December 5-14, 2024


Montana Silversmiths gets bucked off, rises to help during coronavirus pandemic

Apr 30, 2020

Montana Silversmiths gets bucked off, rises to help during coronavirus pandemic

By Brian Hurlburt, Las Vegas Events.

During these unparalleled times during the coronavirus pandemic, people and companies across the United States—and the world—are coming together to help and support those in need. The sport of rodeo has always had a giving reputation–we annually spotlight this generosity in a “Heart of the NFR” feature–and now one of the most notable companies associated with the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo has answered the call. Montana Silversmiths is making a difference, one protective mask at a time, which has now added up to thousands.

When we last saw the much-sought-after handiwork of Montana Silversmiths, it was on display at the historic Thomas & Mack Center as the 2019 world champions were honored after the 10 nights of the world’s biggest and best rodeo. Those deserving cowboys and cowgirl gazed upon their new gold buckles created by the company with awe and appreciation in front of the sold-out crowd, but recently, a more subdued presentations of Montana Silversmiths special items are occurring with just as much—if not more—appreciation and meaning.

Under the direction of Lance Neirby, Vice President of Operations, and with the blessing of the founders, the company took quick action as the coronavirus pandemic and state shutdowns first began to impact cities, states, countries and the economy. Faced with furloughing his entire team of 160 workers, and with the health of Montana’s residents and health workers as a harrowing backdrop, Neirby sought out ideas to keep working, while also making a difference.

His efforts were rewarded when he came upon a Facebook post from the Billings Clinic (Montana) that detailed how neurosurgeon Dusty Richardson, in collaboration with Billings-area dentist Spencer Zaugg, and his son, Colton, had created a blueprint for how to make protective masks with a 3D printer. The trio published the blueprint as an “open source” document and encouraged others to use it.

Stillwater Clinic Nurse with Mask - EditedNeirby made contact with the three, and that jump-started the Montana Silversmiths team into action, and they have been making masks ever since, distributing them to area hospitals, nursing homes, local law enforcement and other areas of need. It has been a heart-warming and worthwhile process because it not only has allowed Neirby to keep workers on the job, but the impact of providing the masks to those on the front lines has been extremely meaningful for the entire Montana Silversmiths team.

Judy Wagner, the aunt of 2019 world champion steer wrestler Ty Erickson, is the vice president of marketing for Montana Silversmiths, and is front and center each year as the gold buckles are awarded to the world champions. It was extra special last December because she presented her nephew with the gold buckle. Now, she is front and center for different kinds of presentations.

“I have witnessed a local nurse look at her mask the same way we’ve seen world champions look at their buckles, and that was very compelling and emotional for me and the rest of team that got to visualize that and to be able to create value in this time of need,” Wagner says. “It has really been very gratifying and humbling for all of us at Montana Silversmiths.”

As the world continues to struggle with stemming the pandemic while also formulating ways to ensure a prosperous future, Neirby says the “pivot” to the mask technology has served both purposes well.

“The beauty is that we have kept more than 50 workers employed, while at the same time helping to save lives,” Neirby says. “It gave the opportunity to Montana Silversmiths to continue to be strong and be a leader in our state, because if the state would have shut us down, we would no longer be able to serve any of our current customers who were staying open. It allowed us to remain open and keep people employed in a safe manner.

“In addition to the mask production, we continue to make and ship buckles and jewelry so that we remain relevant to our customers who are challenged to remain viable during these times. We are all humbled and understand the magnitude of what is happening, but we are also taking advantages of the positives and creating a deeper emotional tie with those customers out there. We are also creating new partnerships that are making a huge difference in many people’s lives.”

MONTANA MASKS_12Montana Silversmiths has printed hundreds of masks and also helped bring awareness to the technology, which allowed a partnership to form that has increased production into the thousands.

“To me, none of this would have happened without those three guys in Billings and because of what they did to figure this blueprint,” Neirby says. ;They knew there would be a shortage because they had an inside understanding of the impending infrastructure challenges. For them to open source the information was important and also very generous because that file has now been downloaded in 140 countries.

“They’ve saved countless lives by creating this technology. Also, we were able to make contact with a plastic injection molder in Bozeman and he has now shipped more than 28,000 masks to different areas of need and we are working on a plan to ship 30,000 masks to Guatemala because they just have no personal protective equipment at all. We are doing our best to pay it forward and urge anyone to join us as we look to the future while also keeping people safe.”

Wagner sums up the whole experience with a western lifestyle perspective:

“I’ve grown up in the Western lifestyle and we all kind of share the same philosophy: you get bucked off, you get right back on the horse. And to me, this is what we are witnessing on a much larger scale. It’s the western lifestyle spirit.”

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