All posts by Anya Mohr

Our very own Ron O’Leary


Banking on the eclipse: Billings artist designs hundreds of eclipse souvenirs


Ron O'Leary
Eclipse shirt back

T-shirts by O’Leary show the line of the total eclipse on the back. They sell for $24.

JACI WEBB/Gazette Staff

Click here to see the original article 

JACI WEBB/Gazette Staff

When Billings artist Ron O’Leary gets behind something, he doesn’t go halfway.

That attitude fits perfectly with the total eclipse of the sun on Monday. Around Christmastime in 2016, Ron and his sister, Kathleen O’Leary of Riverton, Wyo., were talking about the eclipse. Riverton will experience the eclipse at 100 percent at 11:39 a.m. on Monday.

Folks around Riverton started planning early for the onslaught of viewers looking for a place to stay and ways to celebrate the eclipse. There will be a two-day Dark in the Park festival in Riverton on Saturday and Sunday. Kathleen O’Leary is allowing some camping on her ranchland but has no more spaces available.

Encouraged by his sister, O’Leary put his artistic side to work to make souvenirs. A ceramic artist, he created a wall plaque in the shape of the sun with the date of the eclipse painted around it. A perfectionist who loves color and design, O’Leary hand-paints each sun, using various color combinations to create different effects. Each one is different.

“What’s funny is these items that took the most time and resources aren’t always the ones people like. One day, two different people said their favorite was one I considered my worst,” O’Leary said.

He calls one the goth plaque because it has no bright colors, just black, white and gray. Another has a vintage look, which he calls “retro road sign.” It is painted with a patina made with iron oxide.

O’Leary’s teenage daughter, Lilly, and his partner, Linda Hofer, helped with some of the painting. But for the most part, it’s been O’Leary hunched over a table in his backyard studio painting the sun.

O’Leary has taught art and music at Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch for 18 years and his studio reflects that with shelves of ceramic work he can’t bear to part with.

Over the summer O’Leary traveled through central Oregon, where the eclipse will also be 100 percent. Some of the shops took his sun plaques and others asked about items like T-shirts and coffee mugs.

As soon as he returned to Billings, O’Leary got busy again, designing solar eclipse T-shirts, coffee mugs, key chains, flashlights, book bags and eventually a poster showing a bison with the date of the eclipse and the longitude and latitude of Riverton. The items are for sale at, Etsy or will be sold in Capser, Wyoming, on Thursday and in Riverton this weekend.

“What’s kind of fun to think about is all the different designs people have come up with. There are 23 pages on Etsy of solar eclipse merchandise, all the way from tacky to real nice artistic designs,” O’Leary said.

O’Leary has never seen a solar eclipse and he said he’s getting excited for the experience on Monday.

Learn About YBGR’s Therapeutic Foster Care, June 19

(Dillon, Mont.) June 15, 2017 – Are you considering becoming a foster care parent? Visit with professionals of Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch to learn initial information on what it is to be a foster parent during the evening of Monday, June 19, from 5:30 – 7 p.m. at Dillon Elementary School District Board Room, located at 22 North Cottom, Dillon, MT 59725.

This is an informational evening for anyone who may be interested in becoming a therapeutic foster parent or who would like to learn more about Therapeutic Foster Care.

Contact Charise Lemelin at, Tracey Lujan at, or call 406-683-0416 to R.S.V.P. for the event.


Support YBGR on AmazonSmile

The Yellowstone Foundation has partnered with AmazonSmile, an program for nonprofits, to allow shoppers to donate to the Ranch at no added cost!

How does AmazonSmile work? 

AmazonSmile will donate .5% of all eligible purchases to the Yellowstone Foundation to support Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch programs.

Click here to go to the link on or go to, then login to your Amazon account, shop, and buy!




Yellowstone Academy Talent Show

Performing and singing many current pop songs and hits from the past, kids and staff rocked the stage inside Yellowstone Academy (YA) during this year’s Talent Show on May 26. The auditorium was filled with kids ready to strum, pick, key and hit instruments provided by YA’s music program.

Music and Art Teacher Ron O’Leary and a YA student play and sing on stage at this year’s Talent Show.

Those who had a knack for acoustic guitar, bongo drums or the keyboard captured the audience’s attention with the vibrant sound of live music. Most of the kids sang to voiceless versions of songs from pop singers like Ariana Grande, Rihanna, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift and country songs like those by Sam Hunt, Blake Shelton and more.  During the best composed performances and the most well-known songs, kids cheered and stood, swaying to the tempo. Many staff jumped in, including lodge workers, teachers and the school therapist, showing off strong vocals and musical talents of their own.

One youth plays the guitar, cheered loudly by the crowd in front of her.

Once the performers stepped off stage, they were met with high-fives, and words of praise and encouragement from their peers.  Impressed with their friends’ performances and sometimes critical of their own, many of the kids walked away with a newfound confidence or a set of goals to achieve the next level of adjunct instrumentalist or singer superstar.

One Military Officer’s Testimonial to the Ranch: A Memorial Day Story

James Brassil, a past YBGR youth and Army officer assigned to the Fourth Infantry Division at Fort Carson (CO).

James Brassil came to YBGR in the early 2000’s as a troublesome kid. At home he’d fought with peers, acting out from anger and frustration.

“I’m not exactly sure as to why I was angry…” Brassil said. “I would say it was mixture of my life at home and school – It just wasn’t a very good fit.”

The only way he knew how to deal with conflict was to fight.

“I fought at school mostly because I didn’t know how to walk away from a problem…” Brassil said. “For me it was easier to just fight and settle things that way.”

But, the Ranch helped him find ease and a sense of purpose.

“Getting out on the farm and having a hard day’s work helped me to clear my mind,” he said. “(It) gave me opportunities to work hard on something that was important.”

Boys taking a break from Ranch work in 1970.

The Ranch gave him a chance to see a new perspective.

He said, “It allowed me to prioritize the problems in front of me and realize what I had control over…” And to accept the things that he couldn’t control.

Brassil said that talking to staff and creating new relationships with them helped him see his situation more clearly. Gary Adams, YBGR’s Farm and Ranch Director, was one of those people.

“Speaking to people like Gary helped me to understand what was important in my life at that time,” Brassil said.

Adams said, “James was a kid who just had some anger bottled up. We spent a lot of time together working through those problems by just working hard.”

Now that Brassil is 25, he has much to show for the kind of hard work he’s dedicated himself to. After he left YBGR, Brassil finished high school and enlisted in the Army as an Airborne Infantryman. He served there for three years before being accepted to the United States Military Academy at West Point.

Brassil shakes hands with United States Vice President Joe Biden at his West Point graduation ceremony.

Brassil participated in sports while there, and, in 2016, graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Human Geography.

“Seeing the progress of the farm gave me something to be proud of,” Brassil said.

And he takes the hard work he learned at the Ranch with him as he builds his life and his career, currently, as an officer assigned to the Fourth Infantry Division at Fort Carson (CO).

The Ranch Teaches Kids How to Work a Branding

(Billings, Mont.) May 22, 2017 – Kids from Billings’ Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch took to the dirt and manure on Friday afternoon, learning how to brand cattle like true Montanans. The Ranch’s kids come from around the state and across the nation. Some have never seen a feedlot or cattle operation, but the Ranch’s Farm Director, Gary Adams, showed them how it’s done. Mike Chavers, YBGR’s CEO, as well as residential staff, also jumped in on the action.

“These kids got to face their fears, find their confidence and learn new skills today. I really enjoyed seeing the kids work together and jumping in there with them,” said Chavers.

Close to 15 kids partook in this year’s branding. Inside the fences, they traded turns, learning teamwork on how to grab the calves’ hooves and flanks for a solid heave to the ground.  In total, over 50 calves were vaccinated and branded.

“Last year, the girls were running circles around the boys,” said Jeff Seeley, program manager for a residential lodge.

This year, many of the girls jumped right in, while others were shy to the sport. Adams, impressed with all of the kids’ motivation and hard work, applauded them for their efforts and praised them for a job well done.

As the kids dumped a cooler of cold water on each other, Adams said, “I’ll take this work crew anytime.”

The Yellowstone Conference: Kids in Crisis

Celebrating 60 Years of Leadership and Creating Positive Outcomes for At-Risk Children and Youth in Montana

Save the Date for September 21, 2017, 9:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch has reached 60 years of working to improve the lives of At-Risk Children and Youth in Montana.  As part of our celebration of this legacy of caring, we are hosting a conference focused on improving outcomes for kids and families in Montana.  Named The Yellowstone Conference: Kids in Crisis, the event will focus on promoting effective solutions to the problems facing our state’s most vulnerable young people, and provide a forum for mental health practitioners, education staff and law enforcement to exchange ideas – and to celebrate the efforts of those who are on the front lines developing and implementing solutions.

Based upon Georgetown University’s LEAD (Leadership, Evidence, Analysis, Debate) Conference, the conference is designed to be both interactive and informative.  During the conference, dedicated and knowledgeable professionals from a variety of governmental and organizations from around Montana will provide insight on the current challenges facing Montana youth, as well as introduce promising practices.

Through a lens of trauma informed practice and a focus on outcome measurement, the conference will provide opportunities to learn and engage on the following topics affecting Montana youth:

  • Youth Suicide
  • Social Media and Bullying
  • Co-Occurring Disorders / Dual Diagnosis
  • Funding Challenges and Opportunities

Eric Arzubi, MD, Chair of the Billings Clinic Department of Psychiatry and is President of the Big Sky Regional Council of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry will be providing the keynote address at the end of the day, summarizing the event.

Afterwards, there will be a reception celebrating YBGR’s 60 years of caring.

Fee for conference is $25.00, which includes conference, lunch, and reception.

Register here


Mike Chavers, CEO of Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch

Foster Care Pre-Service in Livingston

(Livingston, Mont.) May 15, 2017 – Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch (YBGR) in Livingston will be hosting pre-service training during the months of May and June for individuals interested in becoming therapeutic foster parents. These are free evenings for Livingston and surrounding area families to learn initial information on foster care, begin the training process, meet YBGR’s team of professionals and enjoy dinner.

The dates are May 30, and June 1, 6, and 8, from 6 – 10 p.m. at YBGR’s Livingston office, located at 5237 Hwy 89 South, Suite 1, Livingston, MT 59047. All four trainings must be attended.  For more information on these trainings, or to learn about foster care, call Tracey Lujan at 406-222-6490, e-mail, or e-mail Charise Lemelin at


Pint Night Fundraiser to Benefit YBGR Dillon

(Dillon, Mont.) May 11, 2017 – One of Dillon’s Pint Night Fundraisers will benefit Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch’s (YBGR) Dillon Community Based Services (CBS) program. The June 2 event is free, open to the public and kid friendly.

Lemelin stands next to YBGR’s Dillon office.

Charise Lemelin, YBGR’s Dillon Clinical Director, said she is ecstatic about receiving the “go-ahead” for the event. She said that they’d like to use the donations raised for underfunded needs affecting Dillon’s services.

“Our biggest needs right now are office space and vehicles, and funds as we move forward with foster care,” she said.

Event Details: June 2, from 4 – 10 p.m. The 200 block of South Montana Street will close to traffic. The event will begin at 4:30 p.m., with family-friendly games at Depot Park. At 6 p.m., guests can purchase food, drinks and hear live music inside Beaverhead Brewing Company. One dollar for every drink the brewery sells, as well as proceeds from the Branding Iron’s barbeque sales, will be donated to YBGR Dillon’s CBS program.

So, visit downtown Dillon, Friday evening, June 2, for a night to support the cause of helping kids and families!

Honeybees Arrive as Ranch Starts New Beekeeping Program

It’s been 60 years since Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch (YBGR) opened its doors to troubled kids and over 40 since it changed from the Ranch to a treatment facility. But farm work has always been a cornerstone of life at the Ranch.

In the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s “there were limitless chores to do, including everything from gardening, to caring for the animals, to helping out in the kitchen, to lending a hand on the various construction projects that always seemed underway” wrote YBGR founder Franklin Robbie in his book, “A Legacy of Caring.” But lately, in addition to working with cattle, horses, and testing their green thumbs, the Ranch’s kids are farming honeybees.

Jim Klempel teaches three YA Day School boys how to tend to one of the program’s honeybee hives.

Yellowstone Academy’s (YA) bee program, new this spring, is run by vocational education teacher Jim Klempel. Klempel said he has been hoping to start a bee program for over 10 years and is happy to see it happen. With eight hives to fill, Klempel set off in late April to pick up his first batch of bees from Fort Shaw’s Treasure State Honey, a family-owned beekeeping business. Klempel has filled two beehives with this batch and, in mid-May, will travel a short trip from Billings to Sunshine Apiary in Columbus, Mont. to pick up the rest, which will fill four more hives.

Klempel explained that the kids in his program have been preparing for their new flying friends by helping to assemble the bee boxes, painting them and situating them in a small, Ranch-owned field.

Klempel joked that he has learned most of what he knows from YouTube, but he has been researching their care and behaviors, and educating YBGR kids about honeybees since last winter. By the end of this summer, the kids will understand the fundamentals of beekeeping, such as how to prepare their hives, feed them, and understand the social system of bees.

Once Klempel’s second bee batch arrives, he said they will have nearly 4000 bees, a number that will grow to more than 15,000 at summer’s end.

But it won’t be until next year that the Ranch’s kids get to taste the sweet fruit of their labors. Klempel said that although the bees will begin producing honey this summer, that honey will stay in the hive for the bees to eat during winter. Next summer, kids will learn to extract the honey from the hives’ combs and will sell it to the public.

The beekeeping program teaches kids a useful trade that can help them further their employment opportunities after they graduate or once they leave the Ranch. The kids learn how to nurture and care for another living organism—the hive. Caring for the hive also allows the kids to understand the relationship that the nucs, worker bees, and the queen bee have to maintain.

“The bees provide an avenue for YBGR staff to engage youth in discussions about relationships and interactions, which promotes self-awareness and reinforces other therapeutic interventions that youth receive at YBGR,” said Mike Chavers, YBGR’s CEO.

Klempel said that the class has to keep a close watch on the hives when they introduce the two groups to see whether they are interacting positively. They will also watch the queen bees when they are integrated into the hives, because if the worker bees reject the queen, they’ll harm her.

He said the kids will help split two of the hives to make two more, filling all eight hives. The kids will monitor the behavior of the bees during the transition.

Two boys refill water and smoke the hives, a technique used to calm the bees.

Klempel and the kids’ favorite thing to do is watch the bees. He and his class will put on bee suits or coveralls and trek across Hesper Road, down the winding grass path, and up to the field to observe the bees buzzing around.

Still in the process of setting up, Klempel said that, at one point, 30 bees we’re trying to squish through a hole the size of a thumb, so he’s cut one larger. He said the bees are not bothered by their visits, but if kids start waving their hands around or interrupting them, they might get stung.

“It’s a quick lesson in respecting Mother Nature,” Klempel said. “No one likes the pinch of a bee sting.”

The bee operation is one of many vocational education specialties at the Ranch that teach youth technical and trade skills. Others include welding, woodworking, arts and crafts, pottery, gardening, and small machining.

To learn more about how integrating vocational programs into behavioral treatment and juvenile justice programs impacts the outcomes of youth, visit the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention or see a report at

Yellowstone Academy has a K-12 program accredited through AdvancED and a K-8 elementary district accredited through Montana’s Office of Public Instruction. YA is located on Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch’s residential campus, a nonprofit organization trusted nationally as a leader in the field of mental health care for children and their families.