Award recognizes three Bigfork locals for community efforts

by BRET ANNE SERBIN
For the Eagle | November 4, 2020 4:40 AM

The Community Foundation for a Better Bigfork is honoring Bigforkers who wear big hats—and many of them. The CFBB’s Big Hat Award annually recognizes locals who contribute significant volunteer time and energy to the betterment of the Bigfork community, and this year’s cohort of awardees includes a particularly active set of community members.

Lisa Cloutier, Brian Anderson and Edd Blackler were selected as the honorees for this year’s Big Hat award. Dating back to 1993, the award is usually given out to one outstanding community member at the CFBB’s end-of-year fundraising event.

However, Paul Mutascio explained the CFBB sometimes finds it impossible to whittle down the list of deserving community contributors, as was the case with the award’s trio of recipients this year.

Even though the CFBB was forced to cancel their big annual fundraising event due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization didn’t want some of Bigfork’s biggest supporters to go overlooked.

The CFBB selected Lisa Cloutier and Brian Anderson for their heavy involvement with the Bigfork business community, and their recent efforts to support hard-pressed locals weather the COVID-19 pandemic. Edd Blackler was also posthumously recognized with the Big Hat Award this year for his illustrious volunteer career dating back to the 1980s.

Ann Tucker, Director of the Bigfork Food Bank, said Lisa Cloutier’s recognition was “well-deserved.”

Tucker collaborated with Cloutier and her husband Anderson to provide hand sanitizer and stock the shelves at the food bank when the COVID-19 pandemic first rolled into the Flathead Valley this spring. The couple runs four nearby businesses—The Raven, Whistling Andy Distillery, Montana Bonfire and the Islander Inn—and they used their business connections to get hard-to-find items to the people in Bigfork who needed them most during the early days of the coronavirus public health crisis.

“She was so helpful to us when we were trying to [survive] the unknown waters of COVID,” Tucker said of Cloutier’s collaboration with the food bank. “It was like she mustered the troops to provide us with all kinds of things. We were very, very appreciative of her.”

Cloutier’s commitment to the Bigfork community is obvious to anyone driving along MT 35 who passes through the corridor dominated by Cloutier and Anderson’s collection of local businesses. The prominent Bigfork businesswoman said maintaining local jobs has become one of her top priorities amid the upheaval caused by the COVID-19 outbreak, which has been especially damaging to the highly-seasonal business community in the bayside town.

Going forward, the couple plans to make changes like adding brunch at The Montana Bonfire and expanding the restaurant’s schedule to seven nights a week. Cloutier hopes these adjustments will allow them to keep their employees on the job throughout the winter. “I’m excited to see how town moves into next stage,” she said.

She pointed out, too, that her husband and fellow Big Hat Award recipient Brian Anderson sometimes doesn’t receive the recognition he has earned for his part in the couple’s many business operations and community initiatives. “By nature, he’s more behind the scenes,” Cloutier explained. Anderson often takes on lower-profile essential tasks like building, moving equipment or creating graphics.

“He’s very active. He does lots of things that people don’t even see,” Cloutier said. She was hopeful the Big Hat Award will help bring his contributions to light.

On the other end of the spectrum was Edd Blackler, a longtime Bigfork volunteer well-known throughout the community for his wide variety of efforts aimed at bringing out the best in Bigfork. Before his passing this year due to pancreatic cancer, Blackler was a longtime member of the Bigfork Summer Playhouse, a volunteer fireman with the Bigfork Fire Department and a bus driver for Bigfork Schools, among many other roles. The part Blackler played as one of the founders of Bigfork’s most famous tradition—The Bigfork Elves—was likely his best-known contribution to the town.

Blackler, Frank Crain and Don Thomson first took it upon themselves to break out their ladders and adorn the town with holiday décor in the 1981, and Blackler could still be found stringing up decorations on the historic downtown bridge decades later.

Amy Grout, a U.S. Forest Service Ranger at the Flathead Lake Ranger Station, worked with Blackler to decorate the Old Town Bridge for ten years.

“He was just a great guy,” Grout reminisced. “He was really committed to decorating Bigfork and to Bigfork as a community--making it shine its best.”

She recalled one Decorating Day a few years ago when the Elves couldn’t reach the top of the bridge to put on the necessary decorations, so Blackler rushed home and returned with his own massive ladder to complete the job. Grout said Blackler’s “get-’er-done” attitude hadn’t lost any of the vigor that went into the founding of Bigfork’s beloved tradition almost forty years earlier.

Rob Tracy, who worked with Blackler when the Big Hat recipient was a volunteer firefighter and a bus driver for Bigfork Schools, agreed with Grout’s assessment. “He was a real icon,” Tracy said.

Visit bigfork.org/cfbb to learn more about the award or donate to the organization.

Reporter Bret Anne Serbin may be reached at (406)-758-4459 or bserbin@dailyinterlake.com.

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Edd Blackler