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MSU alum gives $500,000 to help MSU's student-athletes succeed

Alexander 'Zander' Blewett
Noted Great Falls attorney Alexander "Zander" Blewett has given $500,000 to MSU to improve facilities for MSU's student-athletes.
Photo courtesy of Zander Blewett.

December 29, 2009 -- Anne Pettinger Cantrell, MSU News Service

A Montana State University alumnus has given $500,000 to MSU to improve facilities for MSU's student-athletes.

Noted Great Falls attorney Alexander "Zander" Blewett gave MSU Athletics the gift to help student-athletes succeed based on the importance of wrestling in his career and life. Wrestling at MSU while a student-athlete during the 1960s taught Blewett many things, but he said the most important lesson he learned is the importance of a strong work ethic. To succeed, one simply must work harder than everyone else. That lesson has carried over into Blewett's life as a trial lawyer.

"I probably learned the lesson too late to do me much good as a wrestler, but it really helped me later on," said Blewett, now 64. "It's what trial work is all about. You better outwork the other side if you're going to win."

And win he has. Blewett, who practices law in Great Falls, is probably most noted for the $21.4 million dollar verdict he obtained against a high-powered law firm in Seltzer vs. Morton, a case that found in favor of Western art expert Steve Seltzer of Great Falls, who refused to authenticate a painting he believed to be a fake Charlie Russell. The verdict in actual and punitive damages was one of the largest in the country in 2005 and attracted attention from the Wall Street Journal and other national publications. Blewett is also one of only 100 lawyers named to the Inner Circle of Advocates, a group whose minimum membership requirement is winning 50 or more trials with verdicts in excess of $1 million.

Blewett, who was just elected to his second term on the MSU Foundation Board of Directors, hopes the gift will help advance the visibility of MSU's athletic programs and draw more student-athletes to the university. He also said it will help student-athletes perform better -- a sentiment others at MSU echo.

"Mr. Blewett's gift is a wonderful way for the university to start the New Year," said incoming MSU President Waded Cruzado. "His thoughtful generosity will help our student-athletes for many years to come."

"State-of-the-art facilities add power and strength to every athletic program," said Peter Fields, MSU's athletic director. "Athletes who are well-conditioned not only perform to higher standards in their chosen sports, but are also mentally and academically sharper."

In the same way, wrestling helped Blewett beyond the mat by teaching him not to be afraid to fail, Blewett said.

"In addition to the physical aspect, there's an intellectual and mental toughness you learn in wrestling, and that's exactly the same in trial work," Blewett said. "Everyone has a fear of losing, and it prevents a lot of people from participating. The fear gets to be too great."

As in wrestling, people can overcome fear of failure with practice.

"If you've wrestled, you will have lost enough that you don't have a fear of losing," Blewett said. "In the legal profession, especially the trial portion, there's a whole lot of drama, and a whole lot of uncertainty. Everyone's afraid of losing, and you just have to overcome that fear."

Blewett grew up in Great Falls and went to high school there. Because he had to wear a back brace for 18 months after a football injury and his doctors wouldn't allow him to wrestle until partway through his senior year, he wrestled for only about six weeks in high school. Nevertheless, Blewett joined the MSU wrestling team as a freshman and remained on it for four years.

"Wrestling was very hard work, and I really wasn't very good at it," Blewett said. "But I liked it." He also made life-long friends, he said.

Blewett studied electrical engineering for his first two years at MSU, but he switched gears after discovering that he was actually a better mathematician. Blewett planned to look for a job as a mathematician with the U.S. space program, but the program made large cuts right around the same time, and many mathematicians were left jobless.

After graduating from MSU in 1967, Blewett was about to receive a draft notice and planned to join the Army. However, he also had an opportunity to be a medic, and so he joined the Army Reserve instead. A year later, Blewett enrolled in law school at the University of Montana. He was admitted to the Montana Bar in 1971.

Since then, Blewett has practiced law in Great Falls. For the first 14 years of his career, he worked in a Great Falls law firm where his father also practiced. Then, in 1985, Blewett started Hoyt and Blewett with John Hoyt. Hoyt died in 2001, but Blewett kept the firm name, which now has five practicing lawyers. The firm is nationally recognized and its lawyers practice in a number of areas, including personal injury, medical negligence, malpractice, environmental damage, and cases involving insurance, insurance bad faith, railroad crossings and safe places to work.

Blewett has no plans to retire anytime soon, particularly because he's happy to be practicing law with his two sons, Anders, 29, and Drew, 28. Both sons also participated in sports at the college level.

Just as wrestling helped Blewett, he hopes his gift will do the same for MSU's student-athletes, even though MSU no longer has a wrestling team.

"Sports are hard, and doing hard things is good for people," Blewett said. "In my view, anything that is difficult to do is very important in building character. You improve yourself by working hard, and then you do better and get better results."

Blewett hopes the gift will attract student-athletes to MSU and enable them to do their best while they're here, so they'll be better equipped to succeed once they leave, Blewett said.

And, he considers sharing what he has earned as his duty.

"A lot of us have had good fortune, whether through hard work or taking the right fork in the road, and giving back seems like the appropriate thing to do," Blewett said. "Especially now, if you're in a position to help out your alma mater, it's probably time to step up and do so."

Blewett's is the third gift in three years of $500,000 or more from members of the Great Falls community in support of Bobcat Athletics.

"As a former wrestler, Zander understands the impact athletics can have on our student-athletes," Fields said. "And, as a booster, he truly understands the impact that a successful athletics program will have on the university, the community and the state of Montana."