Thursday, March 16, 2017


We're getting close to wrapping up our series of posts remembering George Dennison, former University of Montana president and founding board member of the Montana Campus Compact. Shannon Stober is one of those people here in Montana who helps remind us why service is important, both to our communities and ourselves. I'm positive she's trained more AmeriCorps and VISTA members over her career than anyone else in Montana. Way back when, she worked for Campus Compact, running our Campus Corps AmeriCorps program. She went on to work with Montana Conservation Corps for several years, and now works for herself as a trainer and consultant with Verve Exchange. Thanks for taking a minute to remember George!

I had the privilege of working with George Dennison for several years when I was employed with Governors Office of Community Service and he served as the Chair of our commission. At the time, I was very young and fresh off a two terms of National Service as an AmeriCorps VISTA. I was idealistic, energetic, and more than likely a complete handful. I can only imagine the patience and fortitude it took to keep me in line and channel my good intentions into appropriate action.

George didn't need to take an active role in coaching me into my new role, which has incidentally blossomed into what I would consider to be my purpose, but he did. He was inclusive of my youthful voice, taught me about navigating large organizational systems, and wasn't afraid to give me boundaries when needed. These are lessons that still serve me today, and values I aspire to model for the young people I engage with. My favorite memory of George occurred while we were at a retreat he was hosting. I was beating all of the old-timers at pool and he said "Shannon, proficiency at pool is indicative of a misspent youth." I responded, "Well George, I'm at your place, drinking your beer, so it must not have been all that bad!" He laughed so hard! He was a tremendous man, I admired him very much. Rest in peace good sir.

Shannon Stober
March 2017

Wednesday, February 22, 2017


George Dennison, (originally printed in the Spring 2010 Montanan)
In January, we lost a dedicated, visionary leader when George Dennison passed away. Since then, we've put the call out to friends and colleagues of George to send us pieces about working with him and what it meant. This piece comes from John Allen, who worked as Montana state director for the Corporation for National and Community Service office. John's retired now, but he served on the Governor's Commission on Community Service with George. John helped establish MTCC's VISTA program and wrote this piece on the occasion of George's retirement. It ran originally in the Spring 2010 issue of the Montanan, UM's alumni magazine.

"I know President Dennison as a builder who has made Montana a better place. One can easily see all the growth at UM—the new stadium, the powerhouse football team, increased student enrollment, the rise of the University’s academic reputation, and other milestones. From my personal experience and knowledge, Dennison’s legacy also is about building foundations that we can build on to create more and better volunteer programs, a more civically engaged population, and, consequently, a stronger democracy.

During my thirty-five years working in community service, civic engagement, and volunteerism, and ten years as the Montana director for the Corporation for National and Community Service (known as the domestic Peace Corps), I worked with Dennison to encourage civic engagement and volunteerism. He is a builder—a visionary with a can-do attitude. I can’t count the number of times in meetings where he would say, “Let’s get it done.” He is able to connect seemingly unrelated issues while fostering relationships between far afield entities, like college volunteers working with senior volunteers to collect for food banks or young volunteers teaching senior volunteers about computers. Dennison realizes a successful democracy depends on an educated and civically engaged population. 

John Allen
Often he would lead dialogues among leaders in community service about the importance of volunteerism. Building civic engagement to him was not only an academic interest; it was about something bigger and getting it done. Dennison provided the vision and leadership at the University, in Montana, and nationally to increase civic engagement. He served on the national Campus Compact board and was instrumental in building, in Montana, one of the most successful branches in the nation. Campus Compact promotes civic engagement at the university level. Year after year, UM ranks among the top universities nationally for civically engaged students, outranking many prestigious schools. For fifteen years Dennison was the chair, visionary, and leaderof the Montana Commission on Community Service, which promoted civic engagement. With his leadership, the commission developed and implemented more programs and created an environment that encouraged collaborations not often seen in larger states. Civic engagement experts considered the Montana Campus Compact and Montana Commission on Community Service as models for the nation, a direct result of Dennison’s longtime commitment and leadership. He gave tireless effort and always made himself available." 

John Allen

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Goodbye to Two-Term MTCC VISTA - Kate Johnson

Last month, we said goodbye to a great VISTA and wonderful colleague in Kate Johnson. Kate served as a VISTA with Bitterroot College UM in Hamilton for 2 full years, helping build capacity for the college’s marketing and outreach to the low-income and first generation college Bitterrooters. Kate’s dedication to college access and passion for community education will continue to benefit her immediate community as she transitions into a new student outreach role at The University of Montana. Below she reflects on her 2 years of service.

What aspect of serving with Bitterroot College will you remember most?

Seeing how hard some of the people involved with Bitterroot College work in order to keep that college going. The College is relatively new in the community, and is always overcoming an obstacle. It keeps going on because so many staff, faculty, and community members are determined to provide access to education to people in the Bitterroot Valley. Pro tip: Support your local educational institution(s) through educating yourself on higher education systems, by taking classes, by getting to know the people who dedicate themselves to making education available, affordable, and relevant to their neighbors.

Through your experience, in what ways did you expand the capacity of Bitterroot College outreach?

In my first term of service I expanded the college's outreach capacity by building tools and systems for our marketing, doing outreach presentations for community organizations, tabling at the Hamilton Farmers Market (always getting a bagel breakfast sandwich from Bitterroot Bagels and More or a burrito from Maria's Burritos or both), and creating marketing procedures and strategies for the college to use in the 1-3 year span. 

In my second term of service I did more tabling (and ate many more bagel breakfast sandwiches and burritos), more outreach presentations, and helped develop a strategic outreach plan with a team of Bitterroot College staff and AmeriCorps members. I also wrote grants for the college to expand its academic offerings to the community. 

How has two years of service in VISTA changed you as a person?

For the past two years I've done my service on a largely self-directed basis with the expectation of still working within a team, so I've learned a lot about how I operate as a person, teammate, and office pal and have made some adjustments to my office personality. On the whole, I hope I've started to balance candor with capability. 

What can we expect from Future Kate?

I just started a job at UM's Global Engagement Office and am grant writing on the side for a couple nonprofit organizations in the Bitterroot Valley. So expect to see me drinking lots of coffee on campus, loping through Missoula on some good runs (ultimate short term goal is to run all of the switchbacks of the "M" without going into cardiac arrest), moseying through the Missoula Farmers Market, and volunteering.

Any words of wisdom for potential first year VISTAs?

Take ownership of your service. You're allowed - and supposed to - speak up for yourself at your service site. You're expected to get things done for your community, so make sure that you have what you need in order to do that successfully. And you're obligated to stand up for what is fair for yourself, the people you serve, and the people whose voices need to be heard. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017


George with Emma Lommasson in 2006.
We're opening this space to friends and former colleagues of George Dennison, so we can remember him and the good work he did. This piece comes from Steve Nelsen of Helena, MT. Steve is retired now, but he is the founding director of the Montana Conservation Corps and was the director of the Governor's Office of Community Service, working with George who was Commission Chair. Thanks for contributing, Steve.

It's pretty easy to be cynical about the leaders of our institutions when their brilliant narrative wanes in the face of obstacles to their pursuit of lofty public policy goals.    However, when George Dennison talked about civic engagement he was "the real deal".  As a History professor George understood that citizens working to help each other formed the basic fabric of our democratic society, and was relentless in his efforts to reinvigorate involvement of Montana's citizens. 

When Marc Racicot was elected Governor  he adopted national service as one of his signature programs. He created the Governor's Office of Community Service and  tagged George to Chair the Commission. At the time,  I was Director of the fledgling Montana Conservation Corps  and was pleased to have a University President chairing the Commission that we hoped would be a major funding source.  Frankly,  I had few  expectations that he would  be more than a nice "figurehead". It quickly became apparent that  George was serious about  leading Montana's national service programming.  He took time from his crazy busy schedule to support the Corps in its' infancy. He came to swear in  Members, graduations, and  provided numerous contacts with potential partners. He even flew to spend a day with a crew in the Yaak, where they threw him a pair of waders  and took him to a wetlands project.  Only later did I learn that he had directed his scheduler to give priority to AmeriCorps Programs. His presence gave us credibility, stature and legitimacy at a critical time in the infancy of the Conservation Corps . George laid more than a couple of bricks in the foundation of the Montana Conservation Corps

I also observed the support he gave to other AmeriCorps programs.   I watched as he brought together virtually every college and University in the state to participate in Campus Compact.  This may have been his crowning fete.  If you've had any dealings with Institutions of Higher Ed you know how difficult it is to bring them together on any issue,  yet, in a few short years George had the Presidents of all these institutions, from Carroll  to Dawson Community College dedicating staff to Campus Compact and preaching the Gospel of Civic Engagement as though it were their lifelong passion.  Maybe it was, but I doubt we would have seen this unified effort mobilized without the leadership and persuasiveness of George.    

It seemed that he never passed up a chance to spread the gospel  of civic engagement and to
Steve Nelsen
institutionalize its presence .  He highlighted civic engagement at  Griz pregame Presidential breakfasts, used it as the theme of Commencement  Addresses,  and even co-opted the Cat/Griz venue to present Awards to alumni for the community involvement.   He spoke with passion about the vital role of civic involvement in a democratic society, and how it was the foundation for citizen led government.    We miss you George.  We could use you in these dynamic times. 

Steve Nelsen 

Helena, Montana

Wednesday, January 25, 2017


I had the pleasure of working with George Dennison for nearly 20 years at the University of Montana. His visionary leadership and support for civic engagement programming provided the basis for all of my professional work at UM and statewide. 

Under his leadership, UM’s service learning and civic engagement initiatives were launched and institutionalized. In addition to being one of the founding presidents of Montana Campus Compact, he also created UM’s Volunteer Action Services office which later became the Office for Civic Engagement. Thousands of UM students each year continue to engage in volunteer and service learning activities because of the foundation and infrastructure of support he built. It is noteworthy that while George is known for the many physical buildings he built at UM, he was also responsible for laying the structural foundations for many programs and initiatives that also have endured over time. 

I always appreciated George’s straightforward leadership style. Even though it was intimidating at times, it provided clarity for direction of programming and partnerships. His legacy of engagement will live on throughout UM and Montana for a long time to come and we will always be grateful for his leadership in this field.


Absorbing the lessons
Wide eyes. Pointed fingers. Smiling faces. Enthusiastic hands coloring pictures and writing poems. Mouths agape and fumbling for words to formulate questions. These were the expressions and experiences of thousands of kindergarten through 4th grade students all over Montana during Montana Campus Compact’s Martin Luther King Jr. 2017 Read for Peace event. Read for Peace is an annual MLK service Day operation that utilizes the wonderful help of community volunteers, VISTAs, AmeriCorps and Senior Corps members, college students and elected officials to read to elementary age students about the message, life, and legacy of Martin Luther King. Already in its 5th year of existence, Read for Peace continues to be an outstanding resource for important civil right discussions in early childhood education.

Here are some statistical highlights and volunteer experiences from around the state that reflect the necessary scope and capacity of organizers and volunteers to make this year’s Read for Peace event so successful. Special thank you to the many leaders in each city for their help and guidance. Read for Peace took place on January 13th, 2017 with many more volunteer readings on, January 16, MLK Day.

Participating Cities and Communities: 11 (Great Falls, Missoula, Butte, Kalispell, Helena, Billings, Darby, Lame Deer, Havre, Sidney, Big Fork)  
Number of volunteers recruited: 129
Number of K-12 youth served by volunteers: Just over 4000
Total hours contributed by volunteers: 215

Missoula Mayor Jon Engen with students at Russell Elementary

Each year I truly look forward to this service project!  It is so uplifting to see a child's unbiased perceptions on peace and love.  The students all give their full attention to the book and they take the activity very seriously (while still having FUN) because they know the importance of the issue.

One student learned the lesson perfectly and implemented the lesson immediately: I had explained to a student that I do not have a TV. He felt really bad for me and thought that a TV was a necessity so he gave me his address and told me I could come over any time and watch his TV.”  -- Teresa Gregory

Reading with the elementary students on January 16th for Martin Luther King Jr. day was an extremely moving experience. When reading to little children one thinks of fun and light topics. Equality for all persons does not fall in that category, and sharing this idea with the next generation was an honor. The highlight of my experience was a 3rd grader at Hillcrest, whom asked after the story, “Why they were so racist ‘back then’.” A tough idea to portray at a 3rd grade level without seeming patronizing, but an incredibly important one. I am so thankful we could share such an important man and symbol with this budding generation.” -- Shyla Wesley

Reflections on peace

Read for Peace showcases higher education’s commitment to community involvement and engages Campus Compact’s student and community networks. As this year’s organizer, I am proud of how this project connects young, developing students with thoughtful adults and how that commingling of ages benefits the lives and hearts of volunteers, students and teachers alike. Thank you to all of our volunteers around the state and to our many teachers who were gracious enough to allow us time with their students. Finally, I’d like to thank all the kids who participated in discussions concerning inclusion, difference and peace. May you all continue to reflect on these moments of as you grow and participate in your communities.

Friday, January 20, 2017


George Dennison, 1935-2017. Photo by Erik-Stenbakken
Earlier this month we lost George Dennison to non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. Known to many of us a "President Dennison" or later, just "George" after enough years and when it didn’t feel strange or disrespectful. It’s hard to overstate the forward-thinking, future shaping work that George committed himself to. On a daily basis working for Campus Compact and with higher ed. in Montana I still feel the impact of his belief in service, civic engagement and higher education’s role in supporting American democracy, and global citizenship. The list of Dennison’s accomplishments while administering the University of Montana is too long to mention here, so I’ll focus instead on his role with Montana Campus Compact, and a few parts of his service legacy.

George, along with his colleagues from seven other Montana higher education institutions, founded Montana Campus Compact in 1993. They believed that higher education has an important role to play to shape our nation's, state's and community leaders, and that by actively engaging with community, higher education offered students opportunities to apply their learning, learn valuable skills, and address real challenges. He offered office space on the campus at UM to our fledgling Compact, and we’ve been here hosted and supported by UM for the past 20+ years. I’ve worked for Campus Compact since 2000, and I remember my first impressions of President Dennison when I started this work. He was an imposing figure, he said what was on his mind, commanded the respect of others and worked incredibly hard to position the University of Montana and Campus Compact as leaders in civic engagement work. He’s one of the few people I can think of whose presence I associate with the word gravitas. When he talked, you listened. On the other hand, it was clear he loved what he did, and he had a great smile and sense of humor.

My first job with Campus Compact was as a VISTA leader, and I served with the AmeriCorps Member Advisory Council that year. We sent our members to the Montana Commission on Community Service which George chaired, to observe the meeting and report on AmeriCorps members and VISTAs collaborative work. I remember George ran a very efficient meeting and adhered closely to Robert’s Rules.  The Commission had awarded AmeriCorps funding for about seven years at that point, and were working to branch into additional lines of business that advanced their mission. I remember that the idea of creating a service scholarship for incoming college freshmen had been percolating with the Commission for a time. George believed that Montana needed greater infrastructure for service, and volunteered to call the (then) Student Assistance Foundation, and bring a proposal to his colleagues with Campus Compact, and see what could happen.  Soon thereafter, the Youth Serve Montana scholarship was born, and 100 incoming college students who’d demonstrated active citizenship and volunteerism were receiving $1000 to advance their college studies. It was pretty impressive to witness, and to this day, that legacy lives on and each fall we work with the same partners to award 100 scholarships. Student Assistance Foundation is now called Reach Higher Montana, but otherwise we still work closely both with them and the Governor’s Office of Community Service.

That’s a small part of the legacy that George Dennison left in Montana, but an example of how easy he made it look. We will do our best to open this space for others to remember George. He was a giant in this world, and he helped shape much of the infrastructure that continues to support service, civic engagement and education in Montana.  I remember him well, and it’s humbling to get to work in a field that he helped to start in Montana. Thanks for all you did George, we miss you.