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The chill and snow of the return of a real Montana winter didn’t discourage a good turnout for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day bell ringing at Montana State University Billings on Monday morning.

A crowd of about 50 people gathered under the steel frame of the old Maverick Hose Co. bell to usher in the observance of the federal holiday honoring the civil rights leader.

University facilities personnel had swept away a couple of inches of new snow under the bell to make access easier to the site in Peaks to Prairie Park.

The crowd included Billings Mayor Tom Hanel, MSU Billings Chancellor Rolf Groseth, representatives from the Montana congressional delegation, and the Yellowstone County commissioners.

The Rev. Robin Allen of the Wayman Chapel noted that the bell ringing in Billings was coordinated with bells being rung across the country to honor King’s quest for peace and fight against injustice.

Participants in the MSU Billings Campus Corps read quotations from King before one of its members, Erin Tieszen, stepped up to the bell and pulled the rope.

Through the Campus Corps, MSU Billings students volunteer for local nonprofit groups. During his lifetime, King encouraged others to serve the community and volunteering has become part of King’s birthday.

The first swing of the bell sent a shower of snow down on the Campus Corps members, who laughed along with the audience.

The program continued inside the warmth of the student union building.

Taking a cue from King’s emphasis on diversity, James Catlin, president of the Associated Students of MSU Billings, said the growth of the number of international students attending the university and that the two fastest-growing segments of the student body are American Indian and Hispanic students.

Jim Corson from U.S. Sen. Max Baucus’ office read a letter from the senator that encouraged everyone to honor King’s goals of peace, justice and equality by putting them into practice every day.

In a letter read by Linda Price, U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg called King “a true American hero.”

Eran Thompson, chairman of Not in Our Town Billings, talked about visiting the new Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in Washington, D.C.

Inspired by one of Kings’ quotes from the site — “Out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope” — Thompson gave a dramatic presentation of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

Jeff Rosenberry, MSU Billings assistant housing and student life director, said that as a 16-year-old student, he heard about King’s message about community service.

That led to Rosenberry volunteering as a Little League baseball umpire, a service he still provides.

Children from the William R. Lowe Childcare Center on campus and the MSU Billings University Chorus sang songs in honor of King.

Contact Mary Pickett at mpickett@billingsgazette.com or 657-1262.

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