With the annual Festival of Lights Parade just around the corner, it is time for volunteers to step up and help decorate the Glacier County Courthouse lawn for the big event. Volunteers are asked to meet at the courthouse in Cut Bank on Wednesday, Nov. 17, at 9 a.m. Come prepared–wear work gloves and dress warm, urges Jeff Billman.
For over 30 years, Rick and Jeff Billman and the crew at Billman’s Inc. have been the driving force behind decorating the courthouse. They have been asking for someone else to take over the Chamber project for the past several years with no luck.
This year will be the last year they will be the driving force behind this Chamber and community project. They are hoping someone or some organization steps forward next week to come and learn the ins and outs of the process. If you or your group are interested, call Jeff or Rick at 406-872-4123.
When the Christmas lighting project first started, businessmen, mostly Chamber members, were in charge of the operation, recalls Rick. The core group included Ron Gustafson, Dave Anderson, Charlie Conway and Dan Raemaeker. Dick Swenson was the Chamber director who helped organize the volunteers later on. “I took over from Dick,” said Rick. Jeff remembers helping with the set up and decorating of the courthouse back when he was in middle school. He’ll turn 40 this year.
“People think this is a Billmans’ project,” said Jeff, “it’s not. It is a Chamber and community project. Our business and family have been involved with it for so long, people sometimes forget that,” he said. Jeff’s involvement was a continuation of his years of service as Chamber president and director.
“We’ve enjoyed providing this service, but now it is time for someone else to step up. I’m getting old,” smiled Rick, “and my body can’t take it anymore.”
With the busy holiday season already underway, it’s getting harder and harder to pull their crew away from their “real jobs” to do the Christmas decorating when volunteers don’t show up, explained Jeff.
“What we need is a core group of four individuals to come and learn the ropes. We need another eight or so to do the grunt work. Folks who are handy or mechanical are needed as they understand what needs to be done and how. We can show them how to do it, but they need a little basic knowledge for things to go smoothly,” said Jeff.
“The Cut Bank Area Chamber of Commerce is so grateful to Rick and Jeff Billman and Billman’s Inc. for their generous contribution of time and resources each year. Their efforts to make Cut Bank’s Street of 10,000 Lights the envy of the Hi-Line each year did not go unnoticed,” said Chamber President Stephanie Eney. “We don’t express our appreciation often enough to our members for their dedication to our community and the Chamber,” she added. “On behalf of the Chamber and the entire community, we can’t thank you enough for over 30 years of spearheading this effort.”
For 30 years or more, the Christmas displays, street pole decorations and lights have been stored in a Billmans Inc. warehouse. This year the local business had to rent additional warehouse space for an inventory shipment since they were out of their own warehouse space. Billman’s Inc. stores the Chamber-owned decorations–rent free–and they are hoping the Chamber will find a new home for the decorations after this holiday season.
“With COVID and the uncertainty of when we can order and receive our inventory, we really need our warehouse back,” said Rick.
Over the past three decades, it is estimated storing the decorations have saved the Chamber some $70,000 in storage costs.
The past two years were “breaking points” for the Billmans, who were criticized for leaving the lights up too long one year and not putting them up during COVID last year.
“It’s just time for someone else to take over,” admits Jeff. “We will still pitch in and help, but there are many willing and capable individual and groups in town that could step up and work with the Chamber on this. We’re going to step aside and let them after this year,” he said.
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