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Big Sky business dinner celebrates the future with fervor

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Chamber recognizes 2018 accomplishments, introduces new chair

By Sarah Gianelli EBS Senior Editor

BIG SKY – On June 24, members and friends of the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce filled the Montana Room at Buck’s T-4 Lodge for the 21st annual chamber awards dinner. Before concluding the evening with a keynote speech by Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Dan Wenk, businesses and individuals were recognized for their contributions to the Big Sky community, and changes to the chamber board of directors were announced.

The awards were presented by the out-going chair of the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce board of directors, David O’Connor.

Dr. Sydney Desmarais, who opened Lone Peak Veterinary Hospital in the Big Horn Shopping Center last September, received the new award for emerging entrepreneur, and thanked those assembled for bringing their “furry friends” to her clinic.

Via a prerecorded video, Women in Action Executive Director Jennifer O’Connor accepted another new award that debuted at this year’s dinner, as the organization was recognized as nonprofit of the year. Women in Action provides counseling services, education programs and scholarship opportunities for youth, adults and families in the community that might have difficulty accessing them otherwise.

Following David O’Connor’s statement that “we would not have a transit system were it not for David Kack,” the Big Sky Transportation District manager came to the stage to accept the award for business person of the year.

While not a Big Sky resident, Kack has been working with the transportation district for 15 years, and considers himself an “honorary member of the community.” Like many speakers did throughout the evening, Kack pointed to the TIGER grant as proof of the “power of partnership.”

In an interview with EBS after the event, Kack elaborated on the possibility of an electric bus system coming to Big Sky, briefly mentioned during a speech by Northwestern Energy’s president and chief executive, Robert Rowe.

Kack explained that the district has submitted a proposal to obtain funding through the Federal Transit Administration’s Low-No Emission Program, which helps transit systems purchase buses with little-to-no emissions. The $85 million available will fund 100 buses nationwide, and the Big Sky Transportation District has requested two.

Kack said that the district should find out by early fall if Big Sky will receive the buses, and that it would likely be at least a year before they would arrive. It hasn’t been determined if the buses will be part of Big Sky’s local service, or join the Link Express fleet that travels between Big Sky and Bozeman.

On what O’Connor called a “long and fertile list [of nominees] that have proven themselves to be models for the community,” business of the year was awarded to Winchester Holdings and Western Mountain Investments, the new owners of the corner parcel at the intersection of Highway 191 and Lone Mountain Trail, home to the chamber of commerce offices and Visit Big Sky visitor center.

As managing partner of the LLC, Michael Schreiner, also a broker at Big Sky Real Estate & Co. will oversee future development of the property.

Glenniss Indreland, who recently retired from her position as brand manager for Big Sky Resort, where she worked for more than 30 years, received the Chet Huntley Lifetime Achievement Award. “Everything I know about marketing I learned from Glenniss,” O’Connor said. “[She] was always preaching the message that we can be more; we can be better … we can be the leader in that.”

Indreland humbly accepted the award to generous applause, first recognizing the worthiness of fellow nominee, Al Malinowski, and saying that her contributions were largely behind the scenes.

While that may be true to an extent, O’Connor later expanded on Indreland’s qualifications for the recognition. “Glenniss has spent much of her career dedicated to telling the Big Sky story to the world … and has been a key part of the community-based promotion of Big Sky.”

The tone of the evening then turned toward the future of Big Sky, and the chamber, focused heavily on the importance of fostering the success of the next generation of Big Sky leaders.

After six years as chamber board chair, O’Connor announced he would be passing the torch to Sarah Phelps, director of member services at the Yellowstone Club. O’Connor will still retain a seat on the board.

“It is truly one of the highlights of my career,” Phelps said before launching into an enthusiastic speech about her vision for Big Sky and the chamber’s role in making it a reality.

“Like so many of you I rolled up and was going to be a ski bum … 13 years later I am a diehard believer that you can make it here, that you can make a life here.”

Phelps said that she wanted to be part of finding, mentoring and championing the next generation of people whose goal it is to make a life in Big Sky.

“I am a firm believer in the Big Sky dream,” Phelps wrote in an email to EBS. “The Big Sky Chamber of Commerce is a great community builder that is integral to helping people make the transition from seasonal visitor to full-time resident. … I also want to engage the next generation of leaders in our community. We need to galvanize this group to expand the conversations about growth and development in our community.”

Collin Urgo, principal and senior vice president of operations of Urgo Hotels, an event sponsor and the hospitality management company that will operate Town Center’s Wilson Hotel, a Marriott Residence Inn, approached the lectern to differentiate his company from Marriott.

“Marriott’s not coming to town, the Urgo family is coming to town,” he said. “We represent Marriott but we’re not Marriott … we will be part of your world and part of this community [for years] to come.”

In his keynote speech at the chamber awards dinner, Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Dan Wenk focused on the relationship between the park and Big Sky, and his confidence that his replacement, Cam Sholly, will only make it stronger.

Finally, chamber CEO Candace Carr Strauss took the podium to introduce long-awaited keynote speaker and Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Dan Wenk, who opened his speech by pointing to the commonalities between the park and Big Sky.

“This is about partnerships and relationships,” Wenk said. “I think some of Yellowstone’s success in the winter is driven by Big Sky’s success in the winter; maybe some of Big Sky’s success in the summer is driven by Yellowstone’s success in the summer.”

Yellowstone is now on the bucket list of many people around the world, Wenk said, segueing into the litany of challenges the park faces between increased visitation, wildlife management and operating costs.

“When you get up in the morning as superintendent of Yellowstone National Park, one thought that crosses your mind is, how do we not screw this place up?”

After updates on visitor experience studies and wildlife management projects, Wenk finally acknowledged what was likely on most minds in the audience: the recent announcement that he will be leaving Yellowstone National Park after seven years as its superintendent, and more than 43 in the National Park Service.

“Yellowstone has been probably the greatest honor and privilege that a person could have in the National Park Service … The person who is going to follow me [Cameron “Cam” Sholly] has a lot of knowledge of this community,” he said, adding that Sholly owns property in Big Sky.

“I think you’ll see that Cam Sholly will do a great job in Yellowstone; he will continue the great traditions; he’ll do things differently and probably better than I did … but I think he has an affinity for your community and that can’t do anything but help [the] kind of relationship that you will grow and have with Cam.”

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