Smiles and laughter freely mingled with tears and some wavering voices at a Thursday evening memorial gathering to honor two young Kalispell women who died in a plane crash last month.
Calm weather and clear skies prevailed as people shared memories of Daily Inter Lake reporters Melissa Weaver and Erika Hoefer at a picnic area in Lone Pine State Park. Most of those attending were Daily Inter Lake employees, past and present, and others were friends of Hoefer and Weaver.
Weaver, 23, and Hoefer, 27, and two Missoula men, Brian Williams and Sonny Kless, died June 27 when their small plane crashed near Dixon while the four were on a sightseeing flight.
While “the girls” were not longtime Kalispell residents — each had moved here in December 2009 — they both had made many friends and developed solid working relationships within the community.
Many who spoke remarked about the closeness of the Daily Inter Lake news staff and how well Hoefer and Weaver fit in.
“People who have never been in a newsroom don’t understand how close newsrooms can get,” Daily Inter Lake Publisher Rick Weaver said.
Reporters, editors and photographers often work long days, weekends and night shifts in the course of doing their jobs and that often results in a family atmosphere in the workplace, he said. Melissa Weaver was not related to Rick Weaver.
Sports reporter Dillon Tabish made a similar comment. He thanked his co-workers for banding together during the troubling time. “I’ll never forget that the rest of my life,” he said.
Losing co-workers in a tragedy has changed the way photographer Nate Chute approaches some stories, he said. Reporters and photographers cover accidents and tragedy all of the time, Chute said.
“I take that sense of empathy with me now to cover that kind of event,” he said.
Assistant Managing Editor Scott Crandell reiterated how the event had brought the newsroom together. “It brought us closer together and we’ll all miss them,” he said.
Tabish shared stories about times he spent with Hoefer and Weaver and about their bright presence in the newsroom. Several speakers referred to Hoefer’s love of bright colors and patterns and Tabish called her a bright light.
Crandell said Hoefer had a “presence” about her.
Inter Lake photographer Brenda Ahearn, who has red hair, said Hoefer was the “only redhead I’ve ever seen successfully wear that much pink.”
Tabish characterized Hoefer as “brave” for moving to Kalispell from Chicago, which he thinks fulfilled Hoefer’s father’s dream of moving to the Flathead.
Bill Hoefer had dreamed of moving to Montana, where he had relatives, but his life changed course when he met the woman he would later marry, so he never moved West.
Bill Hoefer “was proud to see his first-born do it ... fulfill his dream,” Tabish said.
Meeting the families of the two reporters proved to be a revelation for Managing Editor Frank Miele. He said meeting their family members showed him “how much of a spark of life you can give someone.”
Weaver had an infectious laugh, Tabish recalled, and that sound could sum her up.
He shared a story about the first ski trip he and Weaver made and how she concealed her ski prowess, but he quickly dubbed her the “mogul queen. ”
Weaver’s intensity about work was mentioned by several speakers, including Crandell, who said her intensity usually depended on “how much coffee she had.”
Miele said he and Crandell knew from the beginning they had hired “good people” in both Weaver and Hoefer.
Advertising writer Sydney Jordt said the seven months that she and the others knew Weaver and Hoefer was “not very long,” but she stressed the lasting impact of the two girls “speaks to how amazing each of them were.
“They touched a lot of lives in a short time,” Jordt said. “When you’re so deeply loved, you’re not easily forgotten.”
Jordt and Weaver were roommates. She recalled times when Hoefer would come to their home and the three would try to figure out “how to be big girls with our big-girl jobs.”
Hanging out with Weaver and Hoefer was like being in a marathon, Chelsea Bond said. She was a new acquaintance of the two young women, but a fast friendship was formed.
Their deaths makes Bond want to get the most possible out of her own life, she said.
Hoefer’s enthusiasm for the outdoors was recalled by Jasmine Linabary, managing editor of the Bigfork Eagle. She talked about a hike they were on together and how badly Hoefer wanted to see a bear.
She got her wish, Linabary said, when they came upon a black bear “sitting in the middle of the trail.” As Linabary and Weaver ran in the opposite direction, Hoefer ran to the front and started taking photos. “She wanted that experience.”
Ahearn shared a memory about a time she and Weaver were tracking down a story about a mudslide endangering a home. The group chuckled at Ahearn’s description of Weaver’s shoe choice that day — “delicate little yellow” shoes. With each step in the mud, Ahearn could hear a “squish-squish” sound. Weaver then confessed to Ahearn those were her favorite shoes.
The publisher complimented the news staff for its professionalism during a time of crisis. “I’m very proud of all of you. I know it’s been a stressful time,” Weaver said. He also shared with them compliments on their work made by Melissa Weaver’s father.
“Erika and Melissa would be very proud of how you all handled this,” Rick Weaver said. “ I hope you will find great comfort in time of your memories of Erika and Melissa.”
Reporter Shelley Ridenour may be reached at 758-4439 or by e-mail at email@example.com