Par Montana, a subsidiary of Par Pacific Holdings, Inc., was recently honored for its 2023 safety performance by the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufactures (AFPM).  The award is part of the refining and petrochemical industry’s ongoing commitment to enhance and recognize outstanding workplace safety.

The awards are considered the premier recognition of the industry and are part of a comprehensive program developed by the AFPM Safety and Health Committee to promote safe operations in the refining and petrochemical industries.

The Par Montana refinery in Billings was elected for an Elite Silver Award, recognizing sites that have attained top industry safety performance in 2023 while demonstrating excellent program innovation and leadership over time. Elite Silver status represents the top 10 percent of industry safety performance.

The past year also represented a year of change for the Billings refinery employees as they prepared for ownership transition from ExxonMobil to Par Pacific Holdings. George Graham, the Health, Safety, Security and Environment manager at Par Montana, said being recognized for a year of safety excellence shows that leaders, frontline workers and contractors all prioritized personal and process safety when it was need most.

Kim Jakub, Senior vice President of Rocky Mountain Refining for Par Pacific and former refinery manager in Billings, said the award demonstrates a continuing commitment to safety by everyone at the site. “It is a well-deserved recognition for the Billings team,” she said.

As an example of new initiatives in 2023, the refinery completed the rollout of a new homegrown, safety program as a result of the transition to Par Pacific. This initial rollout was only the first step in a series of new leadership growth and development initiatives, as a component of a sustainable program. The refinery has also implemented new technologies to help monitor for potentially dangerous gases and improved personal protection for planned maintenance activities.

The Montana Rural Water Systems has named the manager of Lockwood Water and Sewer District, Mike Ariztia, as “Manager of the Year.” That Ariztia should be recognized as the best manager in the state came as no surprise to people in Lockwood, who have been observing Ariztia’s outstanding achievements over the past nine years that he has served as the district’s manager.

The Lockwood community is fortunate to have Mike as our manager, said Carl Peters, President of the LWSD board of directors. The award was presented last week at the state annual meeting of the Montana Rural Water Systems in Great Falls.

Peters went on to say, “Mike is a thoughtful, fair minded, dedicate, and hardworking manager, with integrity and excellent communication skills and he has a great sense of humor toward his fellow LWSD co-workers, board members and customers, along with the District’s professional advisors and representatives from both state, federal and local governmental agencies.”

Ariztia came to Lockwood in 2015 to serve as manager and was immediately plunged into the $9 million Phase II of the Lockwood Sewer Project, which included 43,000 lineal feet of sewer main and over 600 services to property lines.

Ariztia has worked years with LWSD engineering consultants, Morrison Maierle, for planning and design decisions and with Nittany Grantworks on grant applications to help finance and build several major projects. Among those projects were:

—The $3.5 million upgrade to the Yellowstone River raw water intake in 2017-18 built a new pump station, replaced and added screens, increasing capacity and reliability;

—The $9 million Water Treatment Plant Upgrade completed in 2023, added UV disinfection, two additional filter/ clarifier trains for continued drinking water standards compliance, increased capacity, redundancy and reliability;

—The current $26 million Phase III Wastewater Project which will include 70,000 lineal feet of sewer line to nearly 800 residential properties and to larger undeveloped areas for future residential development;

—Other completed projects include a new “state of the art” dual bulk water station, and the installation of a major loop for the water system to provide a secondary feed to the system’s largest storage facility.

Ariztia is currently working with the Montana Department of Transportation on the redesigned I-90 Johnson Lane Interchange and the Billings Bypass for modifications to the LWSD water and sewer lines under Interstate 90 to a potentially large industrial area which will need water and sewer service.

Ariztia also works with Par Montana on their wastewater needs.

The Billings Chamber of Commerce welcomes Abbie Chvilicek and Sara Hollenbeck to its staff.

Chvilicek fills the position of Member and Operations Specialist and Hollenbeck joins as the Marketing Specialist for Visit Southeast Montana, a tourism marketing arm managed by the Billings Chamber.

Chvilicek is a born and raised Billings, who graduated in 2022 after attending both Billings West High School and the Billings Career Center. Upon graduating, she attended massage therapy school and began practicing reiki. She has been working in customer service since 2019 which will serve her well as she embarks in her professional career with the Billings Chamber as the Member and Operations Specialist.

Hollenbeck grew up in California, obtained an Agricultural Business degree from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, and became a sheep rancher in Molt. She has immersed herself in the agriculture sector for over 15 years and combines this passion with marketing as the founder of High Five Meats and co-founder of Yellowstone Valley Food Hub. Hollenbeck brings her boundless love for Montana agriculture, the great outdoors, and the cherished traditions of the American West to the Visit Southeast Montana team.

Alex Schimke recently joined Stockman Bank as Ag Loan Officer for the Stockman Bank King Avenue location. His responsibilities include developing and servicing agricultural loans and assisting customers with their lending and credit needs.

Schimke brings an extensive background in agriculture and business, which will be an asset to Stockman Bank and the Billings community.

He has been active in the community, having served as a Board member for several organizations, and is currently Co-Chair of the Billings Chamber of Commerce Agriculture Committee.

Schimke is located at 2700 King Avenue in Billings.


Jann Parker of Billings Livestock Commission Horse Sales has been selected as the Billings Chamber of Commerce’s 2023 recipient of the Award for Agriculture Excellence.

Parker is a champion for agriculture and Billings — billing it as the first-choice destination in the nation for purchasing a horse, whether for roping, riding, ranching or recreating. She is the epitome of the award which is presented by Stockman Bank. The award recognizes an individual, business or organization that has made outstanding contributions to the Billings agricultural community with a nod to their demonstrated excellence in their involvement in agriculture, leadership ability, and participation in civic, service and community organizations.

The recipient is nominated by their peers and selected by the Billings Chamber Ag Committee and Board of Directors. “Jann and her late husband, Bill Parker, started BLS Horse Sale in 1998 and to date have held over 280 sales with over 180,000 horses sold to customers in the U.S. and in Canada,” shares her nominator. “Billings is the longest standing monthly horse sale in the nation and Jann is a big proponent of the western and cowboy lifestyle, and Billings in general with a far-reaching name and reputation.”

Parker has continued the legacy of being a premier horse sale, instilling confidence in consignors to get top dollar for their horses and providing the right horses to a variety of customers, the majority of whom attend the sales from outside Yellowstone County, which serves as an economic driver for the local economy.

Her continued industry success can be attributed to fostering relationships, coupled with her keen marketing skills and staying on the cutting edge of technology. This motivated and outgoing ag industry advocate gives back through mentorship, supporting area youth rodeos, 4-H programs, and partnerships with those looking to get started in the horse business.

Parker will be honored during the 2024 Billings Chamber Ag Celebration Banquet on January 26, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the MetraPark Pavilion. Tickets for this event can be purchased at

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.