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YWCA Awards

Merry Lee Olson, center, YWCA Billings CEO, toasts the recipients of the 2018 Salute Awards at Hilands Golf Club on Wednesday.

BETHANY BAKER, Gazette Staff

Relying on honorees’ friends to lure them with subterfuge to the Hilands Golf Club Wednesday, YWCA Billings announced the winners of its 2018 Salute Awards — four women, one man and the inaugural Exemplary Philanthropy Award.

This marks the 34th year for the awards, which will be formally bestowed April 13 at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel. Visit the YWCA Billings website,, for more information or to make a reservation.

YWCA Awards

Merry Lee Olson, right, YWCA Billings CEO, announces the 2018 Salute Awards recipients, including Lenette Kosovich-Edgerton, left, and Deputy City Attorney Ben Halverson at Hilands Golf Club on Wednesday.

Ben Halverson, a deputy city attorney who works with women in crisis who come to the YWCA, was named the Individual who Supports and Mentors Women.

“I thought I was here for dinner with my fiancee’s grandmother,” he said.

People who nominated Halverson praised his advocacy for Senate Bill 153 during the 2017 legislative session, which made strangulation of a partner or family member a felony.

“I’m super thankful, but I don’t feel like I deserve this award,” he said. Halverson said he’s grateful for the chance to work with the victims of domestic violence, work he called “high risk and high reward.”

Carol Burton, CEO of United Way of Yellowstone County and one of four Women of Achievement, was unable to attend. Her nominators called her “a tireless advocate for the under-served, those in poverty and those in crisis.” Burton was credited with leading her agency “in uncovering the most pressing needs of the community and then forges partnerships that will create needed change.”

Liz Ching is a former congressional aide who now works with coal-impacted communities for the Montana Department of Labor and Industry. She said she was present for the announcement under the guise of YWCA Billings fundraising.

She was praised for, among other things, her volunteer work empowering young women through education in science and technology. “You can go anywhere in Montana,” one of her nominators wrote, “and someone has been touched by the magic of Liz Ching.”

Kathy Cross’ nomination came from her work as president of Dress for Success Billings, which helps clients find clothing that’s suitable for important appointments such as job interviews.

“YWCA knows first-hand how passionate Cross is about creating opportunities for women to succeed and offering them a way to regain their dignity through self-sufficiency,” her nomination letter stated.

She said she attended Wednesday because her daughter, profiled as part of The Gazette’s 40 Under Forty, told her that a party was being thrown for those honorees.

“I’m not good at being recognized,” Cross said, clutching a bouquet she’d just been handed. “I prefer to fly under the radar and do my thing.”

Her nomination letter called her “a highly dedicated community volunteer who knows how to motivate and inspire her peers to join her to improve the lives of others in our community.”

The final woman to be honored was Rimrock CEO Lenette Kosovich-Edgerton. Her “progressive ideas and ability to turn them into action have saved the lives of many the YWCA serves and countless others in our region,” her letter stated. “She is a tireless advocate for people with substance abuse issues and their right to have addiction treatment, quality health care, fair housing and necessities such as food for their children.”

First Interstate Bank garnered the initial philanthropy award in light of the more than $50 million it’s given to nonprofits and communities. The bank is YWCA Billings’ low income housing tax credit partner for the Gateway Vista Affordable Housing project currently under construction and is “a dedicated supporter of its programs for women and children, providing funding, grants and volunteers," its letter said.

First Interstate Bank’s Brian Brown, the bank’s Billings market president, said that commitment to the communities in which the bank does business is expected of employees. “It’s one of the things I’m most proud of,” he said. “There aren’t too many (fundraising) dinners on Friday and Saturday night that we’re not at."



City Government Reporter

City reporter for The Billings Gazette.