The Billings Outpost

Alexie, popular with young readers, to speak here

By ED KEMMICK - Last Best News

If you want to hear author Sherman Alexie speak next week at Rocky Mountain College, Steve Germic suggests you get there early.

Germic, an associate professor of English who is helping organize the event, said there is likely to be a full house, even though the speech will be in the biggest indoor space on campus, the gymnasium of the Fortin Education Center.

If you were to ask young readers in the United States who their favorite author is, he said, “I don’t know who would be in second place. He is the guy.”

The free event will start at 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 23, followed by a book signing.

Alexie’s appearance is part of this year’s Common Read, in which virtually all Rocky freshmen, and a good many upperclassmen, read the same book. The 2014 selection is Alexie’s “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.”

Published in 2007, the novel has been widely acclaimed and frequently banned, both for its coarse language and its frank portrayal of sexual matters. The book was in the headlines locally last year, after a parent complained about its inclusion on the required reading list for School District 2 high schools.

After a hearing that attracted hundreds of people — many of them high-schoolers who passionately defended “The Absolutely True Diary” — trustees voted to keep the book on the required reading list but to make some changes to the district’s procedures for opting out.

Germic said the controversy “was certainly a part of the discussion” when a selection committee met early this year to pick the 2014 Common Read. It probably helped in another way, too, he said.

“We suspect that it was the controversy here locally that was an important factor in Sherman Alexie’s choosing to come,” Germic said.

It was also Alexie’s availability that determined the date of the speech, Germic said. It was just a coincidence that the event takes place during the High Plains BookFest, which opens with a poetry slam Oct. 22 and continues with readings, panel discussions and other events Oct. 24-26.

“The Absolutely True Diary” was suggested as the Common Read by Jacquee Dundas, an associate professor of English who was on the selection committee. The group started out with 14 nominated books, which were reviewed based on the availability of the authors, the books’ appropriateness for a wide audience and disciplinary range.

That last consideration is important, Germic said, because it influences the decision of professors in various departments to assign the book to their students. Alexie’s book is being read in a chemistry class, for instance, at the suggestion of a department researcher who has worked on substance abuse issues, which are addressed in the book.

Germic said he has taught several of Alexie’s books over the years, including “Reservation Blues,” “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven” and “Fancy Dancing,” Alexie’s first book of poetry and Germic’s favorite by the author.

Alexie, a Spokane-Coeur d’Alene Indian, grew up in Willpinit, Wash., on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Since 1984, he has written 24 books. He has also won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, the PEN/Malamud Award for Short Fiction and the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.

In addition to the classroom discussions of the book and next week’s reading, the school sponsors an essay contest with a first-place prize of $500.

Germic, who has seen Alexie speak, described him as “a compelling personality” whose ability to win over an audience “through sheer charisma is quite impressive.”

Rocky hasn’t publicized the speech much, Germic said, but “this event advertised and promoted itself.” High school teachers from all over the region have called to ask about bringing students to the event, he said, including a busload of students from Cody, Wyo.

That’s why’s he’s advising people to arrive early. The floor of the gymnasium will be reserved for ticketed members of the RMC community. The bleachers will be open for general admission.

Alexie will take questions after his talk, Germic said, but they will be questions posed by students and vetted by their instructors.

Last Updated on Thursday, 16 October 2014 12:55

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Son of fallen soldier finds reason to hope

Story by Dan Burkhart - VOANR News

Photo by Dave M. Shumway, VOANR News Colton is presented an American flag by National Guard Lt. Alex Beveridge.Valentine’s Day will never be a day of candy and cards for Colton Folts.

It will always be the day his dad died.

Colton misses “shock-azulu” in the morning, his dad’s morning greeting.

“He always made up words. I really miss that,” 11-year-old Colton said. “I liked the nicknames. He called me C-Train; he called my brother, Brandon, B-Dog.”

His dad, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Justin Folts, came home from Iraq alive, but with wounds that would not mend. He died less than a year after he came home. He had served two tours in Iraq as a medic. He was proud that not a soldier died during his first tour. During his second tour, on the way to render assistance to those in a convoy hit by IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) his Humvee was hit.

“All of his staff were killed. It blew his Humvee tumbling into the sky. Justin survived, but he was all torn up inside,” explained his wife, Jill.

His pituitary gland was ruined. His body could not produce hormones. He developed myasthenia gravis, a chronic autoimmune neuromuscular disease. Trips to the Mayo Clinic were fruitless, she said.

The handsome, blue-eyed, easy-going kid from Shreveport, La., who weighed 160 pounds when he enlisted, ballooned to 400 pounds in a year. He couldn’t walk. He could barely breathe. His memory dissolved. He suffered depression and guilt that only he survived the explosion that killed four of his crew, but he always tried to cheer up the rest of the family. He was in terrible pain every day. Finally, mercifully and quietly, he died on Valentine’s Day, Jill said.

“He lived for his family and his country,” Jill said. “My kids lost their dad. I lost my best friend.”

Losing his dad meant big changes for C-Train. Jill decided to move from Fort Carson in Colorado back home to Montana to be closer to family.

“We — the boys and I — discussed it and decided it would be for the best,” she said. They moved to a new home in Laurel.

Jill believed Colton and Brandon needed to be in all family discussions and decisions. They worked through their grief by sharing it. They compensated for aching heartache days by releasing helium-filled balloons in the night sky to “say hello to dad,” Jill said.

They lofted balloons with some his dad’s ashes in them every holiday, every birthday, on Jill and Justin’s anniversary – or any day when one of them needed a release.

The move to Montana was stressful for Colton. It meant a new school, one where Colton had no friends and plenty of adversaries.

“Every day wasn’t a bad day,” he said. “But most were. I was bullied a lot.”

When no one intervened to help, Colton decided to stand his ground.

“I decided if I was suspended, I would be suspended, but my dad always said to stand up for yourself,” he said. “I did.”

He beat up the bully.

“I didn’t want to. I had to.”

Fortunately, Laurel Police Detective Jason Wells noticed Colton was struggling in school. Det. Wells thought Colton was a perfect candidate for Camp POSTCARD, a special Volunteers of America camp where peace officers and fifth- and sixth-grade kids work on self-esteem, build leadership skills and create a longstanding bond.

At the camp, Colton made new discoveries. He discovered friends. He discovered confidence. He discovered adult role models.

“It was wonderful. It was just the ticket for him,” Jill said. “I missed his smile. He came home with it. He came home with laughter again. At first he didn’t want to go to camp. Then he didn’t want to come home,” she said with a laugh. It was a good sign.

Colton hoped school would be better.

“I think it will. I know who I am and I don’t need to change that. I’m not a bad kid,” he said.

(Since this interview, school started. Jill reports Colton is doing fine. He’s made new friends. Colton said, “It’s all good.”)

At camp he learned that others cared about him. That feeling was reinforced during an emotional ceremony held in the chapel. Part of that day is dedication of the U.S. flag. A quartet of National Guard men and women fold the flag, explaining what each fold means. They then celebrate the service of the eight volunteers from Camp who did flag duty each day.

Each youngster received a flag. The last flag day volunteer was Colton. When he stepped on stage, Lt. Alex Beveridge knelt, solemnly presenting Colton the flag. The other Guardsmen looked away, struggling not to show their emotion.

“On behalf of the president of the United States and the people of a grateful nation ... ,” the lieutenant said. Few heard the rest. There was not a dry eye in the chapel.

Colton stood, smiling, proudly. Tears coursed down his cheeks as he was enfolded in Lt. Beveridge’s embrace.

Valentine’s Day will never be the same for Colton Folts but neither will another “V” holiday.

“I’ll always think of my dad on Veterans Day. I know he’s a hero,” Colton said.

Last Updated on Thursday, 09 October 2014 11:00

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5 honored

Five youths from Montana, including one from Billings, have each received a $50 gift card and recognition certificate from Kohl’s to honor their community service efforts. 

They were among more than 2,300 young volunteers nationwide who were honored this summer through the Kohl’s Cares Scholarship Program.

“At Kohl’s we believe in giving back to our communities, and we are delighted to honor the more than 2,300 local level winners nationwide who have given their time and talent to do just that,” said Bevin Bailis, Kohl’s senior vice president, communications and public relations.

The winners from Montana are:

• Faith Harlan, 11, Helena

• Anna Middleton, 18, Big Sky

• Lars Miller, 17, Missoula

• Allie Schwarzinger, 8, Billings

Since the program began in 2001, Kohl’s has recognized more than 22,000 kids, including the 2014 winners, with more than $4.3 million in scholarships and prizes. The Kohl’s Cares Scholarship Program is part of Kohl’s Cares, Kohl’s philanthropic program focused on improving the lives of children.

For more information on the Kohl’s Cares Scholarship

Program, visit

Last Updated on Thursday, 09 October 2014 10:59

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13-year-old a hit at Magic City Shorts Festival

By STEPHEN DOW - For The Outpost

Los Angeles filmmaker Cole Webley’s dark thriller “After We Rest” took the top prize at the third annual Magic City Shorts Film Festival last Saturday at the Babcock Theater.

In addition to receiving $750 for being named Best of Show, the film also received a $250 prize for Best Fiction Film at the ceremony co-presented by the Babcock and the Billings Gazette.

The 25-minute film tells a story of a nameless drifter (played by Michael Piccirilli) whose violent past and poor decisions come back to haunt him as he attempts to deliver a package to the small town of Outlook, Montana.

The film’s producer and co-writer, Preston Lee, is a Billings native currently living in Los Angeles. His experiences with the Hutterite communities in Montana helped inspire the film’s plot.

“After We Rest” wasn’t the only film to win a prize at the festival. 2007 Senior High graduate and local documentary film-maker Stan Parker won the Best Documentary Prize for his portrait of the New Beginnings Women’s Association in Baja California.

The film, simply titled “New Beginnings,” tells the story of many of the women in the shelter who have pasts filled with rape, drug and alcohol abuse, and domestic violence.

As they enter the shelter, they begin to get a new lease on life and learn that even they can experience “New Beginnings.”

The People’s Choice award went to Billings documentary filmmaker Marshall Granger and his film “To Live Deliberately,” which tells the story of 19-year-old Billings resident Justin Willis and his passions for ice climbing, rock climbing, and mountaineering. This marks Granger’s third film to be screened at the Magic City Shorts Film Festival since it began in 2012. Last year, his fiction film “The Gift” and documentary film “Asaph” were both in competition.

The only music video screened during the event was Gary Henderson’s “Chasing Rabbits,” which features a song by his daughter Rinnah Joy Henderson. It claimed the Best Music Video Prize.

Perhaps the biggest star of the night was 13-year-old Alex Laas.

Billings resident Laas, who has cystic fibrosis, recently spent a week at the New York Film Academy Summer Camp in Los Angeles on behalf of Make-A-Wish Montana.

While there, he learned how to use a digital camera. Throughout the week, he also attended classes in directing, writing, editing, cinematography and production.

Laas’s film “Outlast,” which is 100 seconds long, is about an evil doctor who kidnaps a journalist to use her as a test subject. The film stars two of Laas’s fellow campers - both of whom are from Turkey.

Laas received the $250 Best Student Film prize for “Outlast.”

Big Sky Country played a large role in many of the films screened on Saturday – both those that won prizes and those that didn’t.

Many of the documentary films, including People’s Choice award winner “To Live Deliberately,” provided portraits of Montana’s residents.

Billings veteran Chris Hoffert, who served three separate tours of duty between 2004 and 2010, directed the autobiographical documentary “Unsung Heroes” about his experiences with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The five-minute film tells of a seemingly simple mission that went dangerously wrong in November 2006 and followed Hoffert as he attempted to deal with the psychological side effects of the mission upon returning home.

Last Updated on Thursday, 02 October 2014 16:44

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MSU seeks applicants for 2015 scholarships

MSU News Service

BOZEMAN – Montana high school seniors who plan to attend Montana State University in the fall of 2015 are encouraged to apply as soon as possible for scholarships through the MSU Premier Scholarship Program. The priority deadline for scholarship applications is Feb. 1, 2015.

“The Premier Scholarship Program is one way that Montana State University helps provide Montana students access to higher education,” said MSU President Waded Cruzado. “These talented high school students are the future of our state, and MSU is committed to helping them succeed.”

MSU and private donors provide funding for the scholarship program.

Premier Scholarships will be awarded to incoming first-year students who are Montana residents and show academic promise based on ACT and/or SAT scores or grade point average. Financial need, leadership experience, activities and honors may also be considered.

The scholarships range from a one-time $1,000 scholarship to a $3,000 scholarship that can be renewed annually for four years. The scholarships can only be applied toward tuition. Students who are awarded a renewable scholarship must maintain a grade point average of 3.0 or higher and continue to be enrolled full-time.

To be eligible for a Premier Scholarship, applicants must:

- Apply for admission to MSU. Applications are available online at To receive a paper application, contact MSU Admissions at 888-MSU-CATS.

- Make sure MSU receives their current grade point average, either via the self-report form (included with the application for admission) or from a transcript.

- Have their official ACT and/or SAT scores sent directly to MSU from the testing company. The school code for sending ACT scores is 2420. The school code for sending SAT scores is 4488.

- Print, complete and mail the Montana Premier Scholarship application to: MSU Admissions, P.O. Box 172190, Bozeman, MT 59717-2190. The application is available for printing at: Alternatively, applicants may apply for the Montana Premier Scholarship online at:

For more information, contact MSU Admissions toll free at 888-MSU-CATS.

Last Updated on Thursday, 18 September 2014 15:20

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Winery hires Rocky intern

By Rocky Mountain College

Idaho’s largest winemaker, Ste. Chapelle winery in Caldwell, hired its first ever intern, RMC student Tarah Anderson (’15), to learn the business of selling fine wine.

This summer, Ste. Chapelle coordinated with RMC to take “our very first intern ever,” said retail manager Mary Sloyer. The business helped Anderson to complete her academic internship practicing business management. Sloyer said, “She was awesome, a joy to work with, a very quick study.”

In her two months of work, Anderson is helping the winery managers with marketing and business processes. Wineries often promote a “case club” or “wine club” to broaden their devotees, and Anderson has expanded the membership. Working with orders and inventory, she follows laws and procedures for shipping wine to different states. She has helped to create and distribute brochures, and provided IT help to her employer.

“Her computer savvy helped,” Sloyer said. “We loved that she always found things to do.”

Anderson also helped to plan Ste. Chapelle’s summer concert series, in addition to her daily duties of serving wine members and tasters while operating and stocking the wine tasting room.

“A challenge for me is having to learn about all the different aspects of each wine to be able to educate customers about them,” she said. Anderson was new to the business of selling wine, and the internship lets use her RMC business skills in a real-world environment.

“It was a great thrill to serve customers,” she said. “It is satisfying when a group of tasters come in and you get to be the one to help them find the perfect wine for a special occasion like their wedding.”  

She enjoyed “the pleasure of getting to learn how a corporation runs on a daily basis,” she said.

“This experience has allowed me to grow in terms of customer service (interacting with other people including difficult customers), management, and understanding all the little aspects that go into running a big corporation.”

Anderson, a Rocky Mountain College dual major in economics/business management and physical education/athletic training, grew up in Caldwell, Idaho.

Last Updated on Thursday, 18 September 2014 15:18

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Academy applicants sought

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester is reminding Montana students interested in serving in the Armed Forces to apply for military academy nominations. 

A nomination from Tester is the first step in applying to attend the U.S. Air Force Academy, the U.S. Military Academy, the U.S. Naval Academy or the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. Tester chooses nominees based on their academic achievement, leadership, community service and participation in extracurricular activities.

Montanans interested in applying for a military academy nomination are encouraged to do so online at Tester’s website.

To qualify, students must be:

• Between 17 and 23 years of age (25 for the Merchant Marine Academy)

• A U.S. citizen and a permanent resident of Montana

• Unmarried, not pregnant, and free of legal obligation to support children or other dependents.

You can reach Sen. Tester’s nomination coordinator by calling (406) 449-5401.

Last Updated on Thursday, 18 September 2014 15:17

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Foster parents can fill urgent needs for kids

By STEPHEN DOW - For The Outpost

If anybody knows about the importance of foster parents, it is Lisa LaMere.

LaMere, who now licenses foster parents through Youth Dynamics, spent the first 14 years of her life with her parents and seven siblings. Since her parents were frequently using drugs and alcohol, the care of her siblings fell to her. When her parents were sent to jail in 1995, LaMere was separated from her family and spent two years in the foster system.

One of the homes she lived in for a while belonged to a woman named Ruth.

“She was so sweet and kind and made me feel not like an outcast, but just like any other kid in her house,” LaMere said. “I’m still in contact with her, and she calls me her daughter even though she’s African-American and I’m obviously not her kid.”

With more than 3,000 Montana children entering foster care each year, there is a growing need for people like Ruth to step up and become therapeutic foster parents.

“The need is still there,” said LaMere.“We have way less foster parents than we’ve ever had, but the number of foster children is growing.”

She continued, “I had four referrals this week for kids that needed homes and I had to say no to all of them. This means that the kids will probably be moved to somewhere outside the Billings area away from their families or moved to a higher level of care like a group home. It’s really disheartening to know that there are four kids out there that we could have helped if we only had the homes for them.”

Whereas most foster parents are registered through the state, Youth Dynamics specifically registers therapeutic foster parents who are assigned to help children with mental health and behavioral issues.

“Our kids that are placed in these homes are more intense,” LaMere said. “They have all received a mental health diagnosis and need more support services such as medication management and therapy.”

Foster care myths

According to LaMere, “Most people have thought about being a foster parent for two years before actually taking that step.”

Many prospective foster parents have legitimate concerns – such as whether they’ll be able to provide adequately for a child.

However, many concerns fall into the category of “foster care myths.”

“We’ve all seen the horror movies where it’s the foster kid who burns down the house and does all these awful things,” she said. “You watch ‘Law and Order’ and usually it’s a foster kid who commits this horrendous crime. There are kids out there like that, but the vast majority of them are kids that just need a loving home to bring them in.”

And, unlike what many people think, there are very few restrictions on who can be a foster parent.

“You don’t have to have kids already to be a foster parent,” she said. “You don’t even have to be married. I’ve licensed some great couples that aren’t married and I’ve also licensed some awesome single moms and dads.”

In the end, LaMere says, the most important things that prospective foster parents need are “the skills, ability and heart” to take care of these hurting children.

“I’m looking for all sorts of different people. I know that there are awesome and amazing people out there that can provide care to these kids.”

‘Step Up’

Though foster care has a notoriously low success fate, there are still many success stories. One of these is LaMere’s.

After her mother attempted and failed to regain custody of LaMere when she was 16, her social worker gave her special permission to live on her own. She then finished high school and went to Montana State University Billings to receive her bachelor’s degree in human services. She is now working toward her master’s degree in mental health counseling and vocational rehabilitation.

However, for every success story like LaMere’s, there are multiple stories of children who are still struggling.

“I check the jail website and see the names of foster kids that I worked with years ago,” LaMere said. “I’ve had past foster kids who now have their own kids in the system. But my hope is that by the end of my career, I can say I’ve made a positive difference in the lives of at least three kids. It’s better than doing nothing at all.”

Though foster care’s low success rate can be daunting, La Mere feels that the best way to combat this is for “people to step up.”

One way they can do this is by becoming a foster parent. After filling out paperwork and undergoing background checks, potential foster parents will go through 33 hours of training in order to help them know how to best meet the needs of the children in their care.

Even after the training is over, the team at Youth Dynamics is happy to work with foster parents to make sure that they are receiving the support they need.

“We don’t want people to fail,” La Mere said. “We don’t want the foster parents to fail, and we don’t want the kids to fail. We’re not setting them up for failure.”

Even those who aren’t ready to be foster parents can step up to make Billings a more welcoming community – not just for foster families, but for everyone.

“If there’s a kid on your baseball team who doesn’t have cleats, be his mentor and buy him the shoes,” La Mere suggested. “Instead of being the person who complains about the baby screaming at Walmart, be the person who offers to help hold the baby while the mom loads her bags into the car. Being a kind and conscientious person in the community is one of the best things you can do.”

If you are interested in learning more about being a therapeutic foster parent, contact Lisa LaMere at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at 245-6539.

Last Updated on Thursday, 11 September 2014 13:07

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Summit fires up students

Rocky Mountain College

A three-day student leadership summit energized 59 Rocky Mountain College student-leaders a week before classes, high in a mountain valley at the United Methodist-affiliated Camp on the Boulder River.

The summit honored myriad ways that people learn. Several sessions taught the student-leaders to help younger students recognize psychology behind personal connections, exemplary followership as a path to leadership, autonomy support, intrinsic and extrinsic motivations, and student-leader roles as they relate to new student orientation.

The students shared small group and whole group team-building activities including a half-day of low ropes courses led by students who participated in three additional days of challenge activities and ropes course training before they attended the summit. Katie Carpenter (’07), associate dean of student life, and Tim Lohrenz (’01), director of adventure recreation, led the second year of the summit, while Tim’s wife, Cara Lohrenz (’06), director of student activities, coordinated logistics.

“We hosted more students this year,” said Tim Lohrenz. “We also revised our programming to give students more time to bond as a group and process the material Katie and I presented.”

Group participants discovered each others’ student initiatives in hours of mutual questioning.

“We had a very intentional outcome this year of letting them unwind from summer and get to know each other,” said Carpenter. Participants also trained to help lead new student orientation at RMC the following week. 

Attendees included leaders of campus activities such as residence hall assistants, members of ASRMC student government, and an editor of the Summit, the RMC student newspaper. Summit editor Emma King (’17) reported, “Amazing, crazy; I’m exhausted.”

Resident assistant Nick Pedersen (’17) of Billings called the summit “awesome, incredible, perfect.”

 The lessons he took home will help him support his freshmen, he said.


Last Updated on Thursday, 11 September 2014 13:06

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Rocky volleyball wins AVCA academic award

LEXINGTON, Ky. – The Rocky Mountain College volleyball team was one of 33 NAIA teams in the United States to receive the American Volleyball Coaches Association Team Academic Award this year.

This is the seventh straight year that the team garnished this award. Only 5 percent of the NAIA teams qualified.

The award, which was initiated in the 1992-1993 academic year, honors collegiate and high school volleyball teams that display excellence in the classroom during the school year by maintaining at least a 3.30 cumulative team grade point average on a 4.00 scale.

“I am very proud of our team again this year. We pride ourselves on the success of our program in part that we have scholar-athletes and [that we] take the classroom and the court very seriously,” said Rocky Coach Laurie Kelly.

“Too often athletic participation is associated with academic underachievement, and this stereotype is simply false when it comes to volleyball,” said AVCA Executive Director Kathy DeBoer. “Couple the smarts represented by these teams with the competitive experience and team-focused training gained on the court, and we have a potent formula for future leadership. What a significant contribution that is by their coaches and schools.”

Members of the academic team include Jayde Hair, Ahlea Billis, Jennifer Donaldson, Tori Bertsch, Elli Hellerud, Mariah Stiffarm, Yang Yang, Sky Gabel, Kylie Nielsen, Anna Dewald, Brooke Myers, BrieAnna Geck and Kacie Stone.

Last Updated on Thursday, 21 August 2014 15:30

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