Be a Wild Woman of the West?

Fun-loving social group mixes friendship with charitable giving

For a Monday night, Trailhead Spirits in downtown Billings is a buzz of activity. Close to two dozen women can be seen clinking glasses and sharing laughs. The celebratory noise consumes the place as bartenders carry out trays of Lemon Drops and Moscow Mules. It's not every day that you can mix it up with some of your gal pals in one of Billings' only distilleries. But, then again, these aren't your average every day women. These are the "Wild Women of the West."

"The Wild Women of the West has been around for well over a decade. I think it is in year 13!" says Jennifer Mercer, Executive Director of the Billings Depot. It's literally her job to help keep these ladies entertained. Mercer laughs as she says, "Yes, that's what I do! I'm a party planner. But, it's pretty awesome when you think about it. I get to plan a fun party with these ladies once a month."

So, who are the Wild Women of The West? This social group banded together more than a decade ago to try to find a tangible and fun way to support the Billings Depot. Instead of simply writing a check to support the Depot's projects, "They each agreed to make a tax-deductible donation of at least $100 a year to the organization and in exchange the Depot would put on fun social events for the ladies," Mercer explains.

With the Wild Women of the West membership, four times a year these ladies will have an all-inclusive event planned for them. In between those quarterly events are nights like this -- a private tasting with each liquor explained by the master distiller himself.


As Jake Holshue passes out the decorative plastic glasses filled with Trailhead Spirit's signature gin he laughs and says, "I brought out the fine China for the Wild Women." As each woman grabs a glass, Holshue encourages them saying, "Look at the clarity, give it a swirl!" He explains that in each and every bottle, Trailhead's owners take the wheat from the family farm and "turn it into liquid gold."

As the ladies sip, they are urged to savor the gin's butterscotch notes and flavors of coriander and orange peel along with any one of the 14 botanicals packed inside each and every bottle. It's clear, these Wild Women are impressed.

What's interesting about this group is the fact that each and every event has its own flavor. The group has taken part in a Western night, where each Wild Woman was encouraged to dress up in her Western duds. Mercer smiles and says, "We had a cowgirl who owns a ranch near here come in and she taught all of the women how to rope. We had a dance instructor teach us how to do a square dance. And then, we had a historian teach us about some of the original wild women of the west — Maddie Moss and Calamity Jane."

Barb Ramlow has been a Wild Woman for about 5 years. "Originally, they had cooking classes that they did with area chefs. That was a favorite. I asked, 'How do you get to know about these events in time to sign up?' And, I was told, 'You become a Wild Woman!'" She became a member right away and hasn't looked back since. She even wrangled her friend Bev Kudrna to join in the fun. "I love the camaraderie. It is just fun meeting new friends," Kudrna says. While friend Joannie Cribb has always loved a good time with friends, "I love the fact that we are wanting to give back to Billings and do what we can for the Depot, which is an absolutely amazing structure."

Jennifer Mercer cherishes the philanthropic facet of this fun-loving group. "Each year we try to put the money for the memberships toward a special project," she says. "Last year, we used that money to repaint the entire interior of the Depot. In years past, we have done things like purchase our portable sound system. Right now, we are working to save money to buy all new chairs for the Depot."

As she looks around and sees the smiles on the women in every corner of the room, she says, "We have members in their 20s all the way up to their 80s and everyone in between. That's the best part. That diversity makes it so much more entertaining." And, in many cases, she adds women who had never met before went on to forge great friendships. Mercer says, "A lot of these ladies have become fast friends outside of this group. That is really fun."


Here's how you can take part in the fun

To become a member, each woman writes a tax-deductible donation of at least $100 to support the ongoing preservation and community enrichment efforts at the historic Billings Depot. Events are typically Monday or Tuesday evenings, days that tend to be a little less busy for women in our area. If you'd like to give the group a try without making a financial commitment, you can. The first Wild Women of the West event is free, you just need to register with the Depot beforehand. For more information, give the Depot a call at (406) 656-7273.


What's on Tap
A look at upcoming Wild Women festivities

The Wild Women partner up with In Good Glazes to paint up wine glasses with an artistic flair. This event costs $30, which includes fabulous wine and snacks.

Join Carolyn Korb of City Vineyard and learn how to truly appreciate the vino you love so much! $45 includes wine, food pairings, and instruction.

Join the Wild Women for a free holiday gathering where everyone gets a little etiquette lesson in how to throw a great holiday gathering. Bring a gift or donation to benefit the kids at the Family Support Network. Wine and snacks will be served.

More from YVW