2014 Great Conversations


1. Centennial Suffragette On November 3, 1914, Montana men voted 53 to 47 percent in favor of equal suffrage, so this year we celebrate 100 years of women having the right to vote in Montana. Join Amanda Curtis to discuss that important step in our history and women in politics today. Amanda is a high school math teacher in Butte, a member of Montana’s legislature and brings a lively perspective on the role of women in politics today.

2. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? In 1889, Mrs. Marcus (Margaret Price) Daly visited Helena to celebrate Montana’s statehood. She loved hosting dinner parties that included spirited discussions with friends about the future of Montana. Is Montana today what Margaret envisioned then? Join Margaret, aka Broadwater Montessori teacher Jodi Delaney, for dinner and a 150 year tour of Montana history. In period dress (including a bustle), Jodi will reminisce about Montana as a territory, women’s right to vote, and the interesting people who left their mark on our state. Jodi spends approximately 70 school days each year dressed in historic fashion representing women from the colonial era to modern times. She received the History Teacher of the Year award for Montana.

3. Western Myth and Mystique Do books and movies about the West shape the way we see ourselves? They certainly seem to shape the way others see us. What is it about the West that is so appealing to the rest of America? Not only has Russell Rowland published three acclaimed novels about the West, he is currently planning a book on Montana’s 56 counties, exploring the unique histories of each one and how the dynamics of each play out today.

4. The Greatest Generation Speaks The Greatest Generation has stories to tell and Dick Stafford’s is a riveting one. Enlisting in the U.S. Navy at the age of 15 and part of the landing at Omaha Beach, Mr. Stafford’s personal account of D-Day offers a tremendous opportunity to hear first-hand what changed the course of the war 70 years ago.

5. Magic Carpets Made of Steel The railways that shaped America offer a rich and alluring aspect of our culture with a particular resonance in Helena. Bill and Jan Taylor have written five railroad histories of Montana. Join them, if you are intrigued by the important role trains played in our growth. From the building and early operations of the Northern Pacific, the Montana Central (Great Northern) Railway to the Montana Rail Link Operations in Helena, the Taylors will spin tales and you’ll feel the “rhythm of the rails.”

World Cultures and Religion

6. Tribes and Tribulations The Middle East remains a region where culture, faith, history, and a deep attachment to the land have collided in a volatile present. While millennia of history reveal times of cooperation and peace, today it seems increasingly elusive. Jeanette Fregulia, Associate Professor and History Department Chair at Carroll College, will help us try to understand the present against the backdrop of history—as fascinating as it is complex. Together participants will work to make some sense of events from Cairo to Jerusalem and Gaza to Teheran.

7. Was Jesus a Buddhist? Probably not, but subsequent Christian insights can be positively enhanced through an understanding of Buddhist thought. We often think that learning about other beliefs will negate our own religious identities. That is not the case, according to Eric Hall, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Theology and Philosophy at Carroll College. Join Eric for a discussion about the value of engaging in religious dialogue with individuals of different faiths to strengthen our understanding of our own distinct belief system.

8. The Kremlin in Crimea Ron and Tatiana Lukenbill met in Moscow at the height of Perestroika in 1988. They travel frequently to Russia, Ukraine and Eastern Europe to visit family and friends. In daily contact with family who live in western Ukraine, the Lukenbills’ perspective on Putin’s Russia and its relations with its neighbors will help to explain Russia’s recent maneuverings.

9. Culture Shock Dr. Donald Skillman has experienced culture shock in both coming and going. Recently returned from from yet another mission trip abroad, he has highlights to share after his experiences in Mozambique, Haiti, Honduras, and Brazil. An internist and infectious disease specialist, Don has completed research throughout the world. Dr. Skillman has regaled Great Conversations guests before with “True Tales from the Tropics.” You won’t want to miss this opportunity.

10. A Continuum of Catholicism With a life-long passion for both preaching and teaching, Reverend Daniel B. Shea will lead a compelling discussion about the second Vatican Council. The twenty-first ecumenical council explored the relationship of our modern world to the Roman Catholic Church. Did it demonstrate a disruption in historical trend or was it consistent with the history of the church? Join Father Dan in a lively conversation about the “Spirit of Vatican II.”

Health and Wellness

11. Jumping for Joie de Vivre Holly Alastra invites us to explore training the body and mind to work together for greater health, happiness, and productivity. Knowing that our mental and physical health have immense influence on one another, Holly will bring her expertise as a licensed clinical professional counselor and registered dietitian. Discuss ways to engage in activities that have a positive effect on our brains, recognize our state of being, bring mindfulness to eating and make self-nurturing decisions.

12. Do You Know Your E-IQ? And did you know you have one? High Emotional Intelligence brings with it greater mental health, enhanced job performance, and more effective leadership skills. Dr. Bill Brown is a Management Professor at the Jake Jabs College of Business and Entrepreneurship at Montana State University and author of Interpersonal Skills for Leadership and many articles on EQ. Join him to better understand how EQ affects both your personal and professional relationships. What can you do to “boost” your EQ?

13. A Love Story: Movement and the Brain Exercise is medicine—for both body and brain. Do you want to reduce chronic disease, dementia, depression, anxiety and loss of neurons? Increase your brain’s speed, memory, attention, flexibility, and problem solving? Join Dr. Steven Gaskill’s conversation about how movement can improve cognition across the lifespan. Dr. Gaskill is a former U.S. National and three time Olympic Nordic skiing coach, and current Professor of Exercise Physiology at the University of Montana.

14. Curing Death, Living Forever Ron Millard, professor emeritus of medicine/pharmacology at the University of Cincinnati, returns to Great Conversations to explore the science, technology, medicine, philosophy and ethics of regenerative medicine. According to the U.S. Census, the fastest growing age segment in the U.S. population during the next 30 years will be individuals over the age of 85. Is it likely that scientific advances will extend life beyond the current limits of otherwise normal, healthy humans? Even if we can, should we?

Random and Relevant

15. Queen City to Tinseltown to the Big Apple Matt Flanders grew up in Helena and went on to become an independent producer and writer in New York and Los Angeles. Before starting his own production company, he worked as a development and production executive at Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment. Matt has worked on a number of well-known films including Eat, Pray, Love, World War Z, Twelve Years a Slave, Fair Game, Revolutionary Road, and Michael Clayton, as well as television shows like Rescue Me, Ugly Betty, and Boardwalk Empire. Join Matt for dinner and an entertaining discussion about how he got started in show business, what it is like working on blockbuster films with some of the most famous movie stars, and a behind-the-scenes look at moviemaking.

16. An Intrepid Traveler Cindy Lewis has traveled throughout the world from the European, South American and Caribbean destinations to less frequented nations such as China, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Pakistan, India and parts of new and old Russia. Cindy will share tales of home swaps, home stays and vacation rentals—unfamiliar experiences such as ballooning in Egypt, camel rides in China, being a guest of the Russian army in Estonia, wilderness trekking in Pakistan, attending a wedding in Uzbekistan and paragliding in Turkey. She just returned from a 12-day hike circumnavigating Italy’s Mont Blanc. She has found that looking for the unexpected yields the most satisfying and memorable experiences and she’ll tell you how you can do the same!

17. Rwanda Rising It has been quite a journey from what you may recall from the film Hotel Rwanda to the country’s current Vision 2020. Dr. Brian Robinson spent 5 years living in Rwanda with his wife and four children before he made his recent move to Helena to practice as an Endocrinologist at St. Peter’s Hospital. His first few years in the country he participated in a medical mission. Later Dr. Robinson was an instructor in medicine and endocrinology at the University of Rwanda for Duke University. His experiences can help you understand why the containment of infectious disease is so problematic in a different culture, but he has many more stories to share with you as well.

18. Baby It’s Cold Outside: Good Reads for Snow Days Montana winters are long and what better way to pass them than curled up with a good book? Join avid reader Doug Mitchell to build your reading list for the cold months to come. Doug’s tastes are eclectic, as his reviews for Montana Magazine reflect. Bring your top ideas as well and exchange notes for the long winter ahead.

19. Uisce beatha—Water of Life Doug O’Looney is proud of his Irish heritage and has found it proper to explore everything Irish, which of course eventually led him to whiskey. He finds a bit of the warmth of Ireland in every taste of Uisce and is eager to share that warmth with you. Expect an overview/history of Irish whiskeys, discussion of those readily available in Montana, comparisons of aging and regional differences, and of course, opportunities to sample. We’ll expect to hear “sláinte mhaith” more than once during the evening.

20. Learning for a Lifetime A passion for learning begins with a spark, but what ignites it and when and why? Musician Judy Fjell has noticed with her music students that the spark can come at any time in our lives and from myriad sources. Explore with her the mysteries of what makes a lifelong learner because, as Henry Ford once said, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.”

21. Brain Games The brain is the center of your thoughts, emotions, memories, and more, but what happens when your brain plays tricks on you? Dr. Nicole Clark will share how perception is not always reality and discuss how that can misdirect your actions and thoughts. We will explore some brain “misperceptions” and altered sensations. Learn why seeing should not always be believing and what you feel isn’t always what is real. Dr. Clark is a member of the American Association of Neuromuscular and Electrodiagnostic Medicine, American Neurologist Association, and American Medical Association.

22. Helena R.F.D Folksy small town officers of the law like Matt Dillon and Andy Griffith have become iconic figures—compassionate, committed to their communities and brimming with heartfelt wisdom. Helena’s own Sheriff Leo Dutton seems poured from the same mold, in addition to which he is a great storyteller. Join him for a lively conversation of true tales from his career in law enforcement. As you know, “The truth is indeed stranger than fiction.”

23. Going the Distance A self-proclaimed expert at failure and loss, Rachel Toor gives us the insider scoop into the world of college admissions and marathoning. Rachel, an avid runner, currently teaches in a graduate creative writing program, has written three nonfiction books and one novel, and is a former admissions officer at Duke University. Join her in a comical and insightful exploration of the intersection of running and college admissions.

24. The Noble Grape Spend the evening imbibing wine and knowledge. Jill Roberts will host Wine Tasting 101 and help you pair your vino with information about wine region characteristics and how they influence the product in your glass. After more than 16 years as a wine professional in New York City, Jill is as thrilled as we are that she has returned to Helena and will open The Hawthorne, Bottle Shop & Tasting Room at the end of this year.

25. Flourishes, Serifs, Cursive, Print. Did you know a brief sample of your handwriting can reveal your motivations social style, known and hidden talents, personality quirks, and generally “what makes you tick?” Ralph Zackheim, a long-standing, active member of the American Handwriting Analysis Foundation will lead a discussion about his work as a Graphologist—a handwriting analyst. Ralph has learned that his style is considerate, quick, professional, flexible and engaging. What will your handwriting reveal about you?

Political Science

26. Mr. Corporation Goes to Washington After nearly two decades of service as a justice on the Montana Supreme Court and close to forty years serving as an attorney, Jim Nelson has dedicated his career to justice. Together participants will explore the 2010 landmark decision by the Supreme Court of the United States, which opened the door for unlimited political spending in elections by corporations and individuals, and contended that spending is protected by the First Amendment. What implications does the decision have on the rights and protections of people versus corporations? Jim asks the provocative question, “What’s next? U.S.A. Inc.?”

27. Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail Have reforms put elections on the auction block? Are reforms restricting voting? Or, do reforms encourage greater participation and generate better and brighter political candidates? Former Montana Secretary of State Mike Cooney has spent his adult life in government and elections; his name has been on the ballot eight times. Mike will lead a discussion about election reforms and how same-day registration, voter identification, voting by mail and so-called “dark money” may change our democratic process forever.

28. Partisanship in Perspective Partisan gridlock has virtually paralyzed the Federal government since at least 2010. Has it ever been this bad? D.J. Cash, Assistant Professor of History at Carroll College, will guide you in a discussion of partisanship throughout American history, from the 1790s to the 1850s all the way to today.  Put today’s level of partisanship in historical perspective and explore whether or not our own era of hyper-partisanship is extreme or just more of the same.

29. Serving Justice The Supreme Court is in the news, often. Brian Morris, now a U.S. District Judge for the District of Montana, early in his career clerked for Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist. From then to now, he has gained a wealth of experience. Judge Morris will share his perspectives on an independent judiciary—Elected? Appointed? Partisan or non? Is the U.S. Supreme Court a policy making body or arbiter of disputes? Ask him to provide a glimpse  of how our highest court functions, behind the red curtain.

30. Civic “Dis”engagement? Civic engagement seems to be deteriorating. Is it because we are complacent in the face of so many complex challenges, or are the methods of civic engagement today such as rallies, demonstrations, mailings, phone trees, list-serves, mobile devices, social media, and a relentless stream of information overwhelming our ability to effect change? Are current strategies for political action helping or hurting our ability to mobilize and improve our world? Steve Maly, founder of Helena Civic Television and former Fellow at the Institute of Current World Affairs is currently launching the Global Civics Initiative and will lead this engaging discussion.

31. Crime and Punishment in the Bakken On a wave of cash, crime has flooded the tiny frontier area known as the Bakken. Crime has risen 32% since 2005 in communities at the center of the boom, and in one Montana county, arrests increased 855% during that time. Jails are overflowing and federal law enforcement has been enlisted to control the tide and restore public safety. U.S. Attorney for the District of Montana, Michael Cotter, will host a discussion about the challenges and efforts by law enforcement to control the criminal current threatening eastern Montana.

32. Is it a Small World…After All? Carroll College Assistant Professor of Philosophy Edward Glowienka will host a discussion about how Americans define and determine citizenship and the duties associated with being a citizen. Participants will explore our conceptions of citizenship, how we should balance our patriotic duties with duties to foreigners, and how our definition of citizenship impacts our policies on international aid, immigration, and other international issues.

Sciences, Technology & Environment

33. Fifty Years in the Forest The Wilderness Act, signed by President Johnson in 1964, defines wilderness in part as “an area where the earth and community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” In the last 50 years, the Wilderness Act has protected over 109.5 million acres of land in the United States, 3.4 million of those in Montana, among them are our beloved Bob Marshall and Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness areas.  The Act’s pivotal role in the past half-century of wilderness preservation has had a dramatic influence on how and where we live. Bill Cunningham is one of the wilderness advocates in Montana whose passion for the cause has never flagged. Join him for a conservation conversation.

34. Our Grizzly Future? Grizzly bear recovery across the Mountain West, especially in Montana, has been a decades-long process that has affected many parts of the region from Yellowstone to Glacier, from the Yaak to the Bitterroot Valley. Michael Dax will explore the specifics of the debate in each area; in every place, grizzly recovery has raised challenging questions in a region undergoing massive cultural, economic, and political change. Questions surrounding grizzly recovery are the very same questions facing the future of the West at large. Michael is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News and has a forthcoming book called Grizzly West, due out August 2015.

35. The “Greening” of Yellowstone The world’s first national park, Yellowstone has long been a leader in sustainable initiatives. With roughly 3.5 million national and international visitors annually, Yellowstone faces unique challenges and opportunities to provide environmental education. Jim Evanoff, the Environmental Specialist for Yellowstone National Park, has been instrumental in integrating “green” initiative strategies into environmental stewardship practices. Jim invites us to explore how the inspiring accomplishments in Yellowstone are applicable to communities in Montana and beyond.

36. How to Power Off We are busy, too busy, but are we too busy to sleep? Inadequate sleep is increasingly recognized as an important public health issue, linked to motor vehicle crashes, industrial disasters, and work performance. Ed Leas, PA-C has practiced medicine for many years and has a passion for helping people improve their quality of life. Join him for dinner and learn how you can more effectively shut down when you get home.

37. “Fault” Lines Montana has a history of large, damaging earthquakes, but the last one occurred 55 years ago. Western Montana remains a tectonically active region indicated by five small earthquakes per day and 75 geologically young faults. Some claim an increase in the incidence of earthquakes in Oklahoma is the result of underground mining techniques. Will new forms of mining, such as fracking, increase the number of earthquakes in Montana? Director of the Earthquake Studies Office of the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology, Mike Stickney, will lead this discussion of new mining techniques and their impacts on seismic activity.

Bonus Table

Chasing the Light with Tyler Gregson.Tyler Knott Gregson is a poet, author, professional photographer, a Buddhist, and an artist whose recently published poetry collection Chasers of the Light has launched to rave reviews. Tyler Knott has been writing since he was 12 years-old, and has always seen life in a different way. With wide-eyed fascination and a Whitman-esque appreciation of nature, life, and the miracles in the mundane, Tyler explores love, the dynamics of emotion, and the physical connections between people in his writing. An evening with Tyler will be an evening to remember!