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As retirement looms, Bill Dutcher will miss 'chaos' of MetraPark

Bill Dutcher sign
Posted at 1:53 PM, Dec 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-10 15:53:55-05

BILLINGS — On Jan. 1, the First Interstate Arena will still be standing, the Montana Expo Center will still be ready to host another of its numerous events, but the grounds at MetraPark will no doubt feel different. For the first time in 40 years, Bill Dutcher won’t be there to take in the controlled chaos.

"You give me 100 multiple choice questions, and I will not do well," Dutcher said. "But you give me 14 things to do in a 16-hour day at MontanaFair, and that was easy."

Attendees likely wouldn’t have noticed Dutcher doing any of those things - he thrived in the shadows.

"Someone asked me, 'Did you see The Eagles?' I was in Kelly our comptroller's office, listening to Hotel California," Dutcher revealed. "My whole life has been behind the scenes."

Bill Dutcher desk
Bill Dutcher works at his desk in the final month of his job as MetraPark's General Manager.

It’s impossible to pair down a lifetime of memories - and Dutcher remembers everything, from starting as a fair worker in 1981 to becoming GM in 2004 - but one does seem to come up more than others.

"When they built the Expo Center and Montana Pavilion, they said, 'Maybe we can have the ABC national bowling tournament,'" he said. "When you think of Billings hosting 58,000 bowlers, 95,000 visitors, somewhere around a $50 million impact...that's one that comes to mind."

Dutcher was on call 24 hours a day for six months in 2002 during the tournament.

"The lights didn’t go off from Jan. 2 to June 23," he said.

ABC Bowling tournament Billings
Bill Dutcher holds up a postcard of the 2002 ABC Bowling tournament, held from Jan. 2-June 23, 2002 at the Montana Expo Center in Billings.

He’s on call to wife Sue now - he owes her that much after the last four decades.

"I met her on an all-night shift during the NILE the first year I worked here," Dutcher said, "so there’s not a thing you can surprise her with."

Dutcher’s immediate future is dog walks and books. He’ll support whatever happens to the facility he’s spent more time in than anyone, but offers one final piece of advice on the idea of Metra privatization versus continued local management.

"The customers have not walked in that open door and said, ‘Due to a staff or facility that hasn’t taken care of business, we’re not coming back,’" Dutcher said, "so I don’t know why that model wouldn’t work."

He would know.