2020 Year in Review Part 1

Chris Mcconnell
Thursday, January 7, 2021
Staff of Laurel Community Hope help residents carry their food boxes to their cars on Milwaukee Rd. Families received food boxes from Grasmick Produce out of Idaho as part of COVID–19 relief efforts.

Staff of Laurel Community Hope help residents carry their food boxes to their cars on Milwaukee Rd. Families received food boxes from Grasmick Produce out of Idaho as part of COVID–19 relief efforts.

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Patrick Casey, Dr. Lee Richardson, Ed Robertus, Connie (Lord) Rowe and Dr. John Smith inducted into the Laurel High School Hall of Fame on Feb. 20 during halftime of aurel/Billings Central basketball game. Pictured in the back from the left are Terrie Tim Casey (Patrick’s parents), Curtis and Tyler Lord (Connie’s brother and nephew), Hall of Fame inductees Patti Miller and Tom Sprigler and 2020 inductee Dr. Smith. e front is Dr. Richardson.

Former Mayor Ken Olson congratulates former Mayor Chuck Rodgers on his retirement from city government in January 2012.

Former Mayor Ken Olson congratulates former Mayor Chuck Rodgers on his retirement from city government in January 2012.

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Class of 2020 Salutatorian Trinitee Powell during her commencement speech.

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Laurel School District staff hand out lunches to students at the Laurel Public Library as part of the Emergency Feeding Program the district implemented on March 17.

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Billings West graduate Haley Swan was Laurel’s newest police officer. She traveled to the Law Enforcement Academy in Helena last April and was on duty by the end of the summer.

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The 2020 State Speech and Drama champions and finalists at the LHS library. Trinitee Powell, Taylor Noble and Megan Maida (front row) each won individual State titles and Katie LeBrun, Abigail Molm, Andrew Sutton, Ashley Goss, Jenna Scott and Tommy Amestoy were State finalists. Not pictured is Malie Smith. Outlook photo by Chris McConnell

Laurel City Court Judge Jean Kerr officiated the Strawbridge– Garner wedding in April outside City Hall. The unique “socially distanced” wedding ceremony included the bride’s mother, groom’s witness and the couple’s children.

Laurel City Court Judge Jean Kerr officiated the Strawbridge– Garner wedding in April outside City Hall. The unique “socially distanced” wedding ceremony included the bride’s mother, groom’s witness and the couple’s children.

These four Laurel Middle School students were having a blast at Red Lodge Mountain during their annual ski club trip. Outlook photo by Chris McConnell

These four Laurel Middle School students were having a blast at Red Lodge Mountain during their annual ski club trip. Outlook photo by Chris McConnell


With the support of Laurel’s Planning Director the city council will take under consideration applying to designate Riverside Park as a National Historic Place. In a letter to the Mayor Planning Director Nick Altonaga addressed several concerns expressed by councilors in the past, including floodplain regulations, design and improvement constraints and federal oversight.

The designation can help Laurel promote the property and receive grant or tax credit funding according to the U.S. National Park Service which coordinates public and private efforts to identify, evaluate and protect America’s historic and archeological resources.

Buildings in the park were built by members of the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 1930s, when there was a shortage of jobs and housing affected the population.

Laurel High School Athletic Director Roger Heimbigner was recognized at the school board meeting for receiving the honor of Montana All–Class Athletic Director of the Year. Each year the Montana Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association recognizes an athletic director from each class as well as choosing an AD for an overall All–Class award.

Park City Athletic Director Bob Hogemark nominated Heimbigner and presented the award at the Montana High School Association ceremony.



Laurel High School brought home three individual State Champions, 10 State finalists and two 4th place trophies from the Class A 2020 State Speech, Drama and Debate tournament in Whitefish. The Locomotives took 4th in both the speech and drama team sweepstakes and remain the only team to place in the top–4 in both individual team sweepstakes four years in a row.

Taylor Noble and Megan Maida were crowned State Champions in Classical Theatre for the drama team and Trinitee Powell brought home the championship in Original Oratory.

A number of citizens noticed greenish–yellow smoke coming from one of the CHS Refinery’s smoke stacks. Director of Marketing and Communications Bryan Brigand state a car accident had caused the strange– looking emisions.

“A vehicle struck a power pole off of Highway 212 resulting in power disruption that impacted our refinery in Laurel and created some temporary inefficiencies in our operations. Refinery emissions increased during that time, and sulfur emissions were briefly visible from one of our stacks as operations stabilized.”

Former Laurel Mayor Charles Gerald Rodgers died at his home on Feb. 20. Rogers was a member of the fire department from 1969 to 1996, Ward Four alderman from 1970 to 1979, Ward Three alderman from 1987 to 1991, mayor from 1992 to 2001 and was appointed to fill the Ward Three city council vacancy created by the death of longtime Ward Three Alderman Gay Easton from 2008 to 2001.

Rodgers initially had no interest in city government but he sought the advice of Ira Rodgers, his uncle and a 14–year veteran of the council. Ira put it to his nephew plainly. “If you want to live here, share here,” said Rodgers, recounting his uncle’s council. These words became a guiding principle for the Laurel native.



As of the Outlook’s publication deadline on March 11, there were currently no cases of Novel Coronavirus, COVID–19, infections in Montana. However, Carbon County was planning and preparing in the event infections do occur locally. Carbon County Commissioners created the Carbon County COVID–19 Incident Management Team. The goals of the team are to reduce the risk of COVID–19 infection in first responders, healthcare providers, residents, and visitors in Carbon County; provide timely and accurate information and education; and make sure that services can continue within the county.

As of Tuesday, March 17 at 8 a.m., all bars, brew pubs, wineries and casinos in Yellowstone County closed through March 23. While remaining closed to dine–in customers, food service operations were still allowed to provide take–out and delivery services only. In addition, food service establishments that serve a population that depends on it as one of its sole sources of food, such as university dining facilities or cafeterias in hospital and care facilities, may continue to operate using essential personnel.

As a response to the closure of all district schools through April 10 (announced by Governor Bullock on March 24), the Laurel School District has implemented digital online learning for all schools. The district was preparing a plan to submit to the Governor’s Office to address the district structure for providing offsite learning instruction, school meals, services for students with disabilities and other services customarily provided to students.



Although the current novel coronavirus pandemic and the actions governments around the world have taken to mitigate its spread seem extreme, this is not the first time in recent history the world had shut down to avoid spreading infection and death.

The Spanish Flu in 1918 killed up to 50 millions people worldwide. One–fifth of the population was infected. In Laurel, folks were surprised to see healthy people in their prime felled by the disease.

From the Oct. 16, 1918 Laurel Outlook: “The Columbus Day celebration ... was cancelled by an order from the county health officer Thursday evening following the announcement of a number of new cases of Spanish influenza in the county.”

Secular businesses and organizations were not the only ones affected by the shelter–in–place ordinance due to COVID–19 in Laurel. The religious community encountered its own unique set of obstacles after being forced to halt traditional weekly/bi–weekly meeting and services. Many local churches have turned to technology to deliver their messages and more services are available online via the church’s website, YouTube videos or Facebook live streaming.

The Laurel School Board unanimously voted to continue online learning for the remainder of the school year. The decision came after Superintendent Linda Filpula recommended the resolution due to the ongoing virus restrictions. Filpula’s recommendation was based on social distancing, sanitation and transportation guidelines.

At an emergency meeting the Park City School Board made the decision to continue to provide distance learning for the remainder of the school year.

The Joliet Schools Board of Trustees also voted to continue with offsite distance learning for the remainder of the 2019–2020 school year.



Laurel High School Principal Shawnda Zahara said plans for the Class of 2020 commencement ceremony have been finalized and will take place in the stadium at Thompson Park on May 24.

“We are holding the graduation with significant restrictions per county and state guidelines,” she said. Each graduate will only be allowed four guests and there will be no exceptions.”

There will be assigned seating in the stadium to account for the six feet of social distancing that is still required for public events.

Riverstone Health had been working with the Laurel School District nursing staff on the commencement, who Zahara said were instrumental in planning the graduation. “We couldn’t have done it without the help, support and guidance from our school nurses,” she said, adding “The whole process took four weeks.”

With Gov. Bullock’s announcement that Montana entered Phase I of the state’s reopening for business plan, many folks are still confused on the best practices for proceeding with life.

While many are breathing easier with the loosened restrictions on travel and shopping, the increased mobility may cause a resurgence in coronavirus cases. According to Dr. Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, the institute has raised projections for spread of the disease.

“What’s driving the change is, simply put, the rise in mobility and–and that’s the key driver. We’re seeing in some states a twenty percentage point increase in just 10 days in mobility. And that will translate into more human contact, more transmission.”

Gov. Bullock announced the state will move to Phase II of the Reopening the Big Sky plan and will lift the 14–day out–of–state travel quarantine beginning June 1 as Montana continues to have the lowest number of positive COVID–19 cases and hospitalizations per capita. In addition groups of 50 are allowed and restaurants, bars, breweries, distilleries and casinos remain in the same operations status as Phase I, but with an increase to 75% capacity. Gyms, indoor group fitness classes, pools and hot tubs can operate at 75% capacity if they can adhere to strict physical distancing and they exercise frequent sanitation protocols. Concert halls, bowling alleys and other places of assembly may operate with reduced capacity if they adhere to strict physical distancing guidelines.



Superintendent Linda Filpula and the trustees recognized four retiring district staff members at the latest school board meeting.

Filpula said out–going West School Principal Kelly Anderson had worked in the district for 12 years and the past eight as principal. “I always appreciated her focus on students and how she advocated for her students and staff,” she said.

Filpula also thanked Roger Heimbigner who retired after serving as Activities Director and previously as Business Manager.

Mike Longbottom was recognized for his 15 years of service to the district as a Laurel School Board Trustee.

Filpula recognized long–time Laurel School District Aide Tracy Frickel who retired after serving the district for 22 years.

Laurel Community Hope Inc., in partnership with Billings Family Service delivered nearly 400 box of food to Laurel residents as part of the Commodity Supplemental Food Program.

The program, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is part of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program where the USDA partnered with national, regional and local suppliers to purchase up to $3 billion in fresh produce, dairy and meat products.

Grasmich Produce out of Boise and Idaho Falls, Idaho supplied the boxes containing more than 20 pounds of food including chicken, ham, butter, potatoes, cheese, lettuce and fresh grapes and strawberries.

Community Hope Director Lisa Foreman said the deliveries could continue weekly but are limited by their lack of cooler space and a forklift. “We are relying on the help of Billings Family Service but we want to deliver as frequently as possible to Laurel residents.”

Laurel School District administrators met with Laurel Schools teachers and staff to announce the district had received new guidance from RiverStone Health that will allow the schools to open in the fall with a maximum of 30 students per class, in which the classroom qualifies as a family unit.

District administrators will be working with RiverStone Health in the coming weeks to finalize the plans. Superintendent Filpula said they will enact three different plans to cover all bases depending on what is to come regarding the coronavirus restrictions. One plan would involve no restrictions and all students will attend school as normal. The second plan will involve half the students attending class on “A” and “B” days and the third plan will have remote learning like the past paring.

“We are excited to plan and talk about having all our students back in class this fall. We have a lot of questions we need to address including rotating recesses, lunch schedule and getting the kids in and out of the buildings. We also should be able to run our normal bus routes with the requirement that students wear masks. There are a lot of questions yet to answer but this is good news for students, families and staff,” she said.

Part 2 - July-December in next week’s edition of the Laurel Outlook.


Upcoming Events

Monday, February 1, 2021
Mondays, 1:30 p.m., 201 1/2 E Main St.
Wednesday, February 3, 2021
Wednesdays, 7 p.m., 201 1/2 E. Main St., Laurel
Monday, February 8, 2021
Mondays, 1:30 p.m., 201 1/2 E Main St.
Monday, February 8, 2021
Second & fourth Monday at 11 a.m., Big Horn Resort, 1801 Majestic Lane, 281-8455
Monday, February 8, 2021
Free, 2nd Monday, 3-5 p.m., Frontier Cancer Center, 1315 Golden Valley Cir., Billings, 800-227-2345
Wednesday, February 10, 2021
Wednesdays, 7 p.m., 201 1/2 E. Main St., Laurel


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