Growing up surrounded by farms in rural western Pennsylvania, Chuck Jarecki was 16 years old when he fell in love with Montana and ranching. He had just spent the summer as a hired hand on the Lazy EL Ranch near Roscoe, working on the hay crew, milking a cow and maintaining machinery.
So when it came time to choose a college, Jarecki applied to Montana State College and his grandfather's alma mater, Cornell University, a land-grant college only 250 miles from his home. He was accepted to both schools, but his mother put her foot down, saying that Montana was too far. Even though Jarecki enrolled in the College of Agriculture at Cornell, ranching and the West continued to have a pull on him. Through a placement program at Cornell, Jarecki spent the next summer and the following spring working at a ranch and grain farm near Raynesford and the summer after working on a large cow-calf ranch at Jackson, Wyo.
In 1960, Jarecki took a leave of absence from Cornell, followed his heart, and enrolled in the spring semester at Montana State, where he took courses in range management, beef cattle management, irrigation practices and conservation engineering. The experience, said Jarecki, "got me all cranked up on range instead of cows."
After another summer on a Montana ranch--this time at a small, purebred Hereford ranch near Fishtail--Jarecki went back to Cornell to finish up his classes, graduating in June 1961. He couldn't get back to Montana soon enough.
"When I got my degree, I had my pickup loaded and I was on my way out here," he recalled.
Jarecki ended up at a ranch west of Polson, where he signed on as a hired hand, eventually buying the place four years later.
As young ranchers and landowners, Chuck and his wife, Penny, who grew up on a farm near Big Sandy, put into practice some of what he learned in college, but they also learned a lot from their neighbors, and relied heavily on the MSU Extension Service and the Soil Conservation Service (now the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service). Jarecki credits a number of people as being mentors for him and Penny: Don Ryerson, Jarecki's former professor at MSU and a range management specialist for MSU Extension; John Lacy, former range specialist for MSU Extension; Bob Ross, former state range conservationist for the Soil Conservation Service; Carl Wambolt, former range professor at MSU; Bret Olson, range professor at MSU; and Clem Rose, district conservationist for the Lake County Soil Conservation Service.
The Jareckis did more than practice good range management on their ranch. They became active in promoting land management and sustainability throughout Montana and beyond.
"As ranchers, we knew that we were first and foremost land managers and stewards," Jarecki said. "For us, cattle management was secondary. You must provide a sustainable habitat first."
The Jareckis sold their ranch in late 1990. With the proceeds from the sale, they created a small family foundation. In appreciation of their working relationship with staff of the MSU College of Agriculture, and all the guidance they had received through their years of ranching, they decided to support range management at MSU through that foundation.
"We got acquainted with some of the students and we saw a lot of real promising young people (at the annual meetings)," Jarecki said. "So, we decided to start with one scholarship, and that's how it got started."
From the beginning the scholarship has been awarded on a competitive basis to an MSU junior or senior majoring in range management. Their first scholarship, for the 1994-1995 school year, was awarded to Tara (Fisher) DeCock. The Jareckis met her at the Society for Range Management annual meeting early in 1995.
The meeting made a real impression on the Jareckis, and they decided to continue to offer the scholarship again the following year. That began nearly two decades of philanthropy in support of range management students at MSU. The Jareckis have funded one to three scholarships per year every year but one since then, providing in-state tuition, books and course-related fees.
"That scholarship is like gold," said Kyle Schmitt, one of only a few Jarecki scholarship recipients who has won it twice, in 2001-2002 and 2002-2003. Beyond the peace of mind that was gained from knowing that most of his college expenses were covered those years, Schmitt said that it really provided him with an incentive to do well in school and live up to the expectations that the Jareckis had of him.
The Jareckis' impact extends far beyond the financial support that they have provided to MSU range management students over the past 19 years.
Jake Powell, who earned a Jarecki scholarship in 2004-2005, said that the competitive nature of the scholarship helped him psychologically.
"The Jarecki scholarship is not straightforward. You need to apply for it and be recommended by professors, so the idea that I could be awarded that scholarship was a big boost in just mentally being able to get through school," Powell said. "It meant that maybe I was on the right track and somebody thought that I was good enough to do what I wanted to do.
"It's not only the scholarships they've provided, but they're willing to put themselves out there as mentors if you're interested in utilizing them for that. The Jareckis have helped guide some of the things I've done."
The Jareckis have built relationships with the students through the years. Many of the scholarship recipients said that they were like family. Some have even invited them to their weddings.
Jake Schmalz, who won the scholarship in 2006-2007 and 2007-2008, put it this way:
"I feel as though Chuck and Penny are my third set of grandparents," Schmalz said. "We try to stay in touch throughout the year through email and letters. I get a card from the Jareckis at the end of every year that highlights all that happened in their lives throughout the year, and I try to keep them posted of any big events in my life throughout the year. I look forward to going to the Society for Range Management meetings every year, in large part to visit with them."
The Jareckis have made sure that their scholarships for range management students at MSU will continue for years to come by giving a life insurance policy to the MSU Alumni Foundation to eventually fund a scholarship endowment.
"We know that we cannot be doing this forever, and so have planned a legacy gift to continue the tradition," Jarecki said.