• Big Sky Spotlight: Meet Koni Dole

    Big Sky Spotlight: Meet Koni Dole

    Photo by PAUL RUHTER

    It was the final game of the 2012 prep football season when Huntley Project High School’s Koni Dole suffered a compound fracture to his lower right leg.

    Putting a bone break that pierces muscle and skin back in place is a delicate procedure, and one with which orthopedic surgeons are frequently confronted.

    Never a routine procedure nor predictable of outcome, Dole’s leg developed “compartment syndrome,” which left him with a choice most people – let alone a teenager with aspirations of a collegiate football career – would find daunting: a useless foot for the rest of his life or amputation.

    Dole reasoned that his “best chance of coming back” was to accept the loss of his lower right leg and move forward.
    Two months after amputation, he was on the wrestling mat for the Red Devils.

    When the 2013 football season opened, Dole was on the field. Fitted with a blade-runner, Dole started the game as a fullback on offense and a lineman on defense. He scored two touchdowns in a 45-0 victory over Joliet. In August, he will join the Montana State University Bobcats football team as a preferred walk-on.

    With a pair of very intense brown eyes, Dole is the walking definition of focused. In a private interview after a strenuous workout accompanied by his best friend, Tanner Miller, Dole described his thought processes leading up to his decision that the way forward was to cut back his damaged leg.

    “I was stuck in bed for a week,” he said. “Everything was OK. One day my parents (Nancy and Fualelei Andy Dole) came into the room. They were upset. There was a look on their faces.

    “Everything that controls the foot was gone. I had a non-functioning foot. It was depressing. I had worked my (butt) off. I had goals. But the choice lit a fire in me. Actions speak louder than words, so I had to accept it. It was my best chance of coming back.”

    Coincidently, one of Dole’s heroes is the South African Olympian, Oscar Pistorius, who ran in the 400-meter semi-finals in the 2012 London Games. Nicknamed the “Blade Runner” because of the two prosthetic devices he wore, Pistorius’s athletic efforts were an inspiration to Dole.

    He, too, would run again on the football field.

    The day after the amputation, the team came in to visit.

    “I told them I was OK,” Dole said. “There were tears. It was very emotional.”

    “The first three months were depressing,” he said.

    To say nothing of the pain.

    Yet there were uplifting moments and he moved quickly to be fitted with a prosthesis. Jay Murray at Treasure State Orthotics and Pro was there to help.

    “He was the perfect guy for me,” Dole said.

    Dole and Murray wanted to get on with the construction and fitting of a prosthesis, Dole said, but “the doctors said we should wait. I wanted to do it now, the doctors were trying to hold me back. They were going by the book. I did some research and felt I had a chance. It was the only way forward. I knew it was not going to be easy.”

    The pervasive attitude of the young man is governed by the command: “I can do it.”

    Two months out of surgery, Dole was wrestling for his high school team minus the artificial limb as competition rules prohibit them.

    “I wanted people to know how hard I worked,” he said.

    Lifting weights for hours was an almost daily routine.

    High school sports in rural Montana are the social identity of many of its residents. This is especially true of Class B and C divisions.

    Dole was quick to respond to a question about which three words describe Montana. With no hesitation, he rattled-off, “close-knit communities.”

    That was demonstrated specifically as a local fundraising effort on his behalf provided the $30,000 needed for the high-tech athletic prosthesis.

    Dole graduates in May from Huntley Project High School. August will find him at MSU in Bozeman with the Bobcat football team as a preferred walk-on, which means he is part of the team, but with no scholarship money.

    He sees himself as possibly playing at linebacker. The six-foot, 208-pound athlete bench presses 315 pounds and runs the 40-yard dash at 4.8 seconds.

    “That was before surgery. I’m just as fast now.”

    Where do you go to relax, escape?
    The weight room or football field to run.

    Three words that describe Montana.
    Close-knit communities.

  • World Champion brown trout carving by Clark Schreibeis

    World renowned wildlife sculptor describes Montana using three words

    If you could pick only three words to describe, Montana, what three words would you use?

    Hard question to answer?

    We put a Montanan on the spot with that question in each issue for our Big Sky Spotlight feature. We created the feature because we figured there are plenty of Montanans you ought to know. So why not put one in the magazine?

    Clark Schreibeis, truly a hidden treasure in our state, is a world renonwed wildife carver and sculptor who has won dozens of best in world awards for his work. Clark was featured as the Big Sky Spotlight in the March/April issue. He answered several questions for the story’s writer Jim Gransbery, telling us about how and when he finds creativity to create such amazing art. Check out the full post of the story to learn more about Clark and what three words he uses to describe Montana.

    Have you thought of your three words yet?

    Check out our January/February Big Sky Spotlight if you need more inspiration.


  • Big Sky Spotlight: Meet Clark Schreibeis

    Montana wildlife carver and sculptor Clark Schreibeis won Best in World honors in the decorative life-size division at the World Fish Carving Championships in 2013. The entry was also judged Best of Show. It was Schreibeis’s fifth best in show since 1995. He also won the Master of Master’s Division in the World Taxidermy Championships held simultaneously in Springfield, Ill. He continues his quest for artistic perfection in a rural setting west of Billings.


    Numerous artists have sought wilderness for solitude that spawns creativity.

    For Clark Schreibeis, a 1980, 600-mile canoe trip – including a 15-mile portage over Ivashak Pass in Alaska’s Brooks Range – crystallized the desires of his life. At 25, encountering a determinate crossroad, he chose a deliberate path.

    That rarified atmosphere of sun, sky, mountains, waters and wildlife above the Arctic Circle guided him: “I was going to quit drinking, marry Rika and take up taxidermy.”

    He successfully achieved all three.

    Today, he is the world’s finest fish carver and taxidermist. His peers have made it so.

    Schreibeis, 58, was born and lived in Sheridan, Wyo., until he was 12 when his family moved to Billings in 1967. His father ran a dairy. His life as a sculptor began at age 8 when he carved a whale out of a bar of Ivory soap.

    “I would whittle on wood,” he said. “I remember being struck by the beauty of the wood when I carved into an old piece of juniper.”

    His artistic talent percolated to the surface now and again during a number of years. Although he liked to draw, he took no art classes in high school. He did take courses in technical, mechanical and architectural drawing. After graduating from West High School, he worked construction and on the railroad.

    “I ran with a rowdy crowd,” he said. “I never knew I had (artistic) talent.”

    After his four-month sojourn in Alaska, “Rika said ‘come home,’ ” Schreibeis said. “I took a six-week crash course in taxidermy in Wisconsin. That was all. I hung out my shingle as a western taxidermist. I did fish and birds.”

    During a world taxidermy competition in Kansas in 1985, Schreibeis was drawn to carving. In a two-hour seminar, the instructor carved a fish out of wood.

    “I was totally taken,” Schreibeis said. “It was more artistic. I was done with taxidermy.”

    In 1995, he won his first Best of Show at the World Fish Carving Championships, which he has taken each time he’s entered the biennial competition.

    His double world win last year came as a result of commissions by admirers of his work.

    Billings angler Joel Long Jr. asked Schreibeis to capture in wood his “dream fish,” a 24-inch spawning male brown trout. For his taxidermy entry, Schreibeis chose his rendition of a wolf eel caught by friend and client Jim Routson, of Missoula, while fishing for halibut off the coast of Sitka, Alaska.

    The wolf eel – from the dark deep – resembles a ferocious demon. The 5-foot, 5-inch creature was for Schreibeis the ultimate challenge to recreate. Being a judge, he was unable to compete in the fish category, but he could enter the Master of Masters division, which was open to all master level judges and competitors of all species.

    His expertise established, Schreibeis spends his time sculpting in wood and bronze, working on a few select taxidermy projects, judging, teaching carving classes and exploring those wild places he loves.

    What is the goal of your work?
    To capture the essence of the species. To produce a decorative piece, such as the brown trout, as close to real, and accurately. With the Rocky Mountain (red) juniper, to produce a sculpture such as a great blue heron that displays the beauty of the wood.

    What are the best choices for wood?
    For carving fish, the best is “tupelo” (swamp tree) found in the southeastern United States. The first 4- to 5 -feet from the root ball is best. The grain is harder upward from that. At several sites in eastern Montana I look for juniper. Southeast of Glendive there is some big stuff.

    Where lies your creativity?
    I’ve had a piece of juniper here, maybe for 10 years. I have tried to visualize what it might become. Maybe a couple of owls? It (creativity) is to release the sculpture. The work becomes more stylized, interpretive as you go. Although it is not as detailed or accurate as the brown trout, my juniper carving “shouts” great blue heron.

    Where in Montana do you go to relax?
    On the river.
    What three words describe Montana?
    Beauty. Wildlife. Family.

    Jim Gransbery is a retired agricultural/political reporter of The Billings Gazette. He writes from Billings.

  • New Big Sky Spotlight highlights somebody (from MT) you should know

    We started debuted a “department” in the first issue of 2014 called Big Sky Spotlight.

    We have several departments, or standard story formats, that appear in most issues and we thought, why not add on featuring a Montanan you should know?

    The idea is to give readers a quick look at a Montanan making a difference, creating beautiful art or just living the Montana Life.

    And, we thought, we not let them answer a few questions for us while we’re at it?

    Our inaugural Big Sky Spotlight featured Becky Hillier, a Miles City native who worked tirelessly for the past several years with a dedicated group of people to help hundreds of Montana WWII veterans take the trip of a lifetime to Washington, D.C.

    We think it’s a great way to get to know our neighbors and Big Sky Spotlight is one of the few full features we’ll post at MontanaMagazine.com.

    And with that, we’re already working on our second issue of 2014, which of course will feature a BSS. Spoiler alert: In March/April we’ll feature Billings area artists Clark Schriebies.



  • Big Sky Spotlight: Meet Becky Hillier


    For the past two years, Becky Hillier has served as a volunteer board member for the Big Sky Honor Flight, the free trip to Washington, D.C., that honors and thanks the veterans for their selfless sacrifices. Hillier has so far made the special trip with hundreds of Montana WWII veterans.

    Becky Hillier offers a very firm handshake. It telegraphs her focus and intensity – qualities she’s called upon since she competed in the Miss America pageant at age 17.

    On a lark, Becky McRae joined friends trying out for the Miles City pageant. She won and went on to become Miss Montana 1988.

    “I loved to sing and perform” as a member of high school choirs and plays, Hillier said. “I won Miss Congeniality, too, so that helped.”

    She was the youngest contestant in the Miss America that year.

    In 1990, she married Mitch Hillier, a Billings police officer. She and Mitch were living in Rapid City, S.D., and she enrolled at Black Hills State University in nearby Spearfish where a professor told her she was wasting time in school.

    “He told me ‘you have talent, ambition and need someone to give you a break,’ ” Hillier said.

    The break came in 1996 at the Bucking Horse Sale in Miles City, where she hustled a job from C.W. Wilcox at local KYUS radio station. Wilcox had broadcast her basketball games at Custer County High. At 6 feet tall, Hillier played post.

    Two days later, Wilcox hired her. A one-woman news department, her days ran from 3 a.m. to 10 p.m.

    “I was exhausted. I wanted to be a real journalist. I had to prove myself. I started at the absolute bottom,” Hillier said.

    She produced a 5-minute news blip for noon and evening broadcast. After three months in Miles City, a new NBC TV affiliate in Rapid City – Mitch had remained there – hired her, where she did the morning local insert to the Today Show. In a year, she was doing full news.

    Moving to Madison, Wis., in 2002, Hillier was the main anchor and health reporter at WMTV NBC 15 for five years. The family returned to Billings in 2007. Hillier has a son, 21, who is a student at Montana State University-Billings and a daughter, 15, who is at West High School.

    “It was burnout and I was looking for something outside journalism,” Hillier said.

    In 2008, she joined the staff at Rocky Mountain Hospice. In 2010, she returned to broadcasting at KTVQ for a year. Since 2011, she has been the regional public relations/media relations director at Rocky Mountain Hospice, where she educates people as to the role of hospice care.

    “There are so many misconceptions. Knowledge reduces fear. We are there for the terminally ill whether it be for 30 minutes or four to five years. Not just the final days or hours,” Hillier said. “It is a philosophy of care in the home.”

    Besides helping raise money, Hillier is a cheerleader for the program.

    “I am the captain of the Blue Bus when the flight gets to Washington, D.C. The 37-hour weekend is jammed with events so that the veterans get to see as many of the city’s memorials as possible,” she said. “Most important is the WWII Memorial.”

    There have been seven trips from Montana that have taken 602 veterans. All from WWII, except one terminally ill Vietnam veteran.

    “We have three buses and one van. I act as a tour guide and take roll call every time we move on. Have not lost anyone yet,” Hillier said. “At the banquet, I MC and sing the national anthem. The Vietnam veteran, who has since died, visited the Vietnam Memorial Wall. He was moved by the children, especially a Boy Scout in uniform who approached him.”

    What does it mean to work with the veterans?
    It has been a real blessing to get to know them, to make them feel like they are the center of the universe. [I am glad to have] done this really nice thing. Growing up in Miles City there were people who were in WWII who came to our basketball games. This has renewed my appreciation for them. I have an affinity for the military. At the end of my reign (as Miss Montana) I went on a USO-type show in 1989 to military bases in South Korea, Japan, Hawaii, Okinawa, Iwo Jima.

    Why donate your time this way?
    My boss, (Robert Meyer, regional executive director of Rocky Mountain Hospice) an Air Force officer in the first Gulf War, asked me to check it out. Was it legitimate? He offered my services. He really wanted to help get it off the ground. In January 2012, I joined the board to focus on media relations. To explain to veterans what Big Sky Honor Flight is – for them.

    Where in Montana do you go to relax?
    We don’t get away a lot. We like to go to Red Lodge for a weekend. Also, there is a cabin on the Stillwater River where there is no phone or cable TV.

    What three words describe Montana?
    Beautiful. Majestic. Peaceful.


    Jim Gransbery is a retired agricultural/political reporter of The Billings Gazette. He writes from Billings.


  • Viva La Vida: A wheat success story


    The hamlets of Vida, Montana, and Reeder, North Dakota, are isolated rural communities.

    Vida, population 206, sits a few miles south of Wolf Point in northeastern Montana. Reeder, in the southwestern corner of North Dakota along U.S. Highway 12, is home for 162. This is dryland-farming country, where crops must tolerate weather and climate to survive or die.
    The villages are located in this nation’s two largest spring wheat-producing states – think baked goodies such as bagels, scones, cinnamon rolls, home-baked bread. Yet the towns’ existence is not widely known.

    Now, because of a desired trait in the wheat varieties named after them, Vida and Reeder may well become famous among plant scientists searching for foundational genes to combat looming higher temperatures in July – the critical growth period for spring wheat on the Great Northern Plains.

    To find out more about “stay green” wheat, find this issue on newsstands. To read more Montana all year, subscribe now.