Annual Chamber banquet celebrates local volunteers

Star Staff Writer

Several Miles City residents who give of themselves by volunteering and making significant contributions to Miles City were recognized during the Miles City Area Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Banquet and Citizens of the Year Awards Ceremony last week.

Receiving awards at the evening’s ceremony were Tara Andrews, the Harvey Wolke Award; Freddie Wambolt, the Meritorious Service Award; Victory Insurance owned by Keith and Sandy Brownfield, Business of the Year; Amorette Allison, Individual; Becky Stanton, Senior Citizen Volunteer; and Jeff Harding, Volunteer.

John Laney, executive director of the chamber, served as master of ceremonies for the award ceremony, which followed a banquet at the Town and Country Club. More than 80 people attended the event. 

Laney started the festivities by relating a story about an accident in which he was involved in November 2017. 

“It’s always difficult to give a speech about business or retail to people that live it every day on the front line,” said Laney. “So tonight I am going to change direction a bit and talk from the other side, from the customer side.”

He went on to explain that on his way to Denver from Billings on Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017, he hit ice on a bridge just outside of Buffalo, Wyoming, and rolled his pickup down a hill. He spoke of people who came to his aid, from a snowplow driver, ambulance attendants and a deputy sheriff to the doctor, nurses and a social worker at the hospital where he was taken. Laney said he broke his collar bone and five ribs in the accident. Since then, he had been reflecting on the experience.

He said he asked himself four questions — was the service he received what he expected (“it seemed fine and some was incredible”), was the product up to my standards (“it was, but some far exceeded it”), was the price reasonable (“as far as price, I didn’t die so I suppose I got my money’s worth”) and would I go back (without a doubt, I want to go back and thank a lot of people personally).

He explained his experience related to the award winners because they were people who make others want to return to our community. He added that Miles City’s location on the interstate means that the community’s residents encounter a lot of people and we should ask ourselves if we can answer the four questions in a positive manner. 

Laney said, “If we are dedicated to the future of our community, we must take steps to ensure it, remembering the most important question, did I give visitors to Miles City a reason to come back, or better yet, come in the first place.”

He added the evening’s award recipients all projected attitudes and mindsets of wanting Miles City to be a better place.

“Our attitudes are the roadmap to the future because that is the thing we control the most, so as we move into 2018 we all need to look at ourselves in the mirror and ask ourselves every day ‘Am I going to be the person that makes someone want to come back?’” said Laney. “It’s real easy to do, just be nice.”

During the ceremony that followed, Laney presented framed certificates to the following award winners.

— Tara Andrews, the Harvey Wolke Award. The Harvey Wolke Award is not given annually. It is presented only when an individual or group is cited for outstanding community betterment and civic vision. Andrews’ nomination form stated that “she is a tremendous advocate and community champion for Miles City. Her all-in perspective and dedication to the many organizations she supports is inspiring and impactful.” She has served on and volunteered with numerous community, county and state groups including the Holy Rosary Healthcare Foundation’s Board of Trustees, the Eastern Montana Fair Board, the Custer County Education Foundation Board of Trustees, the Custer County Council on Aging Board of Directors, Raising Our Community Kids Safely (ROCKS) After School Program Board of Directors, Friends of the Miles City Public Library, Custer County Food Bank Board of Directors, 4-H Western Institute Planning Committee and Sacred Heart Catholic Church Parish Council. She also received a Meritorious Service award for more than 25 years of service from the Montana Association of Extension 4-H agents.

When accepting her award, Andrews said, “I’m very humbled and honored to receive this award. It”s so nice. Before we moved here, I said to my husband ‘I’ll moved anywhere but Miles City.’ He came home on my birthday and said he got the job in Miles City and it turned out to be a wonderful thing.”

— Freddie Wambolt, the Meritorious Service Award. This is the second year in a row that the chamber presented this award. Laney explained that Wambolt volunteers his time in the community in several ways. However, his biggest contribution to Miles City is his new business remodel at the southwest corner of the intersection of South Strevell Avenue and Main Street. “It now stands as a pillar in one of Miles City’s historic districts,” said Laney.

In his acceptance speech, Wambolt said, “My wife, Amanda, did just as much as I did. She loves doing it [restoring buildings] too.” They both agreed that the property would be a great location for a business and they worked at the restoration together. Wambolt added, “It’s been a  wonderful place to do business.”

— Victory Insurance owned by Keith and Sandy Brownfield, Business of the Year. In nomination of the business and its owners, the Brownfields, one of several forms cited them as being seasoned professionals in the workers compensation industry. The Brownfields chose to return to Miles City in 2005 to make a home for their new venture, Victory Insurance Company, the only incorporated, private workers’ compensation insurance carrier and business in Montana. The business and the Brownfields carry a high standard of ethics with their employees and everyone with whom they work, according to another nomination form. 

Keith Brownfield accepted the award on behalf of his wife and the business, saying, “We’d like to thank the Victory Team. We appreciate Miles City businesses and the people always have been there for us. We couldn’t do this without our great employees and our great communities.”

— Amorette Allison, Individual. According to Allison’s nomination form, she has made an immense contribution to the preservation of the history of Miles City. A Miles City resident who attended Montana State University in Bozeman, married and lived in Belgrade for several years, Allison returned to Miles City with her husband, Steve, in 1997. She was the Miles City Preservation Officer for nine years and worked for the Miles City Star for seven years, retiring from full time work in 2017. She continues to write the Stardust and Heritage columns for the Star and has played an instrumental part in collecting, archiving and writing articles about Miles City’s history. During her years with the Miles City Preservation Office, Allison wrote seven books with proceeds from the various editions proving ongoing support for that office. She and her husband own and are restoring a home built in 1882. As president of the Range Riders Reps, she supports the Range Riders Museum and also serves as vice president of the Board of Directors for the Historic Miles City Academy.

When accepting her award, Allison said, “I’d like to thank my parents, Jean and Martin Freese, who were huge history buffs. Half of the books in our house were history books. Miles City history is really interesting stuff. I thank my parents for raising us in a town with such a colorful history.”

— Becky Stanton, Senior Citizen Volunteer. Stanton started volunteer work with the Retired Senior and Volunteer Program (RSVP) in November 2011. She volunteers with the Salvation Army as treasurer, Red Kettle coordinator and bell ringer; Holy Rosary Healthcare in the gift shop; Senior Medicare Patrol with Action for Eastern Montana; and delivers Meals on Wheels. She also enjoys volunteering for one-time activities.

“Thank you. I’m not sure who told me, but I was taught that you give back to your community,” said Stanton as she accepted her award. “We live in the best town ever, a friendly, cordial and good community. And you can’t not thank your family, because what you do, they get volunteered to do also. I truly receive more than I give at all of those locations.”

— Jeff Harding, Volunteer. Among his many volunteer activities, Harding’s nomination form listed refereeing for fifth and sixth grade basketball, serving as the 7th grade basketball coach, helping with varsity football field preparation, helping with the beer booth for hockey, serving as master of ceremonies for Erin’s Crystal Ball and being a state delegate for the Republican Nominating Committee. He also has served on the Board of Directors of the Miles City Area Chamber of Commerce and is vice president of the Booster Club. Harding also serves on the Miles Community College Endowment Board, the MCC Board of Trustees, Holy Rosary Healthcare Foundation and the Town and Country Club.

“I’m very proud of having been involved with the community,” said Harding as he accepted his award. “There are piles of people who make our community what it is and who make it home. Thank you guys.”

(Contact Denise Hartse at or 406-234-0450.)