February 7, 2019 is a date that will live in joy. Lt. Governor Mike Cooney joined with Humanities Montana’s board and staff and many family and friends in honoring five extraordinary Montanans for their contributions to public humanities in our beautiful state: Stephenie Ambrose Tubbs, Ellen Crain, Tami Haaland, Thomas McGuane, and Elizabeth McNamer. An evening banquet hosted by William Marcus and featuring a funny, moving keynote address by Bill Pullman celebrated the achievements of these gifted citizens. Special thanks to Mike Jetty for offering honor songs at both the ceremony and banquet.
Bill Pullman, 2019 Public Humanities Award recipient
Bill Pullman is a film, theater and television actor best known for his roles in Sleepless in Seattle, Independence Day, and While You Were Sleeping. He recently starred in The Ballad of Lefty Brown, a 2017 American western filmed in Bannack State Park that employed hundreds of Montanans. In 2018, he received an honorary doctorate degree in arts from Montana State University, Bozeman where he once held roles as adjunct professor and co-chair of the theater department. A long-time supporter of Montana Shakespeare in the Parks and member of the Artistic Director’s Circle, Mr. Pullman enjoys spending time on his ranch outside of Cardwell, MT that he co-owns with his brother.
William Marcus, host
William Marcus is the retired director of the University of Montana Broadcast Media Center and Montana Public Radio/Montana PBS. William spent over 40 years in public media and has received a number of accolades along the way, including the 2007 Governor’s Humanities Award and the 2015 Cultural Achievement Award from the Missoula Cultural Council. Originally from Wibaux, MT, he continues to be recognized across the state as the voice and host of the "Backroads of Montana" series on Montana PBS. William was the executive producer on Emmy Award winning documentaries including "Evelyn Cameron; Pioneer Woman Photographer," "Sun River Homestead," Bicycle Corps," and "For this and Future Generations." He also produced "Glacier Park’s Night of the Grizzlies," a historical documentary on the 1967 Glacier National Park bear attacks.
Lt. Governor Mike Cooney, presenter of awards
Lt. Governor Mike Cooney was appointed by Governor Steve Bullock in 2016 to become Montana’s 32nd Lieutenant Governor. He has served three terms as Secretary of State, as well as in both houses of the Montana legislative branch. Mike is dedicated to improving Montana’s public school systems by advocating for increased funding and support for educators. He has served on the boards of Helena Area Habitat for Humanity, Montana American Legion Boy and Girls State and the State Capitol Restoration Commission. A Montana native, the Lt. Governor graduated from Butte High School and the University of Montana.
Stephanie Ambrose Tubbs, honoree
Stephenie Ambrose Tubbs is a historian and public humanities presenter who is well-known for her books on the Lewis and Clark Expedition, including Why Sacagawea Deserves the Day Off: Lessons from the Lewis and Clark Trail.
"Once upon a time" describes the effect the Humanities have had on my life. I grew up surrounded by stories because my parents shared their unquenchable passion for the arts and traveling on history-based adventures across the country. They impressed us with the importance of place and the stories that connected people to place. It was their love of story that brought me to Montana. It was their love of culture and history that gave me an early appreciation for place and for this place in particular. (That story centered on two leaders, but their names were not Lewis and Clark, rather it was Crazy Horse and Custer who first brought me to Montana, and in a crazy twist of fate, that had me re enacting the Battle of the Little Big Horn, in a community production, a stone’s throw from where it actually happened.)
My education at the University of Montana taught me not only the history of the state, but triggered a curiosity, and an undying desire to learn about people and their connection to place as represented by their art, their stories, their culture. I recently read an article on the need for the Humanities in these times. One professor suggested that studying the Humanities is a challenge because unlike other fields of study, it does not provide definitive answers; instead, studying the Humanities simply raises more questions. In other words it asks you to stay interested, stay curious, and pay attention, something I try to do every day. As you all know, story takes many forms, it can be found in a bowl of steaming hot gumbo, or in the pattern of your family’s favorite old quilt. The best stories require some effort to understand, to come to terms with, and to ultimately realize that those stories are the ones that are never really concluded. They keep us guessing, as my husband would say.
Fortunately for me, I have a partner whose parents also appreciated stories. He is always willing to take the longer way in pursuit of culturally based adventures, from obscure historic sites to unique community events like the pig races in Bear Creek, Mt. His enthusiasm sometimes goes overboard, but nevertheless, it inspires me to see what is around the next bend or the next switchback.
Over the years I have admired and congratulated previous honorees. I never imagined that I would be among them. I am grateful to my friends, family, teachers and Governor Bullock for this honor.
Although I did not have the good fortune to be born in Montana, I have lived here for some forty years and as I like to tell native Montanans when they are recounting the number of Montana generations they represent, that for me it took some effort: I chose to live here. It makes me exceedingly happy and proud that Humanities Montana and the Governor also chose me.
Ellen Crain, honoree
Ellen Crain is the long-time director of the Butte-Silver Bow Archives who is an expert on Butte’s history and led the campaign to refurbish the current Archives building, a model of historic preservation.
In Butte, you can’t take a step without history tripping you up. Perhaps this is the reason, that throughout my career, I have always had trouble choosing a piece of history to capture the many dimensions of Butte’s story. I grew up within its indelible landscape and for the last 27 years have had the distinct privilege of assembling the collections and caring for the manuscripts that document the extraordinary history of Butte-Silver Bow.
In this position, I frequently answer questions about our place in the world and how it affected the State of Montana, the United States of America, and several nations. The beauty I find in this role is not only speaking of the contents of our collections, but personalizing this information with the stories of human experience. As a girl, my grandmother would tell me the story of how her family got to Butte. Facing poverty and hunger in Ireland, they moved first to England and eventually immigrated to America. They arrived in Pennsylvania, moved on to mines in Colorado, and ultimately found their way to Butte. Through my work, I have learned my family’s story is like many Butte Irish and Cornish, and it is because of this migrant trend that we are able to help our researchers identify their family and piece together the narrative of their American experience.
The Archives’ collection includes the records of the mining companies that fueled the second industrial revolution and two world wars. Working within these papers, I have learned so much about American Capitalism and the delicate dance shared by corporate interests and their workforce. Nestled within the labyrinthine neighborhoods of the Butte Hill, are the dwellings where miners shed the trappings of their work and bound themselves and their families to their neighbors, building our tightly knit community.
It was within one of these neighborhoods that my father learned the stories and songs of Ireland, which he shared with our family throughout his life. He was an award-winning folklorist, and recited poetry and song as the primary source of the lived Irish-American experience. In my work, the song and verse that populated my childhood lend color and humanity to the more academic realities of Irish immigration and the Irish American experience. It has also helped me to recognize the foundational role music, song, and the ritual of sharing plays in every culture’s American-immigrant story.
Butte’s recognition of each nationality’s cultural contributions formed a solid foundation that has made our spirits resilient to the realities of labor strife, war, and deindustrialization. The Archives' recent “All Nations” exhibits have taken care to incorporate these very elements into displays recognizing Butte’s history. The equity people find here is truly a treatise on the importance of sharing traditions, rituals, faiths, and food and drink with one another.
As we face what is next for our community, and continue our work to bridge the past with the present, I think about the many histories and stories to bring to light, and how I can ensure that the Archives’ collections and manuscripts continue to tell the story of Butte as it moves toward its future. Choosing which stories to highlight is unlikely to get any easier for me, and considering that challenge, I am reminded of a quote from Clem Work that captures this sentiment best: "Talking about history in Butte is like talking about food in France. There is so much of it and it is all so good it is hard to choose just what to digest."
Tami Haaland, honoree
Tami Haaland is Professor and Chair of English at Montana State University Billings, a statewide leader on poetry education who has served as Montana’s poet laureate and volunteers extensively in the Billings area to encourage literary engagement among citizens of all ages and backgrounds.
When I was a child, my small town, Inverness, may have had a population of 200 people. There were two churches, a bar, a gas station, and at that time, a store along with the K-12 school. My class sometimes had upwards of seven to ten students in elementary school, but by high school there were four of us, all girls, and we had been together since kindergarten. My family lived twenty miles away where my maternal grandparents homesteaded and where my mother and two of her brothers subsequently settled with their families. As children we roamed the coulees leading to the Marias River. By the time we were ten, we would be gone for much of the day in our explorations, and we engaged in extended imaginary play—we were in outer space, we were in the ocean, we were in historic settings on the plains. Usually we were together, but sometimes I was alone contemplating the landscape, watching the insects, thinking, always thinking. Somehow I knew at a fairly young age that I wanted to be a poet and I wanted to go to University of Montana.
For me, the arts and humanities don’t exist in distinct camps. Instead, there is a back and forth motion, a blending. Both are experiential, fundamental, and familiar. While arts represents the visceral, concentrated response to experience, humanities are born form curiosity and investigation. While the first, at least for my poet self, means words must arrive at the page without too much interference and then be refined over time. The second allows a much slower process of research and contemplation. But even then, they are not distinct because one begets the other.
The study of the humanities has, over the course of many decades, allowed me to understand more about context. I came from a rural area, from immigrants who entered the country early, before it was a country, and gradually made their way across the continent from Virginia to Pennsylvania, the Midwest, and eventually Montana. I came from immigrants who entered the country late, in the same century of my own birth; they traveled from Norway where relatives still live and farm. As is the case for everyone, there were at least two sides, and a child will begin to wonder about the stories that come down from generations and the people who arrived each summer from the Midwest or the West Coast or Europe, about what is and is not known and how to put it all together. Living with these first stories made me curious, and curiosity—wanting to know more in a gradually widening cultural and historical context—became a lifelong investigation.
Humanities gave my life direction. There was rarely a time when they weren’t important, when stories didn’t fill my world and when the invitation wasn’t open for me to imagine broadly and participate, to ask why and to prowl through the small libraries available to me as a child. That was the start, and attending the University of Montana, having Lois Welch chair my graduate committee, finding that the broad path I had chosen early was a good fit, and pursuing it for the rest of my life has been fortunate. Going to Bennington later in life and traveling about Montana as poet laureate and post-poet laureate presenter continued that good fortune.
The humanities are still changing my life, daily. Ultimately, sharing poetry, writing, the study of literature and its historical context in communities across the state has been the outgrowth of this early connection with the humanities, and I hope this immersion will continue and deepen over time.
Elizabeth McNamer, honoree
Elizabeth McNamer is a religious studies professor at Rocky Mountain College, scholar, advocate, and author of a newspaper column.
My introduction to the humanities started with my first lullaby and nursery rhyme. Living in a small village in Ireland during the Second World War, we provided our own entertainment: we danced, played, performed plays, wrote compositions; we spent hours standing around the piano singing; we played chess, read aloud from the classics; gathered around the turf fire to tell stories.
I went to school in England when I was eleven years old and there Shakespeare took over; seeing As You Like It started an affair that continues to this day. We attended Stratford on Avon to see the plays and learnt them by heart.
You are never alone as long as you have a poem in your pocket. I can draw out of my pocket the long soliloquies from which I have gained much wisdom:
"The quality of mercy is not strained."
"To die to sleep, but in that sleep of death what dreams must come when we have shuffled off this mortal care must give us pause."
We learnt poetry by heart.
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty, in this world this is all you know."
Wordsworth's "and, then my heart with pleasure fills and dances with the daffodils" has brought me much consolation at stressful times. At school, we did not talk about boys but defended our favorite poets! At college in London, we lined up to see the latest play or coffee-crawled to discuss such topics as existentialism.
The humanities have guided my life, been the center out of which I operated. I have introduced hundreds of students to the humanities over the years at Rocky Mountain College, taken dozens to Israel to “do” archaeology and learn of our beginnings.
Truly, Robert Hutchinson was right: "We cannot choose whether to be human or not but we can choose whether to be the best humans we can be through the study of the humanities."
Thomas McGuane, honoree
Thomas McGuane is an award-winning, nationally prominent writer who has captured Montana in all its complexity in his novels, short stories, and essays. As noted by a nominator, a Governor’s Humanities Awardee should not only possess great talent but should be an advocate for the advancement of the Humanities in Montana and beyond.
"We have lived for a long time now under the twin umbrellas of technology and the GNP, the triumph of materialism over the life of the spirit with its celebrated advantages in life expectancy and comfort, if not for everyone---in fact, not for most of humanity. The wish for abundance rather than sufficiency has led us down a trail to disappointment and the exhaustion of novelty. Technology has done more to create human solitude than anything else and the digital age has elevated it to a crisis of isolation. It’s no accident that these consequences have paralleled the devaluation of the humanities, art, music, and literature. The humanities have broad and elastic boundaries, but they share the common focus of understanding ourselves and others, our place in the human family.
Our longing for mindfulness is a response to the temptations of materialism as well as the solicitations of crackpots, equally divided between politicians and preachers, with the credulous in their crosshairs. Those uncertain of the afterlife are doubly anxious not to miss this one or make it the rat hole into which we have poured the sand of our days, a growing feeling of emptiness as time takes things away. If we don’t learn what it means to be human, what it means for others to be human, then we are on a fast track to spiritual impoverishment.
The humanities are a proven approach to understanding ourselves and others, and indeed to all who inhabit the planet down to the plants and animals and the earth itself. The humanities should be a resource for anyone seeking consolation in meaning, whether in the spirituality of religion or the piety acquired through noticing and compassion. There’s no reason to divide us into believers, agnostics and atheists. We are all believers but lacking the reliable paths of the humanities, in progress now for thousands of years, we have little chance of knowing who we are and what we believe in: our gods or our collective destiny.