By Jason Shoot
Brian Fanning was arguably Havre's biggest baseball fan when his life was tragically cut short due to complications resulting from an infection in his brain last year.
And though this year's baseball season won't see Brian sitting alongside Northstars players in the dugout or raking the pitcher's mound between games, each time fans take a look beyond the fences at Legion Field it will be Brian they're thinking of.
After Brian passed away, supporters of the local American Legion teams the Northstars and Comets set up the Brian Fanning Memorial Fund, an endowment set up to install lights at Legion Field and introduce night baseball to Havre.
Thursday night, as the sun sets over the Sweetgrass Hills west of Havre, those dreams will finally be realized when the Northstars and Comets face each other at 8:30 p.m.
"We talked about this before the fence project, and then maybe we would start the light fund," Diane Fanning, Brian's mom, said. "When we started it, we thought it would be five- to 10-year project. It's phenomenal how it took off."
Of the eight poles that have been constructed, six have already been purchased by local residents for $5,000 each.
Diana and her husband, David, purchased a pole, as did Bob and Cheryl Evans, Valley Furniture, Independence Bank, the Hill County Tavern Association and the Town Pump Charitable Foundation.
Sixty lights have also been purchased by contributors, helping the fund accumulate approximately three-quarters of the $85,000 necessary to finance the project.
The total cost of the installation would certainly have been far higher if it had not been for the volunteers who dedicated countless hours to see the project completed.
Electricians from Burlington Northern/Santa Fe Railroad Ralph Jimison, Irish Ireland, Vic Keller, Stan Martin and Norman Orr joined a crew from the Montana Power Company consisting of Larry Curtiss, Shawn Hamilton, Jim Kuka and Steve Hamblock to get the job done in quick fashion.
Local volunteers Gordon Thompson, Comets coach Bob Evans Sr., Northstars coach Mickey Williams, Tony Vigliotti, Barry Remus and several Legion baseball players also were instrumental in getting the lights installed.
"For the last month and a half there have been so many guys between the Burlington Northern crew and all their electricians and the Montana power crew, plus guys who just volunteered time," Diane said. "It would have cost twice as much without the volunteers."
That kind of patronage was much like the thoughtfulness Brian received as a young boy spending hour after hour with his dad, David, at the ballpark.
"Mickey was great to him," Diane said. "Through the years, Dave has had big involvement with the team, and Brian always went with him. He was one of the guys.
"(Brian) helped put the fence up out there, a part of the fence crew. His favorite hat was his fence-crew hat."
Williams, too, had a special attachment with the youngster.
"I used to play with Brian's dad, and when David's kids were young, Brian used to help me coach," Williams said. "Brian was always hanging around with him. Sometimes I'd let him make lineups for me, we took him on the bus, and he always sat on the bench with us."
The completion of the project means something very special to Diane, who said, "We thought it would be kind of neat everytime you turned on the lights people are going to remember Brian.
"What a lasting tribute."
Williams echoed those sentiments.
"This light thing means much more than the lights," he said. "We're missing quite a special boy here. This is a real special thing."