By Tyler Allen EBS Senior Editor
BIG SKY – On June 14, one mountain community answered the call of distress from another mountain community, half a world away.
Nearly 250 people from Big Sky and Bozeman packed Lone Mountain Ranch’s lodge, saloon, and outdoor patio in support of the Nepali people. Two massive earthquakes on April 25 and May 12 devastated Nepal, killing nearly 9,000 people and injuring twice as many. Approximately 500,000 Nepalis were displaced from their homes, as the quakes destroyed entire villages.
Volunteers greeted attendees on the idyllic Sunday evening as they approached the century-old Big Sky guest ranch. Colorado musician Geoff Union picked traditional and contemporary bluegrass riffs on the outdoor patio, while people perused the silent-auction items indoors or gathered in small conversations in the saloon and on the shaded patio.
Before the night was over, nearly $80,000 was raised for the stricken country of Nepal.
The money raised was donated to Tsering’s Fund, a nonprofit formed in 2007 by Dr. Peter Schmieding, his wife Karen Fellerhoff, and their friend Tsering Dolkar Lama, a Tibetan woman who lives in Nepal’s capital Katmandu, and after whom the organization is named. Schmieding practices dentistry in Big Sky and Ennis, and flew to Nepal after the April 25 earthquake.
Tsering’s Fund was originally created to fund education for Nepali girls, but quickly shifted its fundraising efforts toward earthquake relief after the disaster.
LMR’s General Manager Paul Robertson; Dr. Schmieding; Outlaw Partners CEO Eric Ladd (publisher of this newspaper); Andy Holm from Bozeman’s Venture Church; the Rotary Club of Big Sky; and countless others were instrumental in organizing the event.
Arjun Adhikari, a member of Montana State University’s Nepalese Student Association, opened the evening by addressing the packed dining hall. He thanked the event organizers and recounted the devastation wrought on his country before describing how Nepal can recover from the tragedy.
“In order for Nepalis to begin to fight [and] overcome their problems, more and better aid is required,” Adhikari said. “We are now in the phase of rebuilding our country. We chose to organize fundraising events to raise money to rebuild schools, and to support children through Tsering’s Fund.”
Adhikari then told the crowd about Jana Jagriti Primary School in the village of Pandrung, which his organization is committed to help rebuild. The cost, he said, is $16,000, and they had raised $4,000 to date.
Following Adhikari’s address, organizers screened a short documentary produced by the Outlaw Partners. Ladd and Outlaw videographer Wes Overvold traveled to Nepal shortly after Schmieding to deliver wall tents, among other supplies. The film featured aerial footage of the valley where the village of Langtang once existed before it was wiped out by a massive landslide, and images of Tsering’s Fund’s relief efforts in stricken villages. It painted a haunting picture of Nepal’s long road to recovery.
Schmieding then spoke about his organization – the work it’s done and the difficult work still to accomplish – and how every cent they raise is used on the ground in Nepal. Tsering’s Fund doesn’t spend any money on administrative costs, and Schmieding personally bankrolls every trip he makes to the country. He explained to the crowd how far the money raised in the U.S. could go in Nepal.
“It’s not like building in Big Sky,” he said, eliciting laughter from the crowd.
The live auction soon began with a fevered pitch. With the machine-gun prodding of the bid assistants, a cat-skiing trip to British Columbia’s Baldface Lodge quickly went for $7,000.
Jeff Pensiero, owner of Baldface Lodge, said he hardly had to think about donating a cat-skiing trip once Ladd explained the effort to him.
“Eric contacted me before he went [to Nepal],” Pensiero said. “When he got back, he said he was doing a fundraiser … Nepal’s a long ways away and I don’t really trust any [relief organization] over there. He explained the initiative and it took me 10 seconds to say ‘yes.’”
A 16-day trek through Nepal – donated by legendary Everest guide Pem Dorjee Sherpa, a friend of Schmieding’s – fetched $13,000. A friend of Schmieding’s, Bozeman cinematographer David Devlin, donated the airline miles for the successful bidders.
“I’d personally like to thank [the] Montana community for their support,” Dorjee Sherpa wrote in an email from Katmandu on June 24. “It is big for Nepal and so many girls who don’t have families, or [who are] not able to go school, will get [an] education.”
A Dutch auction – in which the auctioneer begins with a high asking price, and lowers it until someone is willing to accept the bid – followed the live auction. Mike and Nancy Domaille met the initial ask of $20,000 to build a school with an immediate paddle raise.
“We’ve always been strong supporters of educational opportunities for disadvantaged children, and believe that education is the differentiator between being a dependent of society, or being a contributor to society,” Nancy said. “That a school in rural Nepal can be built for only $20,000, made the decision … an easy one for us.”
Ladd then held up large-format photos of four children Dolkar Lama found in aKatmandu orphanage the Friday before. When the auction was over, the crowd had stepped up to fund at least a year of schooling for eight different Nepali orphans, and the rebuilding of two earthquake-damaged schools.
Roger Schwer and Marjie Toepffer, 25-year residents of Big Sky and former ski instructors, said they spent $800 during the silent auction.
“We know and admire Pete, [and] we’ve been donating to Tsering’s Fund for years,” Schwer said. “[This event] resonated with us,” Toepffer added.
With the auction closed, Nepali guitarist Diwas Gurung and his wife Mandy from New York City, along with Bozeman drummer Brett Goodell, set up in the corner of the dining hall. The first, searing licks from Diwas’ guitar and heavy thumping of Mandy’s bass made it clear the rest of the night was going to be one to celebrate.
“To see the community come out in such a generous fashion to support people on the other side of the planet that they’ll never meet,” Schmieding said, “is a testament to the generosity of the American people.”