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Plenty Of Local News During 2023

Year In Review

The year 2023 was full of news in the eastern Roosevelt County area. Here are some of the interesting stories in the area for each month of the year.


1. Phyllis and Gary Sethre were recognized for 35 years of volunteer service during the Roosevelt County 4-H Achievement Day program. Gary has been a market beef leader and has also been involved with the crop science project. Phyllis organized the Frontier club in Wolf Point. She has been a leader in all levels of the horsemanship and market sheep projects. Both have served many years as our county’s representatives for the 4-H legislative breakfasts.

2. The Roosevelt County Sheriff’s Office recognized three of its top employees during presentations. Honored were Dhareen Villaluz as Deputy of the Year, Jared Taylor as Detention Officer of the Year and Brandy Sutton as Dispatcher of the Year.

3. Culbertson High School graduate and Kalispell FFA adviser and agricultural education teacher Justin Heupel received the National FFA Organization’s highest degree for his exceptional service to agricultural education and FFA on a national level.

4. The Culbertson speech and drama program earned second place in Class C speech sweepstakes during the divisional meet in Roundup on Jan. 21. Culbertson’s Trevor Green earned second place for informative speech at the competition.

5. Commissioner Gordon Oelkers was voted presiding officer for the Roosevelt County commissioners.


1. Trevor Green, a Culbertson senior, earned first-place honors for informative speaking during the Class C state speech and drama competition held in Manhattan.

Green said he was fairly confident heading into the event that he had the ability needed to take home the championship. “I had the feeling,” he said. “The day before when I was in the shower, I thought to myself that I’m going to do this and nobody is going to stop me.”

2. District Judge Katherine Bidegaray ruled that Frank Piocos wasn’t an eligible candidate in the Roosevelt County attorney election held in November. The ruling came after Northern Plains Independent and Community News publisher Darla Downs filed a complaint against Piocos in Roosevelt County District Court. Downs filed the complaint Jan. 20, which claimed that Piocos is not qualified to assume the office of county attorney because he falsely registered as an elector of Roosevelt County when he provided a Roosevelt County address that was not his residence in order to register and seek the office.

3. Anna Steppler repeated as the spelling bee champion at Culbertson during the competition, which featured 20 contestants, on Jan. 25. It was the third year in a row that Steppler won Culbertson’s bee.

4. Roosevelt County commissioners approved 18 of 19 resolutions to declare the existence of several county roads during their regular meeting on Jan. 31. The resolution voted down by a 2-1 margin was 2023-74, which dealt with Road 1017.

5. A former county attorney of Richland County has been selected by Roosevelt County commissioners to serve as an interim county attorney. During a meeting on Feb. 9, commissioners and other elected officials discussed the best way to proceed after Frank Piocos was removed from the office of county attorney when District Judge Katherine Bidegaray ruled Piocos wasn’t an eligible candidate on Feb. 3.


1. After 25 years serving as Culbertson’s superintendent of schools, Larry Crowder officially resigned from the position. Crowder has accepted the position as the executive director for the Montana Rural Education Association. He has been a board member for the organization.

2. Culbertson’s longtime speech and drama coach Jeri Gustafson has achieved a regional first in youth education. Gustafson was inducted earlier this month into the Montana Forensic Educators’ Hall of Fame. She is the first Eastern C coach to receive the honor.

3. Former Roosevelt County attorney Frank Piocos hired attorney Phillip DeFelice to appeal to the Montana Supreme Court the ruling that he wasn’t an eligible candidate in the 2022 election. In addition to private practice, DeFelice currently serves as the Wolf Point city attorney.

4. Three students from Culbertson High School qualified for the national competition during the Montana BPA conference. The top five students in each category advance to the national meet. Culbertson’s senior Makena Hauge earned second place in server administration using Microsoft and network administration using Cisco. Alicyn Ator, also a senior, qualified for nationals by placing third in SQL database fundamentals. Ayden Ator, a freshman, advanced to nationals by placing fourth in SQL database.

5. Roosevelt County commissioners voted against a request to abandon County Road 2058. Commissioner Robert Toavs made the motion not to approve the request. The motion was seconded by commissioner Gary Macdonald and approved unanimously. The request was made by landowner Lynn Labatte for property near Culbertson.


1. The Montana Department of Transportation and Knife River Construction were gearing up for a new project on U.S. 2. The U.S. 2 - Culbertson project continues previous and ongoing roadway improvements in Roosevelt County to enhance safety and improve pedestrian accessibility, drainage and roadway conditions in Culbertson.

2. Three candidates filed for two available positions on the Culbertson School Board. Candidates were Wendy Becker, Shadd Cullinan and Chris Petersen.

3. The Culbertson School Board conducted an interview with Nicole Simonsen, a superintendent candidate. Trustee Eric Bergum made motion to offer a superintendent contract to Simonsen for 2023-2026 for $97,000 per year and a $1,500 per month housing allowance. The motion was approved pending the release of Simonsen’s contract with the Lambert School District.

4. Members of the Golden Plains Library Federation discussed a variety of topics during its semi-annual meeting. The federation includes library representatives from the eastern Montana counties of Phillips, Sheridan, Valley, Blaine, Daniels and Roosevelt. The Fort Peck Community College is also represented.

5. Roosevelt County commissioners approved sending a letter of support for an Amtrak extension near Malta. The proposal aims to create double railroad tracks for a 15-mile span in order to improve service for Amtrak. The Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority is teaming up with Amtrak to apply for funding through the Federal Railroad Administration’s Federal State Partnership program.


1. Post 81 Commander Peggy Purvis presents Herman Jensen with a pin and certificate for 75 years of continuous membership in the American Legion Post. Jensen has held many positions in his time with the post including the position of state commander.

2. Culbertson residents voted two new school board members into office during an election on May 2. Wendy Becker received 201 votes and Christopher Petersen received 149 votes to earn trustee positions. Shadd Cullinan took third with 116 votes.

3. Nine students represented Culbertson High School well during the IGNITE Jobs for Montana Graduates conference held in Helena. Marissa Littlewhiteman earned firstplace honors in public speaking for seniors. The senior was the only student selected to speak at the awards banquet on the keynote panel about her experiences and plans for the future.

4. Voters in the Culbertson Hospital District approved a 9 mill levy request for emergency medical services during an election on May 2. Unofficial results were 325 in favor of the request and 123 votes against the request. The mill levy is expected to be permanent. The hospital currently receives 3 mills annually. The request will be an addition to that amount.

5. Culbertson City Council member Todd Gabriel was appointed unanimously by the council to fill Larry Crowder’s role as mayor from June 15 until January 2024.


1. The Culbertson School Board is having a new chairman for the first time in almost two decades. Paul Finnicum decided to no longer serve in the position after being the chair for 18 years. When he opened the reorganizational meeting in May, Finnicum informed board members that they could nominate anybody for the chair position except for him. Mark Colvin was voted the new board chair. Ian Walker was selected vice chair.

2. The Culbertson Frontier Days parade was held in Culbertson on June 10. Floats from community organizations and individuals lined up at the school at 11 a.m. and proceeded down Broadway Avenue. The Culbertson Volunteer Fire Department, American Legion, area individuals on horseback all participated, along with other groups and classic cars enthusiasts.

3. Roosevelt County commissioners agreed to provide a letter of support for Roosevelt Memorial Hospital in Culbertson for the purpose of purchasing a new ambulance. Commissioners say hospital officials are seeking a grant for the purchase. The letter notes that the department’s current limited ambulance resources provide a challenge to adequately respond to mass casualty events.

4. Bainville town clerk Nikki Rogers has resigned her position. As of June 1, she will be taking a new position as a technical assistance provider for Montana Rural Water Systems in Great Falls.

5. Roosevelt County commissioners approved the transfer of a lease for the Picard gravel pit from Franz Construction to Roosevelt County during a meeting June 13. The pit is located north of Bainville. The county is looking to lease one section of the property.


1. The Roosevelt County commissioners voted by a 2-0 margin to not extend the contract of Janet Christoffersen as the county’s interim county attorney. Commissioner Gary Macdonald abstained from voting after hearing comments by staff members from the county attorney’s office in support of Christoffersen. She was appointed as interim attorney during a meeting on Feb. 9 for a four-month period.

2. Gov. Greg Gianforte visited Culbertson’s Roosevelt Medical Center. In early June, Gianforte launched his third annual 56 County Tour. In Culbertson, he spoke with residents at the medical center, volunteers and staff at the facility and was treated to a meet and greet with area 4-H standouts with their animals.

3. Quarter-size hail struck the Culbertson, Bainville and Froid areas in the afternoon of July 11. Damage was reported to vehicles and longtime residents said that the storm was unusually violent. Hail could be seen piled up around Culbertson for more than 24 hours after the event. National Weather Service meteorologist Angel Enriquez said some hail was reported as large as an inch and a half. Winds in the 60 miles per hour range were also reported.

4. After deciding not to renew the contract of interim county attorney Janet Christoffersen a few weeks earlier, Roosevelt County commissioners agreed to change the county attorney position to a part-time position.

Commissioner Robert Toavs made the motion to change the position to part-time and cited MCA 7-4-2706, which reads. Commissioner Gordon Oelkers said by making the position parttime, it might create more interest from attorneys who work in other counties.

5. Wolf Point Mayor Chris Dschaak’s meeting with Roosevelt County commissioners regarding a memoriam of understanding got off to a rocky start, but the parties agreed to schedule work sessions to work on a possible agreement. The issue regards the county and city working together on the issue of dilapidated taxdeed properties.


1. Froid student Lilly Johnson wasn’t overly confident about her chances in the market beef competition heading into the Roosevelt County Fair. She thought her steer was capable of earning honors, but she just didn’t know what kind of mood Guapo was going to be in during the judging. “He’s a little stubborn sometimes, but he knows what he’s doing,” said Johnson, who is entering her sophomore year. “I’m always nervous about stuff that I care about.” Guapo’s mood was certainly good enough at the fair. The result was Johnson winning the grand champion honor for market beef.

2. Roosevelt County 4-H added two new members to its wall of fame on Aug. 11. Honored prior to the livestock sale at the Roosevelt County Fair were Clay Petersen of Culbertson and the Tractor Supply Company of Sidney.

3. Janet Christoffersen, who was removed by the Roosevelt County commissioners from the position of county attorney at the end of June, has filed a complaint against the county. Christoffersen is seeking a declaration from the court that she remains the Roosevelt County attorney because commissioners don’t have the authority to remove her from office. She is requesting a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction barring Roosevelt County from any action prohibiting her from performing the duties of the position.

4. A state-of-the-art new playground greeted Culbertson’s students for the start of the school year. Larry Grondahl of Grondahl Recreation was pleased with the outcome of the playground that he designed and installed. “It’s actually one of the largest ones in Montana,” Grondahl said. He noted the new evolution tower system featured in the playground is special.

5. The new superintendent of schools in Froid is loving the school and community during his first few weeks on the job. “I’m so blown away by the students and the staff. I love the high expectations,” superintendent Steve Mayhue said. “I’m blown away with the hospitality. It’s very refreshing to see an environment like this.” Mayhue has 29 years of experience as an educator including 21 years in Casper, Wyo., where he taught math and computer science along with personal and social responsibility. He was also a summer school administrator and district mentor in Casper.


1. The Roosevelt County commissioners approved the county’s budget for the 2023-2024 fiscal year during a meeting Sept. 7. The budget increased by only 1.35 percent compared to last year. “Nobody’s budget got cut,” Commissioner Gordon Oelkers said. Commissioner Robert Toavs added that there were no big subtractions or additions to the budget.

2. Attorney Janet Christoffersen and the Roosevelt County commissioners each testified during a lengthly hearing as Christoffersen sought a preliminary injunction barring Roosevelt County from any action prohibiting her from performing the duties of Roosevelt County attorney. At debate is whether during a public meeting on Feb. 9, there was an agreement made on a four-month interim contract. Commissioners decided not to expand the contract during a meeting in June.

3. Roosevelt County Fire Marshal Mike Olson reported that multiple agencies were dispatched to fight fires burning south of U.S. Highway 2 near Fort Kipp on Sept. 1. He said multiple structures were threatened, but nobody was hurt. “The call came in at 3:49 p.m. on Friday,” said Olson. “It was paged out as multiple fires along BIA Route 1.” Olson said the fire ultimately burned more than 1,500 acres, 4. Former Roosevelt County attorney Frank Piocos’ appeal to the Montana Supreme Court was denied. Piocos appealed to the Montana Supreme Court the ruling that he wasn’t an eligible candidate in the 2022 election.

District judge Katherine Bidegaray ruled in February that Piocos wasn’t an eligible candidate after Wolf Point resident Darla Downs claimed that Piocos wasn’t qualified to assume the office of county attorney because he falsely registered as an elector of Roosevelt County.

5. Ardis Oelkers celebrated her retirement from MSU Extension Roosevelt County Family Consumer Science and 4-H Youth Development agent on Sept. 21. She was an agent for 34 years.


1. Judge Michael G. Moses ruled in favor of attorney Janet Christoffersen in her request for a preliminary injunction barring Roosevelt County from any action prohibiting her from performing the duties of county attorney. Moses wrote that Christoffersen is reinstated as the interim Roosevelt County attorney with all the responsibilities and benefits of that office until such time as the commissioners fulfill their statutory duty to appoint in accordance with Montana statute 7-4-2206 (2)(a). That statute reads that vacancies in all county offices, except that of county commissioner, must be filled by appointment by the board of county commissioners. The appointed individual holds the office, if elective, until the person elected at the next general election is certified.

2. The Roosevelt County commissioners approved an action to send a letter to the Montana Department of Transportation to request a speed study be conducted just outside of Culbertson.

Commissioner Gordon Oelkers explained some residents would like the speed limit to be reduced from 70 miles per hour to 55 miles per hour between the beet dump and bridge south of the overpass near Culbertson.

3. The Culbertson School Board approved a bid for the elementary roof project during its meeting held on Oct. 17. Thiel Brothers Roofing of Sidney offered a 45mil membrane with a 15-year warranty for $120,779 or a 75mil membrane with a 25-year warranty for $131,249. Trustee Paul Finnicum made a motion to approve the 75-mil membrane for $131,249. The motion passed unanimously.

4. During the Fort Peck Tribal Executive Board’s regular meeting Oct. 23, in Poplar, the board voted to close non-tribal bird hunting on the reservation effective immediately.

Board member Marva Chapman was the sole dissenting voice in opposition to the move. According to a press release, the vote follows “several altercations and threats of violence against tribal hunters and landowners.” The statement adds that the tribes “will not be issuing refunds for licenses and permits that already been purchased.”

5. Sales for cannabis appear to be steadily increasing both in Roosevelt County and the entire state of Montana. According to the Montana Department of Revenue, sales during August in Roosevelt County was $407,433. The amount includes $327,335 for adult use sales and $80,098 for medical. The total translates to $13,143 spent daily in the county on cannabis.


1. Roosevelt County commissioners approved an agreement regarding the Picard gravel pit, located north of Bainville, during a meeting on Oct. 24. The five-year agreement has the county paying $2.25 per crushed ton for all rock, gravel, sand, aggregate, clay and earthen materials. Commissioner Gordon Oelkers said the county has worked with Franz Construction regarding obtaining gravel from the pit in past years, but now they will have a contract with the actual pit.

2. Former Roosevelt County employee Frank Piocos filed a lawsuit against the county last week. The action seeks declaratory relief and claims the county didn’t have authority to remove him from office. District Judge Katherine Bidegaray ruled in February that Piocos wasn’t an eligible candidate after Wolf Point resident Darla Downs claimed that Piocos wasn’t qualified to assume the office of county attorney because he falsely registered as an elector of Roosevelt County.

3. Bainville School students thanked area veterans during their annual program held on Friday, Nov. 10. “I think about this day for weeks, but this week it was really on my mind,” superintendent Darin Hannum said at the conclusion of the well-attended event. He noted that veterans exemplify the ideas of duty, dedication and honor. “The kids just have to look in the community for real heroes,” Hannum said.

4. Local resident Chris Newbill delivered the address for the Veteran’s Day assembly at Culbertson High School gym Nov. 9, Newbill served in the U.S. Air Force from 2002-2008, when he was medically retired at the rank of Staff Sergent (E5).

5. A Roosevelt County resident is seeking a legal writ of review to stop the county from control of Road 2058 near Culbertson. Property owners Lynn Labatte, Linda Labatte and L& L Land and Livestock filed the motion in district court.


1. Culbertson council members Abe Rumsey and Carl Donaldson and Mayor Todd Gabriel were sworn in by clerk Terri Merrill at the Dec. 11 regular meeting. Rumsey represents Ward 1 and Donaldson is located in Ward II.

2. Roosevelt County commissioners unanimously agreed to table a decision regarding hiring Erika Fyfe as a paralegal for the county attorney’s office during their meeting on Dec. 19. County attorney Janet Christoffersen recommended Fyfe for the paralegal position with a pay of 85 percent of the clerk and recorder’s salary. Fyfe resigned as the county legal assistant in August. A replacement hasn’t been hired for that position. “You don’t create a new position in the middle of a budget cycle,” Commissioner Gary Macdonald said.

3. The Roosevelt County commissioners have agreed to a memorandum of understanding with the city of Wolf Point to clean up abandoned tax deeded properties in Wolf Point. Wolf Point Mayor Chris Dschaak and Roosevelt County deputy attorney Thomas Bleicher first approached commissioners about the idea in late May. They were pleased with the commissioner’s approval.

4. Roosevelt County Commissioner Gordon Oelkers was voted the second vice president for the Montana Association of Counties. Oelkers is now in line to serve as the organization’s president in two years.

5. The Culbertson Area Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture held its quarterly meeting Dec. 5 at the town hall. Wayne Hendrickson will continue to serve as the group’s president.

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