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A walleye banquet of controlled chaos


March 11, 2002

Tony Vigliotti has committed himself to an evening of philanthropic hysteria.

Last week, Mike Barthel, the president of the Fresno Chapter of Walleyes Unlimited, asked Vigliotti to emcee the nonprofit fishing organization's 19th annual fund-raising banquet Saturday at the VFW Club in Havre.

Barthel targeted Vigliotti, an employee of Valley Furniture Co., because of his "good radio voice." The former KOJM disc jockey Vigliotti was a DJ at the local radio station from 1987 to 1990 is unaware of the good-natured chaos associated with this particular banquet.

"It's nonstop," Barthel said. "The emcee's constantly giving stuff away. You get all these people in there and it's like a frenzy."

Vigliotti, who accepted the invitation, will rely on his experience behind the microphone. He also is the voice behind several Valley Furniture radio advertisements.

"I haven't done it before, so I'm going in with my eyes open," Vigliotti said. "I'm really excited about it. They haven't told me what to expect. They just told me to show up."

While the audience feasts on helpings of walleye, baron of beef and an assortment of side dishes, Vigliotti will coordinate the distribution of prizes worth more than $20,000, including a $5,000 four-wheeler, with a continuous stream of raffles and auctions. More than 60 door prizes will be handed out.

And two students from Montana State University-Northern they must be water ecology majors will receive $500 scholarships from the host organization.

"It's kind of the highlight of the spring," Vern Gagnon, a member of Walleyes Unlimited's board of directors, said of the extravaganza. "It kicks off the spring fishing season."

Ever since Barthel became a member of the club in 1987, the banquet has annually sold all 350 of its available tickets.

"The mere fact that it is a sellout every year is explanation enough," said Barthel, one of 225 members of the conservation group. There are about 3,500 members of Walleyes Unlimited in Montana. "They like to come back."

On average, the banquet raises about $25,000 it's Walleyes Unlimited's sole fund-raising effort each year. In years past, the money has been used for the installation of boat ramps, decks and a garbage bin at Fresno Reservoir and the purchase of cold weather thermal gear for the Havre Fire Department, so "they are equipped to enter the water and perform a cold-water rescue," Barthel said.

This year, some of the money will be put toward the construction of a 30-by-50-foot pavilion with a picnic center and barbecue area at Fresno Reservoir, near the campground area overlooking the lake. "Hopefully, we'll make that a reality," Barthel said.

In the 1960s, a pavilion stood near the public beach area but it burned down.

An individual does not need to be a member of Walleyes Unlimited to participate in the festivities. They commence at 5:30 p.m. with happy hour, and an all-you-can-eat dinner begins at 7 p.m.

"After the banquet concludes, people can dance to the music of South Country," Barthel said.

Between 25 and 30 group members volunteer to work the banquet.

Membership tickets cost $35, while tickets for couples are $50. Dinner tickets, which do not enter individuals into the raffles, are only $15.

For the last two months, members of Walleyes Unlimited have pounded the pavement, soliciting local business owners for contributions gift certificates are popular for the stack of prizes available through the raffles or the auction. Several local artists have also donated pieces of artwork, which are now on display at Havre Rental.

"I can't thank the community enough for their support," Barthel said. "Without the generosity of the businesses (and residents) for their donations, we wouldn't be where we are today."

Tickets are available at E-Fish-Hunt Sports, Bing n Bob's, Blackie's Fresno Tavern, and in Big Sandy at Ezzie's Conoco and the Mountaineer.


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