By Stacy Walenter
Wings was founded in the Flathead Valley in 1995. According to the Wings website, “Wings Regional Cancer Support is a not-for-profit organization created to offer financial assistance to northwest Montana individuals and their families to help defray out-of-pocket expenses associated with cancer treatment.”
In 1997, Suzanne and Keith Haggerty, the owners of the Yaak River Mercantile and Tavern at the time, wanted to do something to support the Wings effort. They held a Mexican-themed fundraising dinner followed by a live auction.
The mercantile has changed ownership several times over the years, but with each new owner, the commitment to the event has continued.
In 2010, then owner Bob Zaccheo added raffles to the celebration. Linehan Outfitters donated a day-long fishing trip, an offering that still continues. This year there will also be a rifle raffle and a chainsaw raffle.
“The Yaak celebration is only a piece of the puzzle,” said Sandy Beder-Miller. There are also events in Libby, Eureka, and Troy. Beder-Miller said that last year, the Yaak earned over $25,000 for Wings from their auction and over $14,000 from the Wings Walk held later in the year. “This little community is raising close to $40,000, which I think is phenomenal.”
The Wings Walk was started in 2014 by Roberta DeNeau. Participants walk the length of Yaak River Road from mile marker 30 to Highway 2 for as long as they wish.
“I’ve lived here for four years and the way people help each other and their generosity is inspiring,” Beder-Miller said.
The generosity of the Yaak community returned home when local resident Hugh Hollyday was diagnosed with cancer. When DeNeau heard of his illness, she urged him to apply to Wings.
“She stood over my shoulder and had me fill out the form. Then she sent it in for me,” Hollyday said during an interview on Thursday, April 26. “Six weeks later, I find this check for $2,400. It felt good. It felt like someone loved me. I’ve supported Wings for 18 years and I will continue. It’s a great outfit.”
Two days before the interview, Hollyday found out that he is now cancer-free.
The Yaak committee consists entirely of unpaid volunteers, some who work full-time to bring the benefit to fruition. Every penny goes to the people who need it.
This year, the fundraiser will begin at 2pm on May 5, when the tent will open for the silent auction. People may view the live auction items at this time. The Mexican-themed dinner is at 5pm and costs $10 per person. The live auction begins at 6:30pm.
Libby resident and professional auctioneer Kelly Moreford will host the auction and Jim Mayo will be master of ceremonies.
“It’s so much fun to watch this auction and see what people bid on and what bids get driven up,” Beder-Miller said. “A basket of cookies went for $400 one year and a hanging basket of flowers sold for $600.”
“I hate to have someone need to use [the money], but I am glad something like Wings is here. It’s a great help,” Beder-Miller said. “Insurance doesn’t cover a lot of things that people need when a family member is ill.”
According to the Wings website, 51 people in Lincoln County received assistance in 2017.
For more information, or to purchase raffle tickets, call the Yaak River Tavern at 295-4706. Both the Yaak Wings Benefit and the Yaak Wings Walk have Facebook pages and you can visit the official Wings website at www.wingsnwmontana.org.