UMW honors education stars

M.P. Regan
Wednesday, April 27, 2022
Star power

University of Montana Western Education Department Hall of Famer Jim Keef addresses those gathered on Saturday evening for the Night of the Stars induction ceremony for the longtime educator and administrator and four other UMW alumni. M.P. Regan photo

Like so many other annual events during the pandemic, the University of Montana Western’s Night of the Stars celebration faded to black for two years.

But it returned with a luminance on Saturday in Beier Auditorium on the UMW campus in Dillon, where the school’s Education Department’s Hall of Fame welcomed five new inductees to its firmament, and hailed the illuminating efforts of many others.

“As I look back on my formal education years, I can count at least 80 different teachers I had going from kindergarten up through graduate school. And as I thought back on them I could come up with six that just popped out—six teachers that just impacted me,” said UMW Chancellor Michael Reid during his introductory comments on Saturday, highlighting the vital role of teaches—who “had such an important part in my life.”

Hall of Fame inductee Anke Davis played an essential part in many young people’s and parents’ lives in Jackson and Wisdom, where she taught from 1978–90.

In her comments Saturday, Davis described how she arrived in America alone, as a homesick and determined to retun to her native Netherlands. But she stayed in the U.S. and applied that determination to becoming a teacher, going on to win the 2008 Rural Schoolteacher of the Year honor.

“Anke’s heart and soul are involved in educating young children,” Teton County Superintendent Diane Inbody wrote in a nomination she submitted to the Montana Association of County Superintendents of Schools for the award for Davis, who continues to teach.

“She makes every moment a ‘teachable moment.’ Everyone should be so lucky as to have a teacher with Anke’s heart, spirit and dedication.”

Countless area children and families and fellow educators benefited from Jim Keef’s different but equally benign form of spirit.

“He’s stood up for what he believed in, and he stood up strong,” said longtime rural school educator and UMW Hall of Famer Fran Schisler of Keef, a Marine Corps veteran who came to Montana Western as a student in 1958.

“That took a lot of courage and took a lot of effort on his part,” added Schisler of the Butte native who went on to serve as K-12 teacher, principal and superintendent during a career in education that spanned nearly four decades, including years in Dillon.

“Well, this is a very impressive program—not just because I’m in it,” smiled Keef, a Butte native.

“But because of all the recognition that is given to young people and people who have worked so hard for this college, and I’m just flattered to be listed among these people,” said Keef, citing fellow Hall of Fame inductees Kent Paulson and Christina Sieminski and Earl Barlow, while also offering recognition to the evening’s Outstanding Teacher Candidate honorees (Josie Jenkins, Holly Rumsey, Anita Crowshoe, Jade White Clay, Devin Turner, Katherine Brown, ShayAnne Boyes, Mattea Burke, Emily Gardner, Bridger LaPierre and Kyrah Jones) and longtime staff members Vickie Lansing, Donna Rouse, Karyle Contway, and Linda Lucero, who gained Friends of Education Award nods at the ceremony.

“This is an outstanding honor and one of the highlights of my brief life on earth,” said Barlow over a video feed on receiving the sole Lifetime Achievement Award handed out so far this decade.

“When I enrolled in 1945, it was known as Montana State Normal College,” noted Barlow of UMW’s original name.

After graduating, Barlow worked in Hot Springs as a teacher, then as a teacher, principal and superintendent on the Flathead Indian Reservation 1948–1966, and as superintendent of schools in Stevensville for four years, before becoming the state’s supervisor of Indian education 1969–1972, and superintendent of schools in his hometown of Browning 1973–1978. His distinguished career continued out of state in jobs with the State of Minnesota and the federal government before his retirement in 1994. In 2019, then-Montana Gov. Steve Bullock declared June 2 as “Earl J. Barlow Day.”

The current commissioner of the Frontier Conference, Paulson has worked in education in a wide variety of roles for almost a half-century.

“It is such an important occupation. Everyone, whether a teacher or not, can certainly look back and think of that person or persons that influenced you as you went to school,” said Paulson, who credited his longtime wife, Joan, during his comments.

A high school science teacher since graduating from Montana Western in 2005, Sieminski founded the Niceness is Priceless in Helena schools, where she also serves as a coach.

“The most important lesson that I have learned in my teaching career and possibly in my life is that you can’t help how you feel in certain situations, but you can always choose your actions and how you respond to those situations,” advised Sieminski, who cited the impactof that approach in turning around the life of a grieving young student.

“And remember when you’re doing that, that niceness is priceless.”