Billings has seen colossal change since Mayor Tom Hanel first took office in 2009. Currently in his second term and seventh year in his position, Hanel is nearing the twilight of his tenure but still utilizing his time to influence the city’s growth and development. This is the same booming Magic City that made Hanel awestruck as a child, having witnessed the “astronomical expansion” of Billings, particularly in the Heights and the West End.
“I moved to Billings 43 years ago and have watched it grow and progress. What I’ve seen will continue,” he said of the positive, warm atmosphere he calls home.
When Hanel first moved to Billings, the Heights had no schools and the West End comprised of gravel pits and corn fields where today’s shopping centers now take center stage.
Downtown has seen its fair share of change, too.
“You come downtown now, and it’s almost as busy at night as it is during the day. Before, businesses were boarded up in the evening,” noted Hanel.
Having had a successful career in law enforcement with the Billings Police Department, Hanel mentioned the “primitive” resources used in the mid-70s as compared to today. Whether talking about the police force or the city in general, Hanel is right: times have changed and Billings is better equipped now.
In 2006, Billings reached a population of over 100,000. According to Hanel, Billings will continue to build upon itself, its steady growth easily managed by city government.
A joint effort
With a city to run and many events to attend, Hanel cannot do it alone. His wife Robin is by his side, representing Billings together.
“If I didn’t have my partner, I’d find it very difficult to accomplish everything,” he said.
Robin has pushed Tom to expand his horizons and attend as many events as possible.
“It brings me great pleasure to promote Billings every chance I get. I take it seriously,” he said.
“We waited until we had an empty nest on purpose,” explained Robin of the timing behind Tom running for office.
With more time to devote to the city, Robin, too, is excited for Billings’ future.
“Billings is blossoming, igniting. It’s not dependent on one industry and the age groups are growing. Young people are making the city their own,” said Robin.
With just under two years left in office, Tom and Robin are feeling time slip away from them.
The final act
“We’re starting to see the sunset of his mayorship. You want to soak in every moment you can,” explained Robin.
Moments such as when Tom visits with children are what Robin will miss most.
“I’ve seen Tom kneel down, reading to kids. They will say ‘that’s the mayor’ because they’ve met,” she said. “Children love him; he’s approachable.”
The passion both Tom and Robin bring to the table as Mayor and First Lady of Billings will be hard to beat.
Mayor Tom Hanel will always be concerned about Billings and feels that the top official sets the tone for the city. Not a day goes by that he doesn’t think about the future.