The Big Horn Basin rallies together in hard times


Photo Courtesy of Kate Kysar

Beet diggers and farmers line up at the field where Lyle Bjornstead died to help the 3B farms finish beet harvest and to support the Bjornstead family.

In the past few years the Big-Horn Basin has felt the shock and grief of the passing of beloved community and family members. Tragedies and devastations are part of life, but the families don’t have to go through it alone. The communities of Lovell and Powell have demonstrated an abundance of sympathy for the families in the best way they know how.

Early in the new year, the towns of Powell and Lovell witnessed two fatal automobile accidents due to poor road conditions. Sisters Wendy and Shannah Nelson were killed while traveling on Highway 14-A. With no lack of empathy, the Powell-Shoshone FFA chapter stepped up to show their support.

“It is very important for our chapter to be involved in these community service opportunities, not only so that people know that our chapter is always there to help, but it shows each member what good comes out of helping people,” junior Brooke Bessler said. “It really helps out youth in the future to know that everyone needs a helping hand once in a while and we can be that difference no matter who we are helping.”

It is very important for our chapter to be involved in these community service opportunities, not only so that people know that our chapter is always there to help, but it shows each member what good comes out of helping people.

— Brooke Bessler

The chapter was contacted about a job opportunity to help out the Nelson Family. The [Nelson] family was in the middle of a home renovation project. The FFA chapter was asked to pitch in on the task of cleaning up the debris from the project.

“We really wanted to do whatever we could for that family,” Bessler said. “And just simple tasks show the kids and families how important community is to FFA.”

Other community members chose to show their support with little symbolic acts of kindness. Similar to the Nelson Family, the Lovell community experienced the loss of sports reporter for the Lovell Chronicle, Sam Smith. On Feb. 25 Sam and Natlee Smith were traveling home from the State Wrestling tournament when they were involved in a vehicle crash. Sam Smith later died from related injuries.

“We wanted to do something to honor Sam,” LHS freshman Owen Walker said. “He’s done so much for us and really loved our program. We’ve all grown up with him covering our sports. We know that he would have been so excited to go and watch us play at state. It was the least that we could do to honor him.”

The Lovell High School boys basketball team created warm-up shirts in blue with the phrase “Doing It For Sam” to honor the family and reporter.

“Everyone in Lovell knew and loved Sam,” Walker said. “Doing things to honor him together helps all of us come together and brings us closer as a community.”

It’s no secret that the Town of Powell is a heavily agriculture based community. Everyone in the “farming community” was affected by the death of Lyle Bjornstead. Bjornstead passed away in the midst of beet harvest, due to a farming accident. The community also chose to show their empathy through an act of service.

“Farmers from all over the town gathered to finish our beet harvest,” junior Kathryn Brence said. “It was amazing to see people I grew up knowing and people that knew my Grandpa really well help out. It was truly the best way they could show us they were thinking about us, and I know my Grandpa would have done the same thing for anyone else.”

Community support isn’t a new act for these towns. A year ago in March, both towns were devastated by the loss of Payton and Phoenix Hackenberg. This family had connections with both towns and people. Powell and Lovell participated in raising money for the family and supporting those who loved them. 

“I thought the communities did a great job at raising money and showing their respect,” Brence said. “ It truly shows how strong our community is and that everyone has someone to lean on.”

The PHS and LHS cheer squads teamed up to exhibit their love for the community. Both teams wore blue ribbons with their bows as a tribute to Payton who was a member of the LHS cheer squad.

“We are really close with the Lovell cheer team,” sophomore Kate Miller said. “So, after the incident, we wanted to honor our friend and our neighboring town.”