Memorial restored

Print Article

For Memorial Day 2019, past commanders of American Legion Post 108 Whitefish and Post 72 Columbia Falls co-ordinated a new fatality marker for the "Essex 9." The original post and 9 crosses were so weather worn from spray, gravel, time and vandalism, that a new design was completed. Acutech took Mike Shepard's idea and came up with the design shown. Both American Legion posts paid for the project, and both posts' members helped install the new marker at Essex. Pictured left to right are Mike Hirtes, Gene Lamb, Charles Abell, Michael Shepard (behind crosses), Burt May, Bill LaBrie, and Ron Brunner. The marker has been moved off the berm and now faces U.S. 2. The crosses honor the nine people killed in the January 1984 Whitefish High School wrestling bus crash. Those who died were wrestling coach Jim Withrow; volunteer coach Wayde Davis, his wife, Jana, and their 3-year-old son Casey; bus driver Jim Byrd of Columbia Falls; cheerleaders Stefanie Daily, Kim Dowaliby and Tracy Maddux, and statistician Pamela Fredenberg.(Courtesy photo)

More than 35 years after their deaths, the victims of the 1984 school bus crash near Essex have a new memorial, thanks to the efforts of Mike Shepard, Acutech Metal Works and the American Legion posts of Whitefish and Columbia Falls.

According to Shepard, the new memorial has been a long time coming.

“It got to the point where, between the road salt, the gravel and vandals, it was time to bring the old crosses down and replace them with something new,” he said. “It got to the point where, with the rust, we couldn’t grind the metal down enough to repaint it. This time, we decided to go with a powder coating, so we shouldn’t have that problem anymore.”

For more than 30 years, nine simple white metal crosses have stood on the site where on Jan. 21, 1984, a bus carrying the Whitefish wrestling team home from a meet in Browning collided head-on with a jackknifed fuel tanker on an icy Highway 2. The resulting explosion and fire claimed the lives of eight people on the first three rows of the bus, and the bus driver. Eighteen more were injured, but the remaining people on the bus were able to escape.

Among those killed were wrestling coach Jim Withrow; volunteer coach Wayde Davis, his wife, Jana, and their 3-year-old son Casey; bus driver Jim Byrd of Columbia Falls; cheerleaders Stefanie Daily, Kim Dowaliby and Tracy Maddux, and statistician Pamela Fredenberg.

Shepard, a former commander of both American Legion posts 108 in Whitefish and 72 in Columbia Falls, has been doing maintenance work on the crosses for a decade and said replacing the aging memorial has been something he had been thinking of doing for the past two years.

Shepard and his fellow Legionnaires maintain all of the cross-shaped fatality markers across the state of Montana, which usually only allow one cross for each fatality incident. Shepard said that he felt this site continued to need more than just one simple white cross.

“The state really wants the fatality memorials to only be one cross, but in this instance, I just don’t think it is right to only have one cross for nine victims,” he said. “It was an important event and I feel that everyone who lost their life should be remembered properly.”

Shepard’s original design idea of a metal heart with the nine crosses inside it was modified and then produced by Acutech and paid for by cooperation from the Whitefish and Columbia Falls American Legion Posts. Members of both posts, installed the memorial in its new location the Sunday before Memorial Day. The new memorial stands more than 30 feet back from the road and should not be damaged by highway traffic as it stands out starkly against the dark background of the surrounding area.

“I like to do those kind of things with my fellow veterans,” Shepard said about the project. “I said this was something I wanted to do, so I got it done.”

Print Article

Read More Local News

Glacier temporarily shuts down access to Granite Park due to grizzly activity

August 18, 2019 at 9:04 pm | Hungry Horse News Glacier National Park has temporarily closed the Granite Park area and trails leading to it because of grizzly bear activity. The Highline, Loop, and Swiftcurrent trail (from Swiftcurrent Pass to Gr...

Comments

Read More

Pair charged after they’re allegedly found dealing heroin, meth

August 17, 2019 at 7:27 am | Hungry Horse News Kalispell police officers on Wednesday arrested Kevin Gaethle, 28, and Nicole Chappel, 19, for possession of dangerous drugs with intent to distribute. The arrests came after the Northwest Montana D...

Comments

Read More

Rockfall not without precedent on Going-to-the-Sun Road

August 16, 2019 at 7:55 am | Hungry Horse News Rocks falling onto the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park are far from a rare occurrence, but deaths from falling stones onto the road have only been recorded three times since the road w...

Comments

Read More

Bob Marshall Fire update: Trail 80 reopens, though no stopping or camping in fire area

August 16, 2019 at 8:53 am | Hungry Horse News Travel is now being allowed on Trail 80, one of the main routes through the Bob Marshall Wilderness, though no overnight camping is being allowed in the Snow Creek Fire area. The Forest Service rece...

Comments

Read More

Contact Us

(406) 892-2151
PO BOX 189, 926 Nucleus Avenue
Columbia Falls, MT 59912

©2019 Hungry Horse News Terms of Use Privacy Policy
X
X