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2012 Saturday Live

Karen Moses remembers it clearly.

The Education Foundation for Billings Public Schools was struggling and needed something big.

"That's what Cal Winslow told us. 'One of the things you're missing is a signature event,' " Moses said.

It was the early 1990s and Winslow was a business leader in Billings. Moses — a past SD2 board trustee — and others were looking at possible events and fundraisers for the foundation, and he offered just the right advice.

A single event destined to draw in people from all over Billings and support all the schools in the city seemed a herculean task at the time — and in many respects it was, Moses said.

"We had a lot of dreamers," she said.

Now, 20 years later, Saturday Live has become exactly what its organizers set out for it to be — that one event for raising money for schools that everyone knows.

And the focus has never changed. Saturday Live is about getting the community to support all its schools.

"That's the beauty of Saturday Live," said Julie Whitworth, the education foundation's event coordinator.

The event took the idea of a school carnival and magnified it. Every school supplied some kind of booth or activity and all the money they made there went straight back to the school.

One of the early dilemmas for original organizers was trying to decide where to stage it. They quickly dismissed the idea of doing it outdoors. Fall or spring, any outdoor event in Montana is doomed to be rained out or snowed under, Moses said.

But organizers quickly found that there was no indoor venue that could accommodate what they wanted to do. So they gambled on staging it at Pioneer Park in late September.

"I like to say the gods were with us. Had we had bad weather that first year," Moses said, letting her voice trail off.

From there it just snowballed, she said.

Saturday Live now has a life of its own. Whitworth doesn't worry too much about the event getting stale or stagnant. Year to year there's plenty of turnover between parents, volunteers and students and that helps.

"That in itself is new energy," Whitworth said.

She's also aware that the event's carnival-like structure works. It offers variety and keeps visitors active.

"We don't tweak a whole lot anymore because it works," Whitworth said.

This year, along with celebrating 20 years of Saturday Live, organizers will also recognize the Education Foundation, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary.

Looking back over the years, Moses is proud of what the foundation has done for schools in Billings. And she's proud of the legacy she and other have built with Saturday Live.

"It is still stunning to see that many people join us in the park," she said.  


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Business Reporter

Business Reporter for the Billings Gazette.