Throughout its long history, The Billings Gazette has lent a hand to many community causes.
In one recent initiative, The Gazette founded Celebrate Billings in 2002 with three partners — St. Vincent Healthcare, Billings Clinic and Montana State University Billings, said Michael Gulledge, Gazette publisher.
Celebrate Billings committees were set up to improve education and the environment; strengthen economic development; and promote health and public safety.
Many Gazette programs continue to help the community including:
- Educator for a Day, which invites local executives to spend a day with a teacher or principal at Billings schools.
- Partners in Education, which links local businesses to schools to help out on a variety of projects. The program also honors valedictorians from local high schools each spring.
- Bringing Larry Swanson, director of the O’Conner Center for the Rocky Mountain West at the University of Montana, to Billings to talk about the region’s economy.
- Putting “Welcome to Billings” signs near the airport and at the Shiloh interchange.
The Gazette, along with US Bank and Computers Unlimited, also founded the “Alive After Five” program that brings live entertainment to downtown Billings in the summer, Gulledge said.
To mark the Millennium, The Gazette and several sponsors created Celebrate 2000 to make Billings a better place to live. For more than a year, the initiative polled the community; organized public forums, leadership breakfasts and family events; promoted literacy and interest in science; and built neighborhood relations.
Over the last decade, The Gazette has helped more than 100 local nonprofits with community projects, said Evelyn Noennig, public relations manager and assistant to the publisher.
The newspaper company has been a major sponsor of the YWCA’s Salute to Women, the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, the Montana State University Billings Food and Wine Festival, the Golden Apple Awards and Parmly Billings Library’s Food for Thought.
The Billings YMCA also is among organizations that The Gazette has helped.
Gazette executives also serve on a variety of boards, including those for the Billings Food Bank, the Yellowstone County Council on Aging and the MSU Billings Foundation.
Gulledge is the chairman of the Montana Meth Project and was a past chairman of the Billings Chamber of Commerce.
Many employees also volunteer time to local nonprofit groups and events.
Noennig coordinates the monthly Jeans Day to raise money for local charities through 90 Billings businesses, raising an average of about $2,000 a month.
The Gazette sponsors the Yellowstone County Spelling Bee. Its parent company, Lee Enterprises, has put on the state spelling bee for 45 years.
Many local students learn about world and national events through the Newspapers in Education program sponsored by The Gazette.
Part of an international effort, NIE asks local businesses to help sponsor newspapers in schools where students use them for lessons in current events, writing, history, math and other subjects.
The Gazette has been active in past years, too.
The Gazette gave financial, advertising and editorial support to help the community effort to get ZooMontana off the ground, said Wayne Schile, who was The Gazette’s publisher for 13 years, retiring at the end of 1997.
Schile was chairman of the organization that raised money to build the zoo.
As part of The Gazette’s continuing support of the zoo, Gulledge was board co-chairman for the zoo until two years ago.
The Gazette also supported efforts to convert the Moss Mansion into a museum and save the Billings Depot.
Schile and former editorial-page editor Gary Svee worked with the Institute for Peace Studies at Rocky Mountain College to start the Festival of Cultures.
The Gazette also contributed to the renovation of the old Fox Theater into the Alberta Bair Theater, helped start the Billings Farmers’ Market and supported expansion of the Rocky Mountain College Library.
The Gazette helped initiate the Not in Our Town effort against hate crimes and led a task force against gang violence in Billings, Schile said.
To accommodate Yellowstone Art Museum expansion, The Gazette agreed to abandon the railroad tracks that brought in printing supplies to the newspaper building.
The Gazette didn’t tackle these projects alone, Schile said. It worked with a dedicated group of local residents, without whom these efforts wouldn’t have been successful.
“Billings is fortunate to have a lot of people who are not only philanthropic but are willing to work hard to build the community,” he said.
The Gazette started Trash for Trees, which collected aluminum cans and newspapers. The city then used the money to plant trees throughout Billings, said Rod Davidson, who was The Gazette’s promotion manager at the time.
The Gazette also supported the creation of Riverfront Park in the 1980s.