Home Town Proud

By JIM O’DAY

Missoula is basically my “adopted” home town – a community where I permanently reside, and a place very dear to my heart.  But like many others, we tend to have another special place where we grew up… and love to brag about things that still happen there… especially when it means the national spotlight or a source of pride.

I spent the first 18 years of my life in the small, north-central Montana farm and ranch/oil and gas community of Cut Bank. Located on the western edge of the Hi-Line, about 50 miles to the east of Glacier National Park and the Rocky Mountain Front, and bordering the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, and 35 miles south of the Canadian border, it is probably best known for being one of the “Coldest Spots in the Nation,” or for the 27-foot tall concrete penguin that greets visitors as they enter the community from the east. Like Missoula, it has many, many wonderful people with unique stories to tell.

Recently, though, the residents of Cut Bank have been bragging about something else, which demonstrates the power of pride in a small, rural community… just as most Missoulians do when a member of the Montana Grizzlies is drafted in the NFL, or when someone from the area like Tommy Moe or Eric  Bergoust qualify for the Olympics.

Cutbank, MT native Alexis Wineman was crowned Miss Montana last summer (2012) and recently finished in the final round of 15 and the “People’s Choice” winner in the Miss AmericaPageant.

For Cut Bank – and much of Montana for that matter, there’s been positive news recently about a remarkable young woman who was crowned Miss Montana 2012 last summer, and who appeared in the Miss America program in Las Vegas on Saturday, Jan. 12.

What’s so special about our new Miss Montana Alexis Wineman?

Well, the 18-year-old from Cut Bank was the youngest contestant in the recent competition. She also became the first person in the 92-year-old history of the Miss American program to be diagnosed with autism. She has an incredible story to tell.

“The girl you’re seeing right now is not the girl you would have seen 10 years ago,” Wineman told ABC News – just one of many national news organizations to interview her the past two weeks. “I have overcome a lot. I have overcome so many of my symptoms.”

Wineman was first diagnosed with the developmental disorder that affects one’s social and communication skills at age 11. Even though she was considered highly functioning, Wineman recalls being ridiculed for her speech impediment and intense shyness.  “I would stay in my room for hours, not wanting to talk to anyone,” she said in a recent interview. “Growing up, I barely hung out with anyone and that’s because I was afraid of being laughed at.”

Wineman credits her family with enabling her to become comfortable in her own skin. As she got older, and gained more confidence, she began to try new things, including cross-country running and cheerleading, where she was captain of her squad in her senior year. Even though she won the Cut Bank Junior Miss contest,  she was unsuccessful in her run for the state title.  But undeterred,  and against the advice of her parents and others,  she entered the Miss Montana competition.  “I realized I’d done a lot of things I never thought I’d be able to do, so what’s stopping me from at least trying,” she told a reporter for the Cut Bank Pioneer Press newspaper.

Well, Alexis prospered at the Miss America pageant.  She fit right in, and she did the unthinkable by making the final round of 15 (possibly the highest finish ever by a Montana contestant).  She was also selected in an online computer poll as the “People’s Choice” winner – and received high accolades from people like Maria Shriver and Martina McBride (http://martinamcbride.com/forum/back_room/2386213). As you might expect, she’s now being bombarded with appearance requests and the like.  Her family has benefited from a publicist who is donating time to help arrange her busy schedule.

Alexis announced plans to attend the University of Montana to study art therapy — and Missoula could have another adopted daughter.  But with her newfound notoriety and celebrity status, other schools have aggressively come calling and offering scholarship assistance. Being the youngest of four children to Mike Wineman and Kim Butterworth, financial aid in the form of a scholarship is music to their ears – and something that seemed so distant less than six months ago.  She is now re-evaluating her options before arriving at a final decision.

Alexis’s story is a source of pride for the residents of Cut Bank… and for those living away from the community yet with ties still entrenched in the town of 3,000 people. There’s something about “Home Town Pride” that is very special, and this is just another example of what places like Cut Bank and Missoula have to offer in terms of support.  How fortunate we are to live in this great state of Montana, and to share stories about others in our communities who make us proud.

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Do you have questions for Jim?  Use this Contact Us form and we’ll forward your questions to him for possible inclusion in future blogs.  Like this blog?  Chances are you’ll like these other Jim O’Day blogs:  What the Financial Numbers mean for UM/MSU Athletics.  Hiring/Retaining College Coaches is Becoming ToughFormer UM Coaches/Missoula Stars Making it Big in College FootballWhy I chose to Make It Missoula, The Ups & Downs of Being a Griz Fan, Once a Griz, Always a Griz.

Jim O’Day was Director of Athletics at the University of Montana from 2005-2012. Prior to that, he served as the Assistant Director of the Grizzly Athletic Association and later as the Director of Development  for Intercollegiate Athletics atUM.

Prior to returning to his alma mater in 1998, O’Day was the owner and publisher of the family-owned Western Breeze newspaper in Cut Bank, Montana.

Jim currently works for The Farran Group, a real estate development/ investment firm based in Missoula, MT.  In addition, Jim serves as a consultant for Epio Solutions out of Seattle, a sports based agency primarily focused on monitoring social media platforms for various colleges and universities.

Jim and his wife Kathy have three sons: Chris, Kevin and Brian.  Chris and Kevin are graduates of The University of Montana, while Brian is currently a senior at UM.