37 years ago in Butte- “Our Lady of the Rockies Week”
It is mind-numbing that 1985 is 37 years ago, and somehow it still feels like yesterday.
Maybe it’s because I am a Bears fan, and 85 was one of our fandom’s rare ‘bright spots’.
The Live Aid concerts in Philli and London were in 1985, raising over 125 million dollars for famine relief in Ethiopia. A young man named Michael Jordan was named rookie of the year in the NBA. “New” Coke was released, and if you were lucky your local theater had it when you went to the premiere of ‘The Color Purple”.
Also in December of 1985, what started as a promise from Bob O’Bill to the Virgin Mary in 1979, came to fruition on December 17th as the Lady of the Rockies was finished.
In 1979 Joyce O’Bill was in a fight for her life with cancer, Bob made a promise that if Joyce survived a he would build a 5-foot Virgin Mary in his backyard in her honor. Pushed by friends, and with help from Joe Roberts, the ball started rolling for something far grander for the Mining City.
In the Fall of 1981, John Mazzola proposed to build a 90-foot statue of the Virgin Mary on the East Ridge.
The road to the proposed Saddle Rock site was finished in August 1982.
In July of 1983, the first segment of the construction was completed, one of her 8-foot tall hands was finished.
1984 was a productive year in the construction of Our Lady of the Rockies. January saw the completion of the head of Our Lady completed. The head section of the project stood 16 feet tall, and I think all of us can still remember seeing the progress as we drove past Roberts.
The site on Saddle Rock was completed in September, after months of blasting and leveling. By the end of 1984 more than 54 feet of the 90-foot statue was completed.
Entering 1985, Montana’s politicians started looking for help from the National Guard to get the Statue to its final resting place. In September 1985, Workers started the base for The Lady, a 425-ton concrete slab where the statue would be mounted.
On October 29, 1985, Montana Senator John Melcher meets with the Secretary of the Army to request military helicopter assistance to get Our Lady in place on Saddle Rock. It took nearly a month, but on November 21st the U.S. Defense Department approved the use of a military helicopter.
On December 16th, The Sikorsky Skycrane helicopter, led by Captain Marc Comstock took off from Reno, Nevada en route to Butte America.
December 17th, Chief Executive Don Peoples Sr. proclaims it “Our Lady of the Rockies Week”. The first 2 pieces of the statue are moved, a 2-ton section of skirting, and a 7.5-ton ‘lower section’.
Two more sections are transported by helicopter on December 18th, the first an 8.5-ton section, the second nearly 10 tons. Both lifts go incredibly smooth.
The first real problem arises the next day while transporting the largest section (the midriff and hands), the helicopter began to spin as it tried to set the section on the others already in place. The Captain turned back to town and laid the section down near the Church of the Later Day Saints. The crew decides on a second attempt later that day and succeeds in getting it in place.
The final piece, Our Lady’s head, was put in place at 3:30 on the 20th of December. The final section was decorated with a Christmas Tree, a Montana State flag, and an American flag.
For me, Our Lady of The Rockies is a great example of Butte. People stepping up when help was needed, rolling up their sleeves and helping however they can. An undertaking of this size doesn’t happen without an army of friends, family, and community pitching in to assist.
In 1987, a bill from the National Guard for 17 hours and 24 minutes of aircraft time came due… To the tune of $174,922.