Michelle Williams, Executive Director at Billings Depot

“That’s a horrible idea … What time?” 

Michelle Williams is no stranger to stepping outside her comfort zone, as her favorite quote implies. She knows life is full of risks that often reap the richest rewards.

“If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you, and I absolutely want to collect experiences that shape my future self. I’ll try almost anything once.”  

One such leap of faith came in 2009 when Michelle decided to move to Billings. She fell in love with Montana after a father/daughter vacation in 2008. The pair spent 10 days on a ranch in the Pryors, riding horses and moving cattle. 

“At the end of the trip, I didn’t want to leave,” she recalls, “so I went home to Dallas, put my house up for sale and quit my job. By May of 2009, I was living in Billings.”

A native of Philadelphia, Michelle lived in Dallas for 12 years. Her time in Texas fostered a passion for ranching and the western lifestyle. 

“It’s amazing how you can look back at your life and identify crossroad moments where one decision completely changes the path you’re on. I’ve had many of those moments and moving to Billings was absolutely one of them.”

Michelle’s role as executive director for the Billings Depot lends her the opportunity to serve her community in a unique and important way. 

“I’m responsible for ensuring the preservation and public usability of the historic Depot campus. This means overseeing the business, fundraising and collaborating with other community organizations to promote the growth and spirit of Downtown Billings.”

Her creativity is a key factor in her success. Michelle believes if others had one word to describe her, they would say ideation

“I love playing with new ideas,” she says. 

As a teen in high school, her father was an operating room nurse. She had the opportunity to observe surgeries on multiple occasions. 

“I scrubbed in with the nursing staff and stood in the corner watching as they replaced a knee, repaired an eye, delivered a baby and a few other procedures I couldn’t possibly name. It was fascinating and disgusting all at the same time.”

If granted financial independence, her dream would be to travel the world, read books and rescue all the puppies. In her free time, she likes to revel in some of life’s simplest pleasures.

“I’m happiest when I’m enjoying little luxuries in life—like champagne and girl talk with my girlfriends, s’mores around the campfire with my niece, game night with friends or reading a book by the fire in absolute quiet. These decadent moments can get lost in the craziness of life, so I try to breathe them in and be grateful for each one.”

 

Stacy Dreesen, Executive Director of The Family Tree Center

“For I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13.

“This reminds me that if I include God in my daily life, he will give me the strength I need to face every circumstance, good or bad, to carry out the mission he has set for me.”

Stacy Dreesen’s mission revolves around those she serves in the community. In 2004 she began working at The Family Tree Center while pursuing a master’s degree in social work.   

“The Family Tree Centerworks to prevent child abuse and neglect by providing support and education to parents and caregivers through parenting classes and workshops, in-home mentoring, free respite childcare, family fun nights and more,” Stacy says. “We also provide services to women in the Montana Women’s Prison Parenting Program.”

Born in South Dakota, Stacy was raised in Nebraska but returned to her birthplace to attend college.

“I went to college at the University of South Dakota where I met my husband of 30 years, Kent. We lived in Boise, Idaho, for five years after we married and then moved to Billings. We have lived in Billings for 25 years. It has been a great place to live and raise our two children.”

Although she has spent most of her life among the mountains and plains, Stacy harbors a special affection for the beach. 

“I love the sun, sand, and water and enjoy getting some vitamin D therapy,” she says. 

Those who know Stacy would describe her as passionate, a fact proven by her dedication to the organization she directs. Even if granted 100% financial independence, Stacy would want to continue her work providing parents and caregivers with parenting tools and resources, as well as making strides to eradicate Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). Her dream would be to have more time for traveling. 

One of the most interesting things to ever happen to Stacy occurred a few years ago when she and her family were driving home from the Black Hills on Christmas Day. 

“My in-laws were in a truck ahead of us and our family was behind them in our vehicle,” she begins. “We ended up stopped on the interstate just past Sheridan, Wyoming for over an hour in a blizzard. When we were able to continue, we made it as far as Garryowen, Montana, when our windshield wiper broke off making it impossible to see. We pulled off the interstate and found ourselves by the post office. We, along with about 20 other people, spent the night in the small post office lobby. There was a port-a-potty outside with snow that went up to my knees and wind blowing through it. It was an adventure.”

While she can’t pinpoint a single “turning point” in her life, Stacy instead believes that it is a series of cumulative experiences that helped to shape her. 

“I have had a very blessed life,” she says. “I have had many successes along with challenges. All my life experiences have made me into the person I am today. I was adopted at 6 weeks old and raised in a loving home.

My mission in life is to help children grow up with low Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) scores and to help parents and caregivers to build resilience in themselves and their children.”

Overall, Stacy is happiest when she is with her family.  

 

Ignacio Barrón Viela, Executive Director of the Billings Symphony Orchestra and Chorale

“I love the mountains to connect with myself and the beach to relax and disconnect. I have recently discovered the beauty of the montañas of Montana, and I have fallen in love with them. I would say the mountains are a sacred place that remind me of the beauty of our planet.”

Ignacio is a traveler well-versed in the diverse and rich beauty found in all corners of the world. He was born in Zaragoza, Spain, a lovely city between Madrid and Barcelona. Yet, he spent much of his childhood in a small sea village in the north of Spain called Suances, close to Santander.

“For Zaragoza, I love the warmth of its people and the amazing tapas it has to offer,” he says. “For Suances, I love its serenity and combination of greenery and the sea. Over the last 10 years I have lived in four different countries and over 15 cities, but I was drawn to Billings because of the authenticity of its people!”

As a child, Ignacio always loved following the NBA. He developed a keen interest in the career of Pau Gasol, who Ignacio saw as a role model for success. 

“When I was a child, Pau was an example of success for me as well as a role model for how to accomplish big dreams (such as moving to America to work),” he recalls. “I remember that when Pau was playing the first year as an NBA player (he was appointed Rookie of the year) I created a binder with all of his statistics, pictures, and newspaper articles from all over the world … it was a wonderful memory. After a while, Pau returned to Spain to play with the Spanish national team. I had the pleasure of getting to watch him play live, and at the end of the game, I decided to wait for him. When I saw Pau, I thanked him for being such a huge role model for me, and I gave him the binder I created. He told me how much he appreciated the gift. I remember my uncle was with me, and since Pau is so tall, he asked my uncle to bend down so he could use my uncle’s back as a table to sign an autograph!”

Ignacio now works with the Billings Symphony Orchestra, enabling a great team and orchestra to promote and spread their passion for the musical arts in the Billings community and beyond. 

“As for my day-to-day, I am responsible for managing the human and financial resources of the organization in order to achieve the symphony mission: ‘Enrich lives through music by providing both performances and music education enjoyment, creative expression and personal growth,’” Ignacio explains. “I consider the three key tasks of an ED or CEO of any organization to be raising money, selling, and hiring and developing talent.”

If he were to become financially independent, Ignacio’s dream would be to work in the same field within the music and orchestra world. 

“I would probably do it on a part-time basis and spend the rest of my time traveling to third world countries starting projects in the arts to support underserved communities.”

When a situation calls for him to lighten the mood, Ignacio believes in the power of food to resolve tension. 

“I would just bring a bunch of Spanish tapas and start telling stories about them.” 

Ignacio’s favorite quote is an adage passed on to him by a dear friend.

Κάθε τι για καλό (Kathe ti yia kaló), or ‘Everything for a good purpose.’ My friend Stavros from Greece shared this with me in a very special moment of my life.”

Looking back, Ignacio can definitively identify the turning point in his life, a decision that brought him much happiness and fulfillment. 

“When I completely changed my life and traveled to the other side of the world (the United States) to study business and work in music,” he says. “I am happiest when I am living in the present moment.”