2020 Year-in-Review Part 2

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Compiled By Chris Mcconnell
Thursday, January 14, 2021
Edna Stepper, 74, receives encouragement from SOW Ministry volunteers as she crosses the finish line of the Chief Joseph Run on July 4 in Laurel.

Edna Stepper, 74, receives encouragement from SOW Ministry volunteers as she crosses the finish line of the Chief Joseph Run on July 4 in Laurel.

Two students wait their turn to enter West School on the first day of class.

Two students wait their turn to enter West School on the first day of class.

The Hardee’s Restaurant building came down in Nov. leaving only the freezer standing.

The Hardee’s Restaurant building came down in Nov. leaving only the freezer standing.

July

Considering the limitations imposed by the coronavirus, Laurel did a fine job of providing a show of patriotism, spirit and fireworks on the Fourth of July.

Some folks kicked off the morning by running in the Chief Joseph Run and at 10 a.m. members of the Laurel American Legion and VFW held an unannounced parade featuring a number of veterans, some of who had been quarantined in assisted living since March. Despite the cancellation of the “real parade,” volunteers participated in the 4th of July Freedom Drive which took off at 11 a.m. and wound through the city, drawing onlookers and cheers.

Because it’s important for best friends Carol Altman and Shelly Jansma to walk in the annual MS walk every year, missing this year’s walk was tough for the two women. But, the April walk coincided with the coronavirus shutdown. So, although they have participated one way or another since Altman’s diagnosis in 1992, this is the first year they don’t have a team.

“Our families are committed to helping the local chapter of the MS Society as much as we are,” Altman shared. “My mom and daughter and grandsons all walk and so does all of Shelly’s family, too.”

Unable to donate to the MS Society through the walk, they are putting all their effort into this year’s barbecue, raffle and auction which was held July 25 at Fat Fender Freddys.

Laurel School District Superintendent Linda Filpula sent an email to parents and guardians requesting they participate in a survey to assist the district in planning for the start of the school year. Filpula stated, “While this situation changes daily, this letter is intended to outline where we are today and what options are available for families.”

The superintendent asked parents/guardians to make a preliminary decision as to whether they want their children to attend school entirely onsite or completely online. Filpula said the district is “not pursuing a blended learning model at this time,” and added, “The survey also addresses transportation, connectivity and meals to ensure we understand the specific issues to your family.”

August

The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation Fire Command announced through Stillwater County Disaster Emergency Services that the Falling Star Fire was contained one day after it began.

Somewhere between 1,200 and 2,000 acres were burned northeast of Laurel which had been threatening 300 homes in Stillwater and Yellowstone counties.

The fire was determined to be “human caused,” having started in Yellowstone County and spreading to Stillwater, according to DNRC Fire Command.

Joliet Schools Superintendent Allison Evertz sent a letter to parents in the school district outlining the return to school plan, which stated in part:

“The Joliet Board of Trustees met August 10...and all students will return to school in–person as part of a full reopening plan with mitigating strategies in place on August 27. Face coverings will be required for all individuals in the building.”

There has been tension on the Laurel School Board between Trustee Mike Creeden and fellow trustees and district administrators since he was first elected in May 2019. Since Creeden has been on the board he filed several complaints against administrators and had a pending civil lawsuit against the district.

Over the course of the summer he refused to participate in discussions over his refusal to vote, refused to vote on the district’s reopening plan and walked out of a meeting before adjournment. Creeden also made it clear that he holds a grudge against Board Chair Karen Teeters, going so far as to point at her at a recent meeting and tell her she was the reason he wasn’t voting on an item. “It’s personal against her,” he said.

 

September

The Laurel Exchange Club hosted its 3rd Annual Field of Flags Sept. 10–12 at South School. The even was conceived as a way to recognize those who perished in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

“For us, it is a way to remember and honor the heroes of Sept. 11, while offering folks an opportunity to acknowledge the heroes in their own lives.” said Regional Vice President of the National Exchange Club Leif Welhaven. He noted that there would be 1,000 flags in the field and that it is a visually striking scene that shouldn’t be missed.

Because the Field of Flags is also a fundraiser for the Family Tree Center in Billings and Laurel Hometown Troops, citizens were encouraged to purchase a flag tag in recognition of their heroes.

“Because so many events had been cancelled this year, we felt it was important to offer a chance to recognize the sacrifices so many have been making and do it in a safe and respectful manner,” Welhaven said.

At their weekly workshop, Laurel City councilors were introduced to Lyndy Gurchiek, who was appointed as the director of the Laurel Ambulance Service. She briefly introduced herself and stated her qualifications. She had about 30 years of experience as a paramedic and emergency medical technician. She has trained many EMTs, including several from the Laurel service. She also has leadership experience through jobs at a Billings small service and AMR.

Councilman Bruce McGee said he forecast positive changes, commenting, “I look forward to the next chapter with the ambulance service.” Colton McCleary was also introduced as a new volunteer to the Laurel Ambulance service.

A Laurel man who had denied multiple felony deceptive practices charges in Stillwater County was indicted federally for allegedly lying on a Paycheck Protection Plan loan.

Matthew Welch, 37, appeared in federal court last Thursday in Billings on an indictment alleging that he tried to illegally obtain $35,000 from the PPP program.

U.S Attorney Kurt Alme said Welch attempted to “unjustly enrich himself” by submitting an application on April 23 to obtain a PPP loan under false and misleading pretenses by making false statements about his criminal history, according to a press release. It is also alleged he intended to use the loan proceeds to pay for restitution and other costs related to pending criminal cases against him. Additionally, Welch, in the name of Welch Sole Proprietorship, sought $35,000 in PPP funds to support payroll, lease and mortgage interest costs and utility costs and that he falsely certified he was not subject to criminal charges.

 

October

Due to soaring numbers of positive COVID–19 cases in Yellowstone County, Health Officer John Felton announced possible new restrictions if the numbers continue to climb. Residents in the county will face more limitations on activities and gatherings if cases rise to 50 positive test results per 100,000 people at any time, or if during the week of Halloween, cases had risen to 40 per 100,000. When Felton made the announcement, Yellowstone County had 36 positive cases per 100,000.

First–year West School Principal Karla Miller was taking this school year’s challenges in stride and happy to be one the Laurel School District’s new administrators.

The Oregon native and Portland State University graduate taught 4th grade in Great Falls for three years before taking a job in Helena in a dedicated STEM classroom for the next six years.

She said all in all, her experience has been positive this year.

“The level of support from all the administrators has been wonderful. Superintendent Filpula, the curriculum director and student services director have all been great in answering questions about the culture of West School and the Laurel School District.”

Super storyteller, walking history book and preservationist Jim Southworth is one of three Montanans who received the Montana Historical Society’s Heritage Keeper Award during the MHS Board of Trustee Zoom meeting.

Southworth had been collecting stories of the land he knows around the state, and in particular in the south central corridor along the Yellowstone River where he grew up, for as long as he’s been able to listen.

“I’ve always enjoyed hearing my friends and families’ stories,” he said in an interview. “Then, later, I would read about it and back up their tales with a little truth.”

Seven–year Laurel School District Business Manager went into “semi–retirement” after attending her last school board meeting.

The Great Falls native had been at the position since July of 2013 and left to take a “lesser position” in the Billings School District.

McVee said her time in Laurel was an excellent experience for her. “It became home right away,” she said, while acknowledging “this has been a difficult year.”

School Board Chair Karen Teeters said, “I am very sorry to see Donnie leave the Laurel School District. She has been an asset and worked very hard for our schools. I wish her the best in her new adventure.”

 

November

Governor Steve Bullock signed an executive order allowing increased weight limitations on transportation vehicles in order to protect sugar beet farmers in Montana.

“Record setting cold temperatures and early winter storms have limited the harvesting season for Montana’s farmers and workers,” Governor Bullock said. “Montana producers have already overcome many challenges due to the pandemic. The order ensures farmers can harvest their crops in time and avoid unnecessary losses.”

Richard Klose, Sr., of Laurel was recognized recently by receiving the 2019 Montana Congressional Veteran Commendation from Congressman Greg Gianforte. The commendation noted that Klose has been serving the community of Laurel for 12 years as a volunteer at the Laurel Senior Center as a board member and a volunteer driver. He has also served on the Yellowstone County Adult Resource Alliance for seven years. For the last five years, Mr. Klose has served as vice president of the Friends of the Yellowstone National Cemetery. He was also recognized as a prominent member of the Montana American Legion. Klose was given a flag flown over the United States Capitol on Nov. 11, 2019 (Veterans Day) in his honor.

With 1,500 Montanans testing positive for COVID–19 in the Nov. 17 count and residents of Yellowstone County leading the state with over 5,000 actives cases, it’s time for everyone to embrace safety, according to Montana’s health experts.

On Sunday, Nov. 15, five Yellowstone County residents were reported to have died, according to Riverstone Health. There has been about one death per day for the past several months, a precipitous rise in both cases and fatalities in Montana’s most populous county.

In Laurel, cases have been reported throughout the community. Laurel schools, residential care facilities, city employees and many other businesses and families have been affected by the virus.

All Laurel schools are back to in–class instruction after several grade levels went to distance learning for most of November.

On Tuesday Laurel Schools Superintendent Linda Filpula said, “As of today we have solid staffing in the district and all schools are open for onsite learning.”

The 1st grade classes at West and all of Graff School (3rd, 4th grade) had been doing remote learning since Nov. 2 and reopened on Nov. 23.

Filpula said keeping the district staff healthy is the most important part of keeping the schools open for onsite learning. “If we only have 50% of the students in class we are okay, but if we only have half our staff then that is a problem.”

Laurel police officers arrested Lindy Dawn Lancaster, 45, of Laurel at her place of work for her role in an Oct. 16 shooting that sent an 18–year–old male to the hospital with four gunshot wounds.

On Oct. 16 Laurel officers and Yellowstone County deputies responded to the 1000 block of 6th Ave. after Lancaster reported she had shot a man.

Lancaster claimed she brought the male to her house to clean and then he gave her LSD. She said she caught him stealing pills and marijuana and an altercation ensued in which she shot him.

The victim, who survived the shooting, told officers at the hospital that he came from Billings to trade LSD for pills and marijuana. He claimed he tried to leave after she began hitting him and shot him in the back while he was attempting to unlock the front door.

Lancaster pleaded not guilty at her arraignment and was being held on $250,000 bond.

A Laurel man admitted he attempted to illegally obtain $35,000 from the Paycheck Protection Program, a federal loan program created to help businesses struggling during the coronavirus pandemic. Matthew Jason Welch, 37, pleaded guilty to wire fraud. He faces a maximum of 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release.

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Upcoming Events

Wednesday, January 27, 2021
Wednesdays, 7 p.m., 201 1/2 E. Main St., Laurel
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
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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

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