

Field has worked at every level of events from being a participant, to organizing, promoting, staging and conducting numerous types of shows and productions. 

“We had a number of well qualified candidates for this important opening”, said Yellowstone County Commission Chairman John Ostlund. 

“It speaks well to the reputation earned by Metra and its staff over the years as a premier venue in our region. We sought creative leadership, the ability to build and manage successful teams, a track record that demonstrates to us that the general manager selected has the ability to involve our entire region in the mission of MetraPark, while keeping an eye on increasing revenues and keeping expenses in line in order that we give our taxpayers the best bang for their buck. Stoney has built strong ties with promoters, vendors, volunteer groups and especially his customers. We are confident that Stoney will help us grow in ag events, along with fair profitability, concerts, sporting events and family friendly events equally, giving our region a wide range of opportunities to spend their entertainment dollars with us.” s