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2015 Governor's Humanities Awards


Since 1984, Humanities Montana has honored excellence in the humanities in Montana. In 1995, Governor Marc Racicot and Humanities Montana (then the Montana Committee for the Humanities) conferred the first Montana Governor's Humanities Awards at a ceremony in Missoula. Governor's Humanities Awards ceremonies occurred in 1996, in Great Falls, in 1998, in Billings, in 2001 and 2003 with Governor Judy Martz, and in 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2013 with Governor Schweitzer and Lieutenant Governor John Bohlinger, in the state capitol in Helena.

Six Montanans were recognized during the 2015 Governor’s Humanities Awards Ceremony on February 19, 2015 in the State Capitol Rotunda, Helena.

Philip Aaberg is a world-renowned musician and dedicated music educator who has shown a special commitment to cultural enrichment on the Hi-Line. Read Philip Aaberg's acceptance speech here.

Jack Wallace Gladstone, an award-winning troubadour from the Blackfeet Indian Nation, illustrates Native Americana through lyric poetry, music, and spoken narrative.

Yvonne Gastineau Gritzner is a long-time humanities advocate who has developed and supported public programs and public broadcasting on a state and national level through her work with organizations such as Humanities Montana, Montana Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, the Association of Public Television Stations, and the Friends of MontanaPBS. Read Yvonne Gastineau Gritzner's acceptance speech here.

Kirby Lambert is a Western historian, Charlie Russell scholar, and long-time program director at the Montana Historical Society who has advanced public humanities immeasurably.

Dr. Richard E. Littlebear, president of Chief Dull Knife College on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, has shown unstinting support for Native American educational efforts and for the revitalization of all indigenous languages but, especially, the Cheyenne language. Read Dr. Richard E. Littlebear's acceptance speech here.

William Rossiter, emeritus professor of literature at Flathead Valley Community College, has shared his love of history and folklore through his performances of American traditional music as a 30-year member of the Humanities Montana Speakers Bureau. Read William Rossiter's acceptance speech here.

Philip Aaberg - 2015 Acceptance Speech

Thank you Humanities Montana, Lieutenant Governor McLean, Arni Fishbaugh, and Raela Hulett, Patty and Jake, fellow Award recipients, and dear friends and family.

Honestly, this was one award that I never said, "Yeah, they should give me that." Unlike, say, a Grammy, or a MacArthur Fellowship. I feel humbled and honored to be among such a great bunch of folks. But I had to do a little research on the word HUMANITIES, since the concept has changed, just as our world has changed.

Our friend Wikipedia says, "In the West, the study of the humanities can be traced to ancient Greece, as the basis of a broad education for citizens. During Roman times, the concept of the seven liberal arts evolved.... Grammar, rhetoric and logic (were the trivium). Arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music (the quadrivium). These subjects formed the bulk of medieval education, with the emphasis being on the humanities as skills...ways of doing."

Trivium means "the place where three roads meet", and from it comes our word TRIVIA, meaning useless knowledge, or "how to make your friends annoyed with you because you're a smart kid." But really, as Wikipedia said, these are skills, "ways of doing", and the basis for an education for all citizens. As a musician, when those roads meet, the Muses come to visit. I'm not talking about Clio, Euterpe, Thalia, Melpomeni, Terpsichore, Erato, Polymnia, Ourania and Calliope, Neptune's daughters, those symbols of creation and inspiration from Greek mythology. We are not accustomed to going to the temple to make sacrifices to the muses, but every person, no matter what background, can gain their favor through education....even Wikipedia, YouTube, always the library, and very often the people, the teachers, who are all around us. And the only thing we have to do is to be open to the possibility, be awake to their recognition.

When I was a boy growing up in the house we inhabit in Chester, my grandfather, Pete Kuhry, sat every day in a chair by the door, next to the single bookcase that is still there, reading. He was a muse. He shared what he was reading with us. He read Montana, the Magazine of Western History, beginning with the very first issue which my brother Steve still has, and the article that made the biggest impact on me was "Waiting for a Day That Never Comes" by Verne Dusenberry. It was about the Metis on Hill 57 in Great Falls. That has and will be very important in my musical life. When I entered the 6th grade in Chester, Dick Simpson, a Muse from Chicago, arrived to teach my class. We were all assigned books to read, and my first was Moby Dick. And NOT a comic book version. I recently re-read it, and I remembered every word, including these:

"But even so, amid the tornadoed Atlantic of my being, do I myself still for ever centrally disport in mute calm; and while ponderous planets of unwaning woe revolve round me, deep down and deep inland there I still bathe me in eternal mildness of joy."

My mother, Helen Ann, stocked that bookcase at great expense, with great books. She was a single mom, and never had a college degree. She and her brothers and sisters and parents spent several years in the county poor house. We were not a "Harvard family". Mom was a muse for my love of literature and my love of music. I went through every single one of those books, leaving Plato's Dialogs until last, but I finally jumped in my junior year in high school. When I interviewed for Harvard, the first question asked was: "What is the latest book you read?" Uh, Plato's Dialogs. The interviewer was impressed. I could even discuss it. Then, when I took the SAT tests, and saw that the essay topic was "Discuss Plato's Dialogs", I knew the Muse had visited. Today I recall these words from that book: "There will be no end to the troubles of states, or of humanity itself, till philosophers become kings in this world, or till those we now call kings and rulers really and truly become philosophers, and political power and philosophy thus come into the same hands." My brother Steve, was a muse when, after college, he sent me copies of Wallace Stegner's Wolf Willow, and James Welch's books Winter in the Blood, and Riding the Earthboy Forty. It was really the first time I believed that art could come from where I grew up, on Montana's hiline, and through them I became a composer.

Margaret Saunders Ott of Hope, Washington and Spokane, was my piano teacher in high school, and really all of my life. She gave her students their first glimpse of professional life and professional training as musicians, and she also gave us books at every lesson, different ones for each student. There is no question that she was a muse.

So, thank you, all my muses. Those who are here, and those who have entered "the cloud of witnesses", who seem to watch over us, even now.

This is from a book given to me by Margaret Ott: Alan Watts, maybe the greatest popularizer of Zen Buddhism, wrote this: "Through our eyes, the universe is perceiving itself. Through our ears, the universe is listening to its harmonies. We are the witnesses through which the universe becomes conscious of its glory, of its magnificence."

Yvonne Gastineau Gritzner - 2015 Acceptance Speech

Lieutenant-Governor Maclean and August Assembly, I am honored beyond words to be a recipient of this award. However, this is a Humanities event, so we can hardly go without words. "In the beginning was the word."

Let me begin then with a few words of thanks. In the succession of events, first, to William Marcus for nominating me for this award. Next, to the distinguished humanists who added their letters of support: Margaret Kingsland, Walter Fleming, Jamie Doggett, Mary Murphy, Ellen Crain, Michael Murphy, and Danell Jones. (To have their esteem as well as their friendship means the world to me.) And following that, thank you to the Board of Humanities Montana and Governor Bullock for granting me this award.

I am grateful to the leaders, scholars, tribal elders, mentors, and partners who have led and accompanied me along the trail; to the distinguished awardees, with whom I am honored to share this evening, most of whom I have worked with over the years, and many others of you are in the room tonight.

Margaret Kingsland, whom, though she is my junior, I look up to (in part because she’s taller than I am) I look up to and revere, as my former boss at Montana Committee for the Humanities, my mentor, and as a cherished friend. During her twenty-two years as Executive Director of MCH, Margaret developed a strong bond with our tribal people and communities, celebrating, respecting, and helping to preserve their rich cultures, and she helped lead the way to open dialog and cultural understanding in our state. Dr. Kingsland is and will be a Humanities Hero and model for all time.

William Marcus is one of the brightest "human treasures" that this "Treasure State" has produced. Similar to a precious ore, if you will, mined out of the high desert of Wibaux and forged and burnished in the public broadcast studios of Missoula. We all are richer for the brilliant, everyday work of William Marcus.

I’d also like to remember one favorite colleague who is no longer with us, historian Dave Walter, from Helena. I will always appreciate Dave for his comprehensive knowledge, playful spirit, and warm support when I was Program Officer at MCH. At the conclusion of our phone conversations, he invariably would close by saying MCH had "the best staff in the West." We were a staff of five back then. It’s now a staff of four: Ken, Kim, Sam, and Jason, and it’s truly extraordinary—efficient, productive, creative—it still would trigger Dave Walter’s appraisal as "the best staff in the West."

Finally let me thank and introduce ¬to you my family who are here tonight: My husband Jeff Gritzner, consummate humanities scholar from whose pillow talk I learn more about the world than one could learn at most lectures. Our oldest son: Jason Gritzner, who came over from Bend, Oregon, our daughter Ingeborg Gritzner-Cordova, who flew up from Austin, Texas, our youngest son Justus Gritzner from Missoula, and my cousin Helen Morrison Diehl Hoffman from Helena.

Now, back to the Humanities. I am happy to be an advocate for the Humanities. An interesting note—"advocate" in French is avocat … which can also mean "lawyer", and … "avocado". The word "advocacy" derives from the Latin word advocare meaning summons or call to one’s aid for a position or cause. I am happy to respond to that call. (I just don’t want to be mistaken for an avocado.)

How did I become an advocate for the Humanities?

"My heart has followed all my days Something I cannot name." That’s a quote from Don Marquis (the New York columnist). As a kid I loved his "Archy and Mahitabel" stories, (and named my cat Mahitabel.) "My heart has followed all my days Something I cannot name." If I were to try to give that Something a name, I guess I would say it was the Humanities. In college this was born out, as I majored in Comparative Literature and French Language and History...becoming a humanities "type."

I’m sure you all experience this as humanities people. When you’re a humanities type, you recognize how many things you come across in life or in literature speak to you of the humanities: I’ll share a couple of quotes I’ve taken down over the years that illustrate this:

In Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose Susan Ward mused (and I quote) "The way to develop and deserve self-respect, which was the thing most worth seeking in life, was to guide myself always by the noblest of ideals that the race had evolved through the ages."

Here’s another one that jumped out at me: from Sven Birkerts The Gutenberg Elegies, "...the soul of our societal body...has been passed on by way of the word, mainly through books…not talking about facts and information…but about the somewhat more elusive soft data, the expressions that tell us who we are and who we have been, that are the record of individuals living in different epochs—that are, in effect, the cumulative speculations of the species.

Then "Recently, on NPR" (...and how often do we all start a conversation with those words?) Marilynne Robinson, one of my favorite writers, who read in Missoula in the early 90s along with a number of amazing international authors. It was during an MCH grant-funded public program, a precursor to the "Montana Festival of the Book" and the other book festivals around the state. Marilynn Robinson said recently on NPR "Nothing is more human than a book."

After pondering that one, I think I was persuaded, (but we could all have a discussion about it later tonight).

Meanwhile there is another realm of human expression and purveyor of the humanities, with which I have had the great, great privilege to be involved, and that is the realm of public broadcasting. Most of us feel exceedingly blessed just to live in this gorgeous state of Montana. But imagine how much less gorgeous it would be without public radio and public television to help fill our "Landscapes of the Mind."

From NPR and PBS, and their affiliates nationally, to our own MontanaPBS, Montana Public Radio, and Yellowstone Public Radio, we receive music to match our mountains, riveting current events and public relations to rival our rushing rivers, dance and dramatic productions that lift us to the clouds. And I mustn’t leave out the children’s programs that tumble and cavort and grow and fly…not unlike nature’s wonderful wildlife in our state.

Informational.... Inspirational.... Transformational.

For me, it is a deep honor and a privilege to be an advocate for the HUMANITIES in Montana and the nation, in all their manifestations.

Thank you for this award and thanks for listening

Dr. Richard E. Littlebear - 2015 Acceptance Speech

The words from our Cheyenne language and the concepts it articulates are important to those of us who still speak the Cheyenne language.

As a people indigenous to what is now America, our words form and retain the framework of our cultures and our spirituality; they retain the very essence of who we are.

Even though this framework is covered with the thin veneer of European-based culture, we have retained our spirituality and thus our identity. That’s why our words are important.

Once we speak our words, they mingle with the winds of the world; they blow around the world with each gust of wind, with each whirlwind.

When they later drift back to us they are still laden with the wisdom and values of our ancestors.

Today we can still snatch these words from the wind, like catching gossamer butterflies.

We can still catch these words with our mouths and our minds.

Once caught, we can still use these words to retain our cultures.

But our ability to catch our words in our own languages is rapidly disappearing because our languages and cultures are swiftly fading away.

I thank all people who made this award possible. I thank all the organizers of these ceremonies. I also thank my sister Delores Littlebear Hart, her Children--Susan, a student, Statia, an attorney; Dr. David Peakhart and his wife Sara—for making the journey from Oklahoma to be here today. I’d also like to thank my wife Jan Littlebear for coming from Alaska to be with me today. My wife is currently a doctoral student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, where she is also employed. A friend of our granddaughter commented, why is she going for her doctorate when she’s so old? To which Isabella replied, "She just likes to learn." My sister Delores is one of the first college graduates from the Northern Cheyenne tribe. That deserves a whole lot of recognition in and of itself. That whole table is loaded with educated and accomplished Cheyenne people: my sister Delores, is a registered nurse; my niece Statia is an attorney; another niece, Susan, is in a graduate program studying criminology; my nephew Dr. David Peakhart has a doctorate in physics and works for a private corporation in Stillwater, Oklahoma, and our close relative Winfield Russell, is the vice-Chairman of the Northern Cheyenne tribe.

It is so nice to be recognized for doing some things that all people should be doing: getting educated and preserving our languages. I thank the people who nominated me, who planned and prepared the activities that surround the awarding of these medallions.

I gratefully accept this award on behalf of all the people who are working daily and nightly to preserve our languages. They are doing noble work<

William Rossiter - 2015 Acceptance Speech

Thanks, Ken Egan, Kim Anderson and Sam Dwyer—you’ve done a great job shepherding this event along. Thanks in particular to Yvonne Gritzner and Margaret Kingsland, and Mark Sherouse, former directors, who encouraged me in putting my programs together. Thanks also to Lowell Jaeger and Kathy Stevenson for nominating me for this honor. And of course, I’m honored to be sharing a lectern with Philip Aaberg, Jack Gladstone, Yvonne Gritzner, Kirby Lambert and Richard Littlebear.

Forgive me for reading from notes.... Since I’ve retired from teaching college literature, I so seldom get an opportunity to be pompous that I need my notes to remind me to keep it to eight minutes. By the way, shortly I’ll assume the role of a V.W.A., to be explained later.

The question Ken Egan asked was, "How have the Humanities shaped your life?"

My first brush with the Humanities, or, at any rate, the first one I remember clearly as being beyond the usual childhood fascination with rhymes and stories, came as I read Tom Sawyer under the covers with a flashlight when I should have been sleeping. I loved the story, and I also came across a phrase that showed me, for the first time, how the phrasing of a sentence could supercharge the simple meaning of the words. Mark Twain wrote, "Tom...contemplated the dreary vastness of the stream." I thought it was the greatest sentence that had ever been written. It still sounds pretty good.

An early attempt to be an advocate for the Humanities came later that year at a summer camp in Wisconsin, and nearly spelled my demise. I was sitting on the pier, dangling my feet in Mauthe Lake, when Tom O’Rourke and Jimmy Markweise came by: "Hey Bill, let’s go up to the craft tent and make a lanyard." My response: "No thanks; I’d rather contemplate the dreary vastness of the lake." Rather than being captivated by the magic of the words, Jimmy and Tom responded by holding my head under the dreary vastness of Mauthe Lake until I found myself contemplating the dreary possibility of pulmonary edema.

Later attempts to communicate my interest in the Humanities proved more fruitful.

The Humanities, and specifically Humanities Montana, mean a lot to me. Humanities Montana allows me to drive all over Montana with a carload of guitars and banjos and show others the neat stuff that I’ve dug up—songs and stories from folklore, history and legend about the western migration, the Irish in America, railroads, outlaws, heroic women, the Civil War and so on. I love these songs and stories because they help us understand who we are. And when you dig up neat stuff you want to tell everyone

An example of digging up neat stuff: My parents used to sing "My Darling Nelly Gray," a nice sentimental love song, I thought, until I stumbled upon a usually-omitted verse that showed it to be a powerful anti-slavery song from the 1850s. It’s sung by a young man who goes to visit his sweetheart only to find that she’d been sold. That’s the kind of thing that makes you want to turn to the person next to you and say, "Wow! Check this out!"

I now use the song to begin my Civil War presentations. The song seems particularly to appeal to, or maybe shock, high school kids. I string them along a little, coaxing them to imagine themselves in the midst of this courtship, and then shocking them, when they hit that verse, with the brutality of slavery. It might, I always hope, personalize the tragedy of slavery for these students, the way Uncle Tom’s Cabin did for readers of the 1850s. Identifying with a slave’s story probably won’t make any of those students a nickel or get them a job or make them more efficient employees. But perhaps, added to a thousand other soul-expanding Humanities "moments," it might chip away at some small tinge of intolerance or racism that might be lurking somewhere in those young minds.

Another Humanities moment: When I was asked to present songs & stories of the Great Depression to residents of a senior living facility, many of whom remembered the Thirties, I invited a teacher to bring her high school history class to have lunch with the residents and talk about the songs & stories. By the time the program and the meal was over, the old-timers had the kids at every table spellbound and brimming with questions about the Dirty Thirties. The school then launched an oral history project that flourished for several years. There are on-the-road "moments" too, of course, like looking under the bed in my Butte hotel room to find, neatly wrapped in tin foil, a large pork chop. Ah, memories.

My songs & stories may be a year or a decade or a century old, but they often have roots in even older times (as did that pork shop, I suspect). That history makes them neat stuff with momentum.

That "Neat Stuff" idea pretty much captures my approach as a Humanities advocate. You do it too—everyone does. We come across a song, a book, a play, a poem, a painting—or even those damn YouTube clips of the kitten on the piano—and we turn to someone and say, "Wow! You have got to check this out!" That’s exactly what Humanities advocates do with some of life’s profound human experiences, and what makes us care about the Humanities.

And now for my role as a V.W.A.—a Viewer With Alarm.

Nowadays the "check out the neat stuff," urge comes under fire in the name of money and jobs. Take education, for example. Everyone here probably knows about a school or college that has cut back on art or theater or history or women’s studies or literature to buy more computers. Try to get budget to reinstate those courses, and you’ll get eye-rolling and sarcastic humming of Kumbayah.

It can be pretty discouraging. We have entered an "Age of Endarkenment" (a term I thought I’d invented until Wikipedia gave me some enlightenment about Endarkenment).

To Educational Endarkenmentalists, all schools are trade schools. Their mantra is "Poetry don’t put no bread on the table." For Endarkenmentalists there is simply no reason for schools to exist other than to train students to enter the workforce.

Unfortunately, we get hooked into arguing on their terms. We justify learning a language because of expanding global trade; theater courses will help us in business meetings or job interviews; literature will teach critical thinking so we can make the office more efficient or make us more savvy next time we buy a lawn chair, and so on....

Yeah, Yeah, Humanities does all that, and if that kind of argument works to reinstate that theater or literature, we will use it of course, but remember, it’s really beside the point.

Critical Thinking, for instance, might aid us in The Day of The Lawn Chair, but, more important, it may help us develop the scope to see beyond the tunnel vision of an iron-clad theology or a rigid political school or free-market dogma, those brain-blinders that limit the way we permit ourselves to think. It might help us realize that, even if it’s good for jobs, putting string of Bucket-o-Burgers Casino-Ramas along the Beartooth Highway isn’t such a good idea.

The short message: the Humanities count. So let’s just encourage, with kudos and attaboys and attagirls and donations, all our Humanities advocates who get it, who help remind us to value the whole person, not just the consumer or the worker-bee.

So thanks again to all those I mentioned a moment ago. And thanks in absentia to hundreds of men and women in the libraries, art centers, youth detention centers, history archives, local museums, senior living facilities, schools, colleges—who have sponsored and supported Humanities courses and concerts and presentations and conversations and grants and programs. And here’s to all the Humanities advocates in this room, in this state, plugging away to keep the Endarkenmentalists at bay.

You know that the "neat stuff" is important.

You know it’s better to light a soul than to curse the endarkenment.

Thanks.