Kootenai Highland Gathering and Celtic Games succeed again

Men’s Sheaf Toss Event

and Men’s Caber Toss participant pictured at this year’s Kootenai Highland Games in Libby, Mont.

This year’s events had over 85 participants and were held at Kootenai River Bend Restaurant.

Photos by Brian Baxter, The Montanian

By Brian Baxter


Thanks to the efforts of Tammy Blackburn, Dee Teske, Angie McLaury, scores of exceptional athletes, the River Bend Restaurant staff, diverse vendors, and appreciative members of the community, the recent Kootenai Highlanders’ event was an astounding success once again.

Over 85 athletes competed this year, with multiple state records broken, and two world record attempts made. An Daire Academy presented a three sister team song and traditional dance act that rocked the audience. The Clan Booths drew a lot of attention, and of course the Pipes and Drums group helped set the atmosphere.

And a fine atmosphere it was. In the wee hours of Saturday morning, a mist rose off the Kootenai River. The sounds of Celtic music, lively fiddles, heartfelt drums, cheery flutes, and a variety of stringed instruments played in the background as the breeze gently cooled the fields and stirred the leaves of the cottonwood and aspen trees.

In a magical way, one felt transported to Connemara National Park in the Maamturk Mountains near Clifden in Galway County, Ireland. Not only does the setting of the River Bend Restaurant, with it’s forested surrounding hills and riverside location remind a person of the hills and dales of Ireland and Scotland, but with very manly men, and very beautifully strong women dressed in kilts roaming about, time seemed to travel.

And indeed, as Larry McKenzie, President Elect of Clan MacKenzie explained, many of the games are connected to the ancient warfare of the Celts and Scots.

Both the light 16 pound hammer throws, and the heavy 22 and heavier pound hammer toss events are designed after the ball and chain weapons used in ancient warfare to knock an armored cavalry soldier off his horse.

These weapons, swung by a strong warrior, had an effective range of 40 to 80 yards. In the past, warriors of tribes were often not permitted by ruling kings and queens to train for warfare, so the inventive and warlike peoples came up with these activities to disguise their passion for training. The Caber Toss event is rumored to have evolved from the tactic used by ancient warriors to scale castle walls.

Not only do the folks of northwestern Montana love having the participants come here, but the athletes love coming here too. Mandi Vorhees, a lady who participates in both the ladies hammer toss and caber throw, came here from Ohio.

Mandi said, “It’s a gorgeous place to throw, right on the river, you can’t beat the scenery.” She then added, “People are very accommodating, hopefully I can come back next year.”

Chuck McClain, Athletic Director and Vice-President of the SAAA organizational body said, “It’s family. It doesn’t matter where you are from or how far you have traveled. The Kootenai Highlanders and the SAAA will treat you like family.” And with a big smile he mentioned, “Age is a number, we have athletes of all ages and abilities. Good vibes as my daughter Lauren would say. The Kootenai provides the complete package, filling my heart with joy.”

When leaving the Kootenai Highlanders Gathering and Celtic Games, a lone bagpiper played a powerful, haunting tune that was inspiring. When asked what the title of the piece was, he said with a thick brogue, “Call To Your Blood.” Appropriate title.

Libby Senior Center, a pillar of senior support, seeks volunteers

By Tyler Whitney


Five hundred years ago, the English poet and theologian John Donne exclaimed that “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent…” that all people, by nature, form an inseparable whole, a “continent” defined by its entirety rather than its individual parts. Should any portion of that continent, to continue the metaphor, fall into the sea and become isolated and alone, it not only diminishes the whole, but diminishes each individual as a part of that whole. In a time of COVID, loneliness and isolation, have struck many of the most vulnerable in our communities and made them islands: senior citizens who are more likely to live alone or live immunocompromised. Fortunately for Libby, the Libby Senior Center (LSC) stands at the ready to provide medical supplies, entertainment, and meals for seniors in need.

Humans are social creatures. We need human interaction, crave it, thrive off finding people that make us feel not alone. What good is language if there is no one to talk to? How would we understand compassion, joy, and love without receiving them from others first? What would we consider our best memories, if there were nobody to share experiences with? Ultimately, each of these questions should lead to the undisputable conclusion that loneliness is the antagonist to the human condition. For seniors especially, isolation is not only antithesis to human nature, but an active force in destroying life.

In 2015, researchers at Brigham Young University conducted research regarding the health effects of loneliness on seniors. First comes the increased levels of depression, stress, and anxiety as the world narrows. Healthy habits begin to deteriorate as ease dictates more drinking, smoking, unhealthy eating, and sedentary behavior. A lack of interaction with others leads to cognitive function decreasing and a higher chance of Alzheimer’s. Then finally, the chance of death increases as if the individual was either obese or a smoker. More shocking than the effects of isolation, however, is the scope. Out of the 300,000 seniors examined in the BYU meta-study, near 40% of seniors were experiencing isolation and loneliness. For communities with aging populations and fewer people caring for the elderly, this is an absolutely devastating phenomenon.

For certain, COVID-19 only makes isolation worse, keeping more of the elderly inside and isolated from the community, afraid that they will become infected with a life-threatening disease. Before COVID-19, there were programs in communities to combat senior loneliness and provide services to those most likely to suffer in silence. For Libby, the Libby Senior Center (LSC)  has been a pillar of senior support, creating community events for senior citizens such as bingo night or domino night to help people get out of the house. For those who couldn’t attend even then, LSC created a library of puzzles and books that could be picked up or delivered at home. Beyond entertainment, they also provided both durable medical supplies such as crutches, shower chairs, and wheelchairs and non-durable supplies such as adult diapers.

Many of these programs have had to end or adapt with COVID-19 as the facilities used to hosting dozens of friends and comrades have been closed. For one program in particular, however, slowing down is not much of an option. Meals-on-Wheels has fed hundreds of Libby residents, and for senior citizens, the demand for food has only gone up as leaving the home for the grocery store has become potentially deadly. And though the increase of demand may not be surprising, what was not expected was the increase in duration of calls by seniors looking for a meal. “[Senior loneliness] has become significantly worse,” explained Dedi Coy, the project manager of LSC, “people are calling for meals and talking later because they are lonely and bored.”

With social distancing and many public activities shut down, going above and beyond can look like little things such as simply talking on the phone a little longer, but the capacity for LSC to provide even the basic services to seniors in the community has run distressingly low. On a weekly basis, there would usually be nearly 15 volunteers helping out, but with the disease, active volunteers have shrunk to around five, well under the number needed with the increased demand. And as COVID-19 only increases in severity, even some volunteers that were considered permanent have been unable to continue their service leaving a greater hole that needs to be filled.

The pandemic has the ability to make islands of us all, separate us from each other not only politically, but physically. And just as we strive to bridge ideological divides, we must also strive to bridge the physical divides in our community.

LSC is constantly in need of volunteers to deliver food and supplies, and with a recent departure from the team, the need has become critical. If you have health concerns about volunteering, the LSC team has taken all precautions to keep volunteers and patrons safe, including strict personal protective equipment, hygiene, and social distancing guidelines.

If you are unable to volunteer but still want to help, financial donations or donations of durable medical equipment and books are welcomed as well. If you wish to find out more information on how you can help seniors in the community, LSC can be found on Facebook and contacted by phone at  293-7222.

Pre-Covid volunteer appreciation ceremony. Board and volunteers present. Photo courtesy of Dedi Coy.