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Community steps up for taproom manager

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RONAN — The two cooperatives in Ronan are coming together this month to help support Co-op Brewery Taproom Manager Eric Brunet as he faces the navigates changes to his mobility.  

Brunet suffers from a rare genetic neurological disorder called Spinocerebellar Ataxia (SCA), or Episodic Ataxia, which currently has no treatment. Inherited from his father, SCA varies in intensity due to its episodic nature, but has symptoms including loss of balance, impeded speech, and shaking. The disorder is also inconsistent in its onset and the speed of progression. Brunet’s father, for example, began to be severely impacted by SCA in his late 40s, whereas his aunt wasn’t severely impacted until her late 80s. Brunet himself, at age 51, has been impacted by SCA since his 40s, but has seen it progress rapidly more recently. 

“Two years ago, I was still climbing on ladders. I didn’t expect it to progress this quickly,” Brunet shared. He’s had increasing difficulties with balance and mobility even in the last couple of months, resulting in some signiåficant falls. “At 51 years old, when those kinds of things start happening, it’s hard not to get overwhelmed… You can just monitor your lifestyle and hope for the best.” 

Brunet has continued to work at the brewery throughout the progression of his symptoms, though he said there are now days when he doesn’t know if he’ll be able to get down the stairs and get outside. Finally, Brunet began to grapple with the need to ask for help as his mobility became more of a struggle. 

The first step Brunet took toward admitting to himself that he needed help was receiving a rollator unexpectedly from an old friend from his days working for Home Instead down in Missoula, Butch Froberg, who presently works in Partners of Home Healthcare. Froberg reached out to him to see if Brunet was still doing home care, and Brunet shared he was no longer able, having taken a bad fall that very day.

As Rollators are an expensive type of walker, those within his budget made with construction that simply wouldn’t last, Brunet had only been using a walking stick for mobility aid. Froberg happened to have a Rollator available that had just been donated, and was high end enough to last Brunet a long time.

“It’s one of those things that happened out of the blue… It’s also a matter of letting go of my ego and my pride. I could tell I was worrying people at work,” Brunet admitted. “The Rollator is a safer way to go.”

With that improvement aiding his mobility, Brunet realized it was truly time to ask for help. With a wheelchair likely in his future, and the wait for disability resources anywhere from six to 12 months after applying and often requiring an appeals process, he ended up creating a GoFundMe page to raise funds to install a wheelchair ramp on the front of his house, as well as help pay his bills. 

“I’ve taken the leap into humble lake,” Brunet said of setting up the fundraiser. Admitting he needed help took a lot for him to go through with, he explained, having been fiercely independent all his life. The response from the community, however, has been overwhelming. 

“The whole thing just kind of took me by surprise,” Brunet stated. “I made the GoFundMe and suddenly I have friends from all over sharing it and reaching out.” 

Upon posting the fundraiser, several old friends from throughout his life were sharing the fundraiser, contributing, and reaching out to him in texts and emails to see how else they might be able to help. Within the first few days, Brunet raised around $3,000 toward his goal. 

Members of the brewery itself were quick to step up in a bigger way as well, with brewery president Jesse Gray and wife Heather immediately offering to put together a crew to build a ramp for Brunet as soon as he said the word. The Western Montana Musician’s Cooperative, which often works with the brewery, also volunteered through president Coy Theobalt and Charlotte Veazey-Davis to join forces and make it happen. 

“I’m just overwhelmed with gratitude. I didn’t expect that at all,” Brunet shared. “It’s a huge help… and it’s been therapeutic, getting me over the hump of being embarrassed about it.” 

While certain things in his life have become more difficult since the progression of his SCA, Brunet is doing his best to keep a positive attitude. While he’s still working at the brewery and appreciates the support of coworkers Teagan, Tammy, and Jim, now with more of a managerial and advertising focus, Brunet is trying to focus on activities he enjoys that he’s still able to do, such as photography, graphic art, and writing poetry. Some of his poems were even recently published in a journal out of Chicago called ‘The Wax Paper.’ 

“As hard as I’ve run for the last 50 years, it’s the universe’s way of saying ‘Hey Eric, slow down. Work on that writing a little bit more,’” Brunet said. 

The two cooperatives of Ronan will be coming together later this month to begin construction on the ramp for Brunet. To help contribute toward materials for the project and improve the mobility of a member of the community, visit Brunet’s GoFundMe at

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