Every winter for the last 41 years, Susie Hullett starts preparing for one of the biggest parties of the year: The A.L.E.R.T. Banquet.
Hullett, who recently retired as a secretary at Bigfork High School, has been involved since the beginning of the A.L.E.R.T. Banquet because her husband worked in the logging equipment industry. In the 1970s, when the air ambulance was first established, the logging industry still had a major presence in the Flathead Valley and was a big supporter of the service.
Four decades later, Hullett still remembers helping decorate for the inaugural banquet at the Outlaw Inn, where, at the time, all the biggest parties were held.
“It was a roaring good time,” she said last week of that first banquet where the grand prize was a new car.
Now, with the 41st banquet just days away, Hullett — who has been the longest serving board member at 31 years — is once again preparing for a “roaring good time.” This year’s banquet is being held at the Trade Center Building at the Flathead County Fairgrounds on April 27 at 5:30 p.m. The event features a cocktail hour, buffet dinner, dancing and more than $11,000 in prizes.
The A.L.E.R.T. air ambulance service began in the mid-1970s following the death of a logger at a remote work site. The air service had the unique distinction of being the first rural air ambulance in the country, but at the time it was also proving to be expensive. But locals saw the value in the service, said Jim Oliverson, retired vice president of community relations for Kalispell Regional Healthcare who is also on the A.L.E.R.T. board. Since the 1970s, the A.L.E.R.T. air ambulance has gone on more than 18,300 missions and helped save more than 1,600 lives. The helicopter now goes on 400 to 500 missions annually.
Last year, the banquet raised nearly $250,000 for the program. In years past, the money raised has helped offset the cost of new equipment, including a new helicopter.
Hullett said late winter and early spring are always the busiest time of the year for the A.L.E.R.T. board as they prepare for the banquet, but it’s work that she enjoys.
“I wanted to give back to my community,” she said. “That’s why I do it.”
Tickets to the banquet are $300 per couple and can be purchased by contacting Lori Alsbury at (406) 752-1710 or firstname.lastname@example.org.