By Kyle Spurr, UM News Service
MISSOULA – Forestry students and volunteers have spent the week transforming the University of Montana’s Schreiber Gym into a century-old logging town for the 104th Foresters’ Ball.
The work started Monday with the students placing pieces of wood flooring across the empty gymnasium. Then came the freshly cut logs and chainsaws, which were used to support false fronts of a saloon, chapel, jail and other buildings. In the midst of the commotion, UM forestry student Jaiden Stansberry took a moment to appreciate the transformation and return of the revered campus tradition.
Stansberry, a junior who grew up in Yosemite National Park, had no idea what to expect since the Foresters’ Ball was canceled the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Only the senior class remembers having the 103rd ball in February 2020.
“Most of us haven't gone to one before so it’s just this idea of a ball,” Stansberry said. “But now to actually put it together, it’s been super exciting to see it come into place.”
This year’s ball is open to the public and will be held at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Feb. 3-4. Tickets are available online. The theme is “Burnin’ Ground and Swingin’ Around!” and the attire is sure to include flannels, jeans, boots, overalls and cowboy hats.
Mason Banks, a senior forestry student and “chief push” of the Foresters’ Ball committee, said he felt a sense of responsibility to bring back the ball. If it wasn’t for all the hard work this year, the tradition could have died, he said. The Foresters’ Ball dates back to 1915 and has only been canceled for two years during World War II and the past two years for the pandemic.
“I don’t think there’s any other school that has this kind of tradition,” Banks said. “We really do owe it to those who came before us to put it on right and have this celebration.”
The Foresters’ Ball also is a fundraiser for students in the W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation. Money raised goes toward scholarships for forestry students.
“As a freshman, I helped out and I was awarded a scholarship that helped me stay at the University,” Banks said. “That’s the goal for each individual ball is to reward those who helped build it.”
Eric Hoberg, a UM forestry alumnus and UM Woodman Team coach, knows first-hand how hard students work to create the ball each year. Hoberg served on the Foresters’ Ball committee as a student until graduating in 2006, and he’s stayed involved ever since.
Hoberg has been in Schreiber Gym each day this week assisting with construction. He has shared his two decades of experience and reminds students how their effort will all be worth it once the doors open Friday night. Hoberg hopes the forestry students find some time to enjoy it themselves.
“It’s quite common to work right up until the ball is done in order to get things completed,” Hoberg said. “Often you just walk out to your truck, have a snack, change your shirt and walk back in again. But at the same time, there’s still something about when all the lights are down and the band is tuning up and everything is ready.”
The Foresters’ Ball is put on by forestry students, but it is meant for the general public and entire UM community. Leading up to this year’s ball, UM alumni from all majors have reached out to student organizers about how much the event means to them. Some have shared stories about meeting their future spouses at the ball, or now having their own children attend.
Sonny Capece, a UM alumnus who graduated in 2019 with a political science degree, said he will never forget the first time he walked into the ball as a freshman. He had just moved to Montana from Tallahassee, Florida.
“I went and fell in love with the whole thing,” Capece said. “It was probably the most unique event in a university setting I had ever encountered.”
After that night, Capece decided to join the UM Forestry Club and eventually became the treasurer on the Foresters’ Ball committee. The experience of enlisting donations and organizing the ball was an incredible experiential learning experience, he said. Capece uses those skills today as the state director for Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke.
“It was really good training,” Capece said. “That’s all I do now is organize large, high-profile events with the government.”
By the end of the first construction day on Monday, Stansberry and her forestry classmates started visualizing the ball coming to life. They could see where people would get fake married or divorced in the chapel, have a drink in the beer garden or explore past balls in a museum.
To create the ball this year, the students relied on black and white photos and historic notes written decades ago. Now that the ball is returning, they hope to write their own chapter.
“To be able to make a tradition happen that has happened for 100 years is something spectacular,” Stansberry said. “I’m excited to see how people change it over the next few years and what they do to make it bigger and better.”
Contact: Dave Kuntz, UM director of strategic communications, 406-243-5659, firstname.lastname@example.org