Rocky celebrates 109th Candlelight Dinner, article by Jocelyn Anderson

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Rocky Mountain College Concert Choir sings the Alma Mater for dinner guests. Photo by Alsa Photography.

The Candlelight Dinner has been an annual tradition since the start of Billings Polytechnic Institute, now called Rocky Mountain College.

The founders, Ernest and Lewis Eaton, wanted to celebrate the college and its students.

Due to construction, the opening of the college was delayed. This forced students to take classes in downtown Billings for the fall of 1909 while construction was being completed on campus.

In January 1910, construction was completed. Hay wagons were ridden up 27th Street to Rocky’s campus by students, faculty, and staff.

The cold, tired, and hungry students were greeted by the absence of electricity as they went to eat dinner in the dining hall. Undeterred, they ate by candlelight and celebrated their first meal together on campus. The students chose to celebrate this event every year since that winter.

It has been 109 years, and RMC still commemorates the Candlelight Dinner.

Although the college has modernized since that first meal, celebrating this tradition keeps Rocky grounded in its roots and respects the institution’s past.

This year, Prescott Hall was filled with faculty, students, and alumni as they enjoyed each other’s company over dinner. The room was beautifully lighted and filled with smiling faces.

The night began with a welcome from director of alumni relations Sarah Clark. Afterwards, RMC chaplain Kim Woeste led the invocation.

Following the speakers was the presentation of awards. This year, there were three alumni award recipients.

The Spirit of Candlelight Award went to Dr. David Shenton, the Distinguished Alumni Award went to John Goodheart from the Class of 2003, and the Outstanding Young Alumni Award went to Dr. William Tantum, Class of 2009.

Dr. Shenton was a Battlin’ Bears team physician and an instructor in the Physician Assistant Program. He led a career in orthopedic surgery and sports medicine.

Today, Shenton is retired and is still connected to RMC through his experience and dedication to health and education.

Since his graduation from RMC, Goodheart has continued to share his love for music and education throughout the Billings community by providing the school district with opportunities for learning.

He also shares these passions with his church community. Goodheart helped remodel Peace Lutheran Church. He teaches confirmation and is active in various other church activities.

After graduating from Southern College of Optometry in 2014, Dr. Tantum started his own practice in a 2,000-square-foot building located in a strip mall.

He later expanded his small business into a 10,000-squarefoot cutting edge clinic.

In 2014, Tantum created a program called The Love Project, which provides eyewear and eye care to those in need.

Tantum’s program has helped numerous people and spawned other programs like Love Haiti, Love Eye Care + Eyewear at Blount County Eye Center, Love Guatemala, and Love Blount County.

These three recipients have carried the mission and traditions of Rocky Mountain College throughout their professional careers.

Hardworking, dedicated, and caring individuals such as Shenton, Goodheart, and Tantum inspire their communities as well as students at RMC.

Final activities of the night included the Candle Ceremony, directly relating back to the first Candlelight Dinner in 1910. Everyone held a lighted candle as members from the Rocky Mountain College Concert Choir sang the Alma Mater. Final remarks were given by RMC President Bob Wilmouth to conclude the night’s festivities.

Although it has been over a century since the first Candlelight Dinner, it is important to the faculty, staff, and students that it remains a part of the college’s tradition.

To appreciate where the college is today, we must recognize the past and the beauty that has emerged from it for, as the Alma Mater states, “Rocky Mountain, we all love thee.”

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