Snow abodes on courthouse lawn in Northampton help raise money for Cancer Connection during annual fundraiser by Monte Belmonte

Last modified: Friday, March 13, 2015

NORTHAMPTON — An igloo and a quinzhee on the snow-covered lawn of the Hampshire County Courthouse seem like an odd place to spend the night, especially for someone who hates camping and the cold, but that’s exactly where Monte Belmonte of WRSI expects to stay Wednesday night.

“It really came down to the fact that I hate camping in the best of circumstances,” he said of the inspiration for the Cancer Connection Campout, now in its ninth year.

Belmonte will broadcast live on WRSI 93.9 The River from his temporary snowy home starting at 6 a.m. He plans to stay there until he reaches his goal of raising $50,000 to benefit the Northampton-based Cancer Connection. The nonprofit group provides non-medical emotional and physical support to cancer patients and their families.

“Unless someone drops off a $50,000 check, I’ll bet you I’ll be sleeping there Wednesday night,” Belmonte, the radio station’s program manager said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

In past years, Belmonte and his camping crew have had to rough it in tents. Thanks to a little help from some youngsters, he’ll now have two lavish pads to choose from.

On Tuesday afternoon, girls and leaders from the Girl Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts were busy finishing up their snow structure, a quinzhee. First used by some Native American groups in cold climates, the quinzhee is a hollowed out mound of settled snow.

Saturday, four Girl Scouts from Florence met with two leaders to pile up seven feet of snow on the courthouse lawn. Tuesday, they worked to hollow out the settled snow.

“It’s fun but it’s kind of cold and it gets tiring,” Norah Reade, 10, said during a brief break from the digging.

She and her sister, Maggie, 11, said they liked helping out for a good cause because they have a relative who died of cancer.

The girls planned to get warm after their work was finished Tuesday, though some said they wished they could stay.

“If we could sleep over we would — but we have school,” said Tai Pettiford-Rowan, 10.

Just across the walkway leading up to the courthouse is another icy dome. On Sunday, teachers, parents, students and alumni from Berkshire Trail Elementary School in Cummington spent about eight hours cutting and stacking nearly 80 blocks of compact snow to construct an igloo.

The idea to build an igloo was sparked by a tradition of fourth- and fifth-grade classes building igloos each year, according to Stacey Mackowiak of Cummington.

She said the community wanted to get together to help longtime elementary school staff member Donna Jordan, who was recently diagnosed with cancer. Her son, Joshua Jordan, died of cancer at age 12 in 2002.

“When someone’s diagnosed with cancer, you want to do something,” Mackowiak said. The campout “is a little crazy but ... it’s something positive to help a larger community.”

As a gesture to the Jordans, members of the school community not only constructed the igloo, but they also have been collecting donations to benefit Cancer Connection.

Mackowiak’s husband, Brian Gilman, a fourth-grade teacher at the elementary school, said he’s happy Belmonte does the fundraiser every year.

“It’s a sense of giving that inspires the kids too,” he said of the cam out.

The WRSI live broadcast will begin at 6 a.m. Wednesday and run until 6 p.m. Throughout the day, there will be multiple live music acts, sketches by illustrator Mo Willems, and a live broadcast of the “Bill Newman Show.” The live broadcast will resume at 6 a.m. Thursday until the $50,000 goal is reached.

For a full schedule of events or to donate to Cancer Connection, go online to

Chris Lindahl can be reached at


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