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Discovery Academy scholarship honors local Eric Bertelson

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The Bertelson family poses together (left to right) Mac, Web, Eric, Janie and Gus. PHOTO COURTESY OF EMILY POTTS


BIG SKY – Like the human body, small communities live by heartbeats. In Big Sky, these heartbeats take the form of people, events, organizations and other contributing members that foster the community spirit. When one heartbeat stops, another forms in its place and, sometimes, in its memory. 

Eric Bertelson, who became one of these community heartbeats soon after moving to Big Sky in 2017, passed away earlier this year after battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, for three years. To honor his memory, his family will offer a tuition scholarship to the Big Sky Discovery Academy. 

The Discovery Academy, Lone Mountain Ranch, the local American Legion Post No. 99 and the Bertelsons will host a Bingo Night on April 13 to raise funds for the scholarship. 

Survived by his wife Janie and their three young sons, Mac, Gus and Web, Eric is remembered for his love for and dedication to academics and athletics and the ability to balance both. These are a few of the qualities Janie hopes to honor through recipients of the scholarship, which will provide tuition funding for students to attend the Montessori-based private school in Big Sky, the same institute where her three sons are also enrolled. 

“We’ll look for characteristics of kids who share Eric’s passion for sports and skiing,” Janie said. “But also [those students who are] eager to learn and want to have kind of a balance between life, sports and school.” 

Eric Bertelson with his wife, Janie. PHOTO COURTESY OF JANIE BERTELSON

Eric and Janie met at Cornell University where they graduated, and were both college athletes. For Eric, Janie said, education was paramount. Even toward the end of his life, Janie said Eric would satisfy his thirst for knowledge by watching documentaries. Not to mention that he was the best Jeopardy player she’d ever met.  

Eric’s love for education was one consideration in establishing a memorial scholarship, Janie said, but it was also Discovery Academy itself. Since the school allows students to learn at an individualized rate, a possibility enhanced through small class sizes and close learning opportunities with teachers, many students attend Discovery so they can create space for extracurriculars, like freeride skiing, which Mac competes in. 

During the pandemic, the Bertelsons also had to take extra care to keep Eric safe. Janie said she always felt supported by the school, which allowed her to keep her boys home if there was ever an outbreak concern or if they just wanted to spend more time with their dad. 

For her kids, Janie says Discovery has been a great fit that celebrates them for their uniqueness. 

“We just love the kind of individualistic academic approach here because they all learn differently, and they all react differently, and so it’s just been a wonderful space for us,” she said.  

Scott Poloff, head of school at Discovery, agreed that much of what the Bertelsons want to honor in Eric
is compatible with Discovery’s mission and family-like environment. 

“What it does is it allows us every year, one, to celebrate Eric,” he said, “but two, to just go back and remind ourselves, as head of schools, as a board, as a community, what is Discovery about? It’s about discovering that potential.” 

Poloff and Janie are still working out the logistics of the scholarship, including how many students will
be awarded and which ages will be eligible, among other details.

The scholarship fundraising event will be a collaborative effort, bringing together the American Legion’s famous Bingo to Lone Mountain Ranch for an evening of good-spirited competition, food and music. Janie said it was a night her husband would have loved.

“Eric was kind of like a ‘yes’ person,” she said. “He just loved to have a good time. He actually did like Bingo,” she added, chuckling. LMR was also one of the couple’s favorite places in town to get a cocktail. 

Between the space, food and staff, LMR General Manager Ryan Kunz said the ranch is donating approximately $30,000 in services to the event. 

“I think Lone Mountain Ranch has been an integral part of the community since its inception and we love supporting great causes,” Kunz said. “Supporting children in our community is a great cause we should all get behind.” 

Kunz added that the ranch’s Assistant General Manager Patrick McVey, Executive Chef Scott Mechura and Food and Beverage Manager Michael Jacquard have been integral in making the event come to life. 

At the April 13 event, Eric will be remembered and celebrated. Through the Eric Bertelson Scholarship, the values and qualities that made him a heartbeat of Big Sky will be honored, and perhaps a new heartbeat will emerge. 

Read more about the scholarship and donate here.

To support the fight against ALS, Janie Bertelson recommends Team Gleason and Brain Chemistry Labs.

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