Montana State University

Mountains and Minds

Forty very cool cats October 13, 2010 • Published 10/13/10

Carla Lawrence was at a Montana Stockgrowers Association meeting when MSU's College of Agriculture started handing out Ranchers Circle pins. The members of the Ranchers Circle had each donated at least $10,000 to the College of Agriculture's Animal Bioscience Building fund.

As an avid Bobcat fan and range sciences alumna, she felt it was important to give back to MSU to help prepare future students for careers in agriculture.

"Universities need to have state-of-the art technology or they fall behind," Lawrence said. "The ABB will help students keep up with technology and gain the skills they need to work in Montana's agriculture jobs."

Although she couldn't make a gift of $10,000 by herself, she started thinking creatively. While sharing her commitment to MSU among friends and colleagues at the meeting, an idea sparked-"The Cool Cats." By the end of the meeting, about half of a new group that became "The 40 Cool Cats" had signed on.

The 40 Cool Cats each donated $250, and by the time the fund-raising was done, the 40 members had pooled $10,000, enough to be included in the Ranchers Circle.

Lawrence is currently the coordinator for the Beartooth Resource Conservation and Development Economic Development District in Joliet. She organized the donor group, e-mailed updates and made sure everyone got their money in.

"It was a (great) way to be involved for people who couldn't come up with $10,000," Lawrence said. "When people participate and put out the money-even if it is hard at first-there is a real sense of belonging to that building."

Russell Nemetz is another Cool Cat and the ag director for the Northern Ag Network. He was raised in production agriculture along the Milk River Valley near Chinook. It's there his family continues to farm and ranch.

"Livestock makes up the biggest part of the agriculture industry in Montana and there is no better place in the country or the world to have a building of this caliber," Nemetz said. "In the end, the students using this building will make our industry stronger and better."

"There are a lot of us who supported the project but couldn't make the $10,000," Nemetz said. "The Cool Cats gave us a way to get involved."

Tim and Carol Gill gave more than $250, but thought the Cool Cats would be a fun way to donate. Tim Gill is the president of Montana Livestock Ag Credit, Inc. and a member of the ABB fundraising committee.

"Our whole heart and soul were in it," Gill said. "MSU is our land-grant university and the College of Ag was so significant to the way I grew up; it's a significant part of Montana's well-being."

Gill, his wife and their sons are all MSU alumni. Members of Gill's board of directors at Montana Livestock Ag Credit, Inc., also were big believers in the project, and the corporation became one of the initial large donors.

"They may not all be MSU alumni, but they are all committed to agriculture in Montana," Gill said.

"The well-educated students who are using the new ABB are the future of Montana agriculture, and this building, with all of its cutting-edge technology, will give us an even brighter future."