By Tim Leeds
On Nov. 3, the Montana State University-Northern ballroom will be filled with people warming up for the Olympics, sampling fine wine and enjoying companionship at the eighth annual hospital foundation Wine and Cheese Festival.
Pennington's Inc., a local wholesaler, will once again provide the wine for what's considered the Havre area's premier wine and cheese tasting. Cheese and other foods to cleanse the palate will be supplied by Gary & Leo's IGA.
The theme this year is a winter Olympics warmup, and many people likely will dress the part.
Kathleen Richardson, director of Northern Montana Health Care Foundation Inc., said people generally dress up for the festival, but she's expecting a more casual trend because of this year's theme. Athletic attire, including warmup suits, is likely to be in abundance.
Each table will feature a particular vintage, grouped with appropriate cheese and other foods. Volunteers will pour the wine, serve the cheese and answer questions about the items served.
"I have a blast just working it," said Kathie Newell, public relations director at Northern Montana Health Care. "And I learn a lot about wine and cheese."
The festival also offers non-alcoholic beverages and micro brews for people who don't want to drink wine.
Dr. Joe Marino will be the master of ceremonies for the festival, and David Greenwood is the auctioneer.
Richardson said about 175 people usually attend the festival, with a high of about 220 two years ago. As well as wine and cheese, the festival offers music, a silent auction and a live auction of special items and services.
"We auction off people," Richardson said. "We've done very well with that over the years."
Newell said people stand up, often in costume, to represent whatever is being auctioned off. For instance, in accordance with last year's theme of "Broadway Lights," Havre High School dramatist Samantha Pollington dressed up as Annie Oakley from "Annie Get Your Gun," and raised $1,200 for the meal being auctioned.
Five dinners will be auctioned off at the festival this year. One will be an authentic Italian dinner for six put on by Long Island, N.Y., native Marino and his wife, Roseann, "complete with dinner table arguments," Richardson said.
Another is a dinner put on by Mike and Sharnai Hamilton, with a special performance of the Montana Actors Theatre included. "We're really excited about that one," Richardson added.
A variety of special items also will be auctioned, including 12 specialty baskets assembled by departments of Northern Montana Health Care. The baskets are themed one being a breakfast basket with teas and homemade jams, one with a robe and bath oils, one with a care package to send to someone living away from home, one with "safe and sound" items for a baby, and more.
The departments "are kind of having a competition among themselves," Richardson said, adding that the foundation will have a pizza party for the department raising the most money.
Jim Matter, Havre branch manager of Pennington's Inc., said this is the only opportunity people in the Havre area will have for this kind of function. He said he tries to vary the wines selected every year. Pennington's has provided the wine for all eight festivals.
Matter said he tries to make sure the wines offered at the festival are made available in the local stores. If people discover a new wine they like, they can usually find it here in Havre.
"I go with a few international each time and try to pick out a few of the better wines that we have," Matter said. "I try to upgrade it each year, try to get a little better selection."
Matter said Pennington's sets up the selections at the festival and gets together with the people volunteering to serve it a half-hour or so before the festival starts to tell them about the wine.
"It's a real quick class in what it's all about," he said.
Gary Linie, deli manager for Gary and Leo's IGA, said his servers are briefed before the festival about the cheeses and other palate-cleansers the store provides.
Linie said Gary & Leo's matches some of its better gourmet cheeses with the wine Pennington's supplies, and tries to provide some variety every year. Last year, he said, a cheese fondue was so popular Gary & Leo's is providing it again this year, and is also supplying crab and shrimp this year.
The proceeds from this year's festival, as did last year's, will go to paying for a community fitness park planned for south of the Northern Montana Care Center.
Richardson said the fitness park will cost $89,500 plus donated services. The target date for completing the park is next October.
The Havre branch of Stockman Bank of Montana got the fund-raiser off to a start this year with a donation of $2,500.
"We thought it would be a good way to kick off the benefit," said Chuck Wimmer, branch manager of Stockman Bank.
Newell said businesses that don't have items to donate for auction often donate cash, but the size of Stockman's early donation makes it a hallmark.
Wimmer said the fitness park will be a tremendous benefit to residents of the Care Center. It will give them the opportunity to go outside, see children playing, walk around and get some activity. "You can never go wrong building a park," he added.
The park will encompass 6.5 acres south of the care facility. It will contain picnic tables, park benches and trees, with commemorative plaques for donations made, and a paved walking path. Playing fields are planned for the park, which the Havre Youth Soccer Association and the Girls Softball Association will be able to sign contracts to use.
Tickets for the Wine and Cheese Festival, which is sponsored by Pennington's, Gary & Leo's, KOJM/KPQX radio and Floren's Hill County Printing, cost $25 each and are available at the foundation office (262-1354), Gary & Leo's, Independence Bank of Havre and the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce.