The zoo would be padlocked — that's what ZooMontana Executive Director Jeff Ewelt said.
That would have happened had not Publisher Mike Gulledge and The Billings Gazette stepped in to help rally the community to save the Billings zoo.
From near-death to thriving, Ewelt said the zoo's resurgence wouldn't have been possible without the help of the communications company.
Ewelt, along with two other community leaders, surprised Gulledge and The Gazette's management team Thursday with word that the company had won the 2017 Association of Fundraising Professionals Outstanding Corporation in Montana award.
Representatives from the Billings Public Library Foundation, ZooMontana, Western Heritage Center and St. Vincent Healthcare Foundation wrote letters of support that helped earn the recognition.
"This award is a reflection of The Gazette's commitment to the community," said Dennis Sulser of the St. Vincent Foundation.
Leslie Modrow of the Billings Library Foundation said The Gazette's coverage of a capital campaign to build a new library demonstrated the power the newspaper has to galvanize support.
"It was there for the campaigns. It editorialized its support and by the reporting, it asked tough questions that needed to be raised," Modrow said. "The paper's leadership helped create an award-winning library that more than 1,300 people use daily."
The award in particular singled out Gulledge for his commitment and involvement in the community. Gulledge has been involved with the Billings Catholic Schools, the Billings Chamber of Commerce, ZooMontana, St. Vincent Healthcare, Rocky Mountain College and the Montana Meth Project. In addition to his community involvement, Gulledge also serves as a group vice-president for Lee Enterprises and the Publisher of the Missoulian in Missoula.
"Mike is amazing at balancing the needs of a busy operation with the even more important aspect of giving back to the community," said Dave Worstell, general manager of The Gazette."This is another example of the passion he has for Billings."
Gulledge said he was surprised and pleased by the award that represents the work of the entire company.
"We love the community and it's part of who we are to give back," Gulledge said. "It's a terrific honor, but it's even more exciting to see so many of these great projects, like the zoo and library, become reality for the next generation of Montanans."