Golden Anniversary Letter

—Hal Stearns, Missoula
Former Humanities Montana board member

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As Humanities Montana celebrates our 50th anniversary, we are honored to hear from previous board members and friends from across the state. This month, Hal Stearns shares his reflections on his involvement with Humanities Montana as a former board member and a current Montana Conversations and Speakers in the Schools presenter.

My favorite quote about education says, “It’s the art of continuous discovery.” My career was continuous discovery: three years in Wiesbaden, Germany; 25 years at Sentinel High School in Missoula; then teaching MSU and UM students. I still teach in the University of Montana’s Lifelong Learning Institute (MOLLI) and with Humanities Montana’s Montana Conversations and Speakers in the Schools programs. I have loved every gig.

Why? I have always envisioned teaching as a journey. The chance to dig, to know, and to share. It’s the journey of curiosity and digging — and the wonderment of discovery. That’s the humanities in a nutshell. I like the joy of discovery, then contemplating, sharing, asking questions, and leading the way. Getting “the take” of those participating. You dig; you share; you dare.

The Humanities mean so much to me. My family owned the local newspaper in Harlowton, and my dad received a Governor’s Humanities Award for his love of scholarship and his amazing “Editor’s Uneasy Chair” column. Mom was Montana’s Mother of the Year. They were jointly honored with honorary university degrees. Sheila, my bride of 50+ years, and I were honored together in 2017 with the Governor’s Humanities Award. Education has also been Sheila’s life’s work as a college chancellor, president, and commissioner. We love the medallions we received with the Governor’s Humanities Award. They highlight three great words that, we hope, reflect who we are: Learn, Reflect, Together.

Humanities Montana speakers build their presentations around those three words: Learn. Reflect. Together. We all dig, study, ponder, and dig some more, then meet with Montana folks. The fun includes the feedback and maybe some pushback, with lively discussion.

I recently gave a presentation at the Montana Historical Society in Helena on Montana’s Jawbone Railroad. It was a 167-mile short-line railroad in Central Montana, lasting just 10 years in the early 20th century. The railroad’s story is an improbable tale about a Helena lawyer who had a big dream; despite many ups and downs, the dream paid off for a time. My presentation had a full house: folks with rail backgrounds, others who just like any discussion about Montana. I showed pictures of the Jawbone; audience members shared stories. I learned a lot — and the audience did as well. This is the humanities for me.

I dream about where Humanities Montana will be in the future. More talks and discussions: I would love every community, large and small, to bring in our speakers. They will be the glue that helps bind and enlighten communities. Who do I want to show up? Business people, retirees, educators, ranchers, and farmers, students of all ages. Community organizers should request speakers who will challenge, share, and turn on light bulbs around the room. We want to go to Troy and Broadus, Darby and Westby, and everywhere in between.

The humanities represent the best of us. Thank you, Humanities Montana, for 50 years of making a difference. Let’s go after the next 50.

—Hal Stearns, Missoula
Former Humanities Montana board member