By Phil Stempin, UM News Service
MISSOULA – Lyndee Nikkila and her twin sister Stephanie wanted more adventure in life, so they moved from Sherwood, Oregon to Missoula to attend the University of Montana. They found what they were looking for by spending time in the forest.
“We both knew that we wanted to live in the mountains,” said Lyndee. “Our adventures began during the first week we got here.”
“I participated in pulling cross-cut saw and underhand block,” said Lyndee. “COVID threw a wrench in things, and I never got to actually compete. But I did find chopping wood to be somewhat therapeutic.”
Stephanie majored in wildlife biology within the W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation and went on to be the co-captain of the Woodsman Team. Lyndee majored in political science and is now a second-year law student at the Alexander Blewett III School of Law.
“We both wanted to serve and protect the wilderness,” said Lyndee. “My sister works for the Fish and Wildlife, and I’m focusing on becoming an environmental lawyer.”
So, for the Nikkila sisters, this weekend’s Foresters’ Ball means much more than just a two-day party on campus.
The ball is a fundraiser for students in the College of Forestry. Money raised goes toward scholarships for forestry students. The ball also brings back forestry alumni who help set up and decorate.
“It’s our homecoming,” said Lyndee. “Past members come back to help with the build, and everyone pitches in. I currently have three people crashing on my couch while we get everything together.”
Being part of a 107-year-old tradition isn’t lost on Lyndee – particularly one chapter that started in the 1930s.
A week or so before the ball, law students steal Bertha, Forestry’s mascot moose head, and hold it for ransom in the law school building. The forestry students in return fill the law school atrium with freshly cut fir trees.
“It feels incredible to be on both sides of such a longstanding tradition,” said Lyndee. “Now I’m jokingly referred to as a ‘lawyer spy’ from my forestry friends.”
“I’ve met people who have been doing this for 60 years,” Lyndee added. “Some got ‘married’ at the ball and then later on in real life. I’m excited to get to connect with friends old and new, I’m going to do this forever.”
Being a law student is Lyndee’s current focus, but she still finds time to stay involved in the forestry community.
“I get updates on the ballroom’s construction while I’m in class,” said Lyndee. “We held the transition and are passing it on to the future. This is such a niche experience you can’t get anywhere but the University of Montana.”
With the ball coming up this weekend, things are at a feverish pace with the build. Lyndee is now a seasoned forester and helps the new members put things in perspective.
“I like to tell them to get excited [about participating in the Foresters’ Ball construction],” said Lyndee. “All the timber ancestors are shining down on you at this moment.”
The Missoula community is invited to Community Forester Day, a family friendly version of the Foresters’ Ball, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 3, in UM’s Schreiber Gym.
Contact: Phil Stempin, director of events, marketing and communications, UM Alexander Blewett III School of Law, 406-243-6509, email@example.com.