Bigfork, Woods Bay Residents Rally for Kheri

By Beacon Staff

WOODS BAY – Even if the weather wasn’t perfect, cars were lined along Montana Highway 35 in Woods Bay and patrons packed The Raven to support Kheri Bilal. The popular bartender at The Raven and the Whistling Andy Distillery was critically injured after a fall in Mexico and is now in a Phoenix, Ariz. hospital.

Bilal, who was born in Zanzibar, has worked at The Raven for the last two years. In late May, he and his wife Valentina were in Mexico celebrating their first wedding anniversary when he fell off a balcony. According to Raven owner Lisa Cloutier, Bilal landed on his head and suffered various brain injuries and broke his arm and shoulder. Because he didn’t have travel insurance and was in a foreign country, medical bills quickly piled up. On Saturday, June 2, Bilal and his family were airlifted out of the country to Arizona.

Although it is early, Cloutier said an MRI taken in Phoenix shows that Bilal may have escaped the incident with little brain damage, but only time will tell.

On Wednesday, The Raven hosted a dinner, silent auction and concert to raise money for Bilal. The small, lakeside bar was packed and those out to support Bilal exchanged hugs and laughs. Even though he’s only been at The Raven for a few years, some say it feels longer.

“Kheri has been in the community for what feels like forever,” said Sue Juhl of Woods Bay. “He’s just such a huge part of the community.”

Juhl said Bilal has a way of connecting with people, regardless of their background. It was a common theme throughout the bar.

“You could see his smile across the lake,” said Maranda Johnson.

Johnson, who lives in Bigfork, said Bilal has a playful personality and that the two would often argue over who had better fishing stories. Johnson wasn’t surprised that so many people turned out for the fundraiser.

“It’s hard not do anything for such a good person,” she said. “It’s not going to be summer at The Raven without him.”

Connie Cermak agreed. She said something would be missing this summer in Woods Bay, but she remained positive – just like Bilal always is. She recalled an incident a few weeks ago when she was at the bar and Bilal could tell something was wrong. She explained and then Bilal paused before giving a genuine response, one that Cermak said was perfect for that moment.

“He pointed up and said ‘give it time.’”

Those who would like to donate and help pay Bilal’s medical bills can go online to http://fnd.us/c/fJoW3, or make donations at The Raven, Papa’s Woods Bay Market or Whistling Andy Distillery. Donations can also be sent to Valentina Bilal at 14729 Shore Acres Drive, Bigfork, Montana 59911.

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