Registration is closed.  Thank you!

Call 406-443-2545 for more information.

This year we will again host a virtual Great Conversations event by Zoom. Guests can enjoy discussion about their chosen topic from the comfort of their own homes. In order to provide an optimal experience for conversation, we have scaled down the number of topics. Zoom Great Conversations of 2020 was a huge hit; we know how to do it; some of our guests even preferred it! So…November 17th, Zoom we will! Join us!

While we can’t accurately predict what our Covid situation will be mid-November, we believe it is a fair assumption that many people will be reluctant to enter a crowded room with strangers and linger over dinner.

Reserving your “virtual” table at Great Conversations 2021

  1. Review the exciting list of Great Conversations below and select four, different conversations as your top choices.
  2. Register for the event
  3. Complete the registration form form, including names, four different topic choices and email addresses for each attendee. You are guaranteed placement at one of your four choices. Each guest will need a unique device unless you have specified you would like to be seated together to enjoy a single conversation. We require a distinct email for each guest regardless of topic selections.
  4. Mail your reservation, or register online at We must receive your registration and payment by Thursday, November 11, 2021.
  5. We will confirm your reservation and topic via email, and send you your Zoom login instructions. To achieve this, we must have a separate, email address for each participant.
  6. We will host a Zoom workshop prior to the event for those who are new to using Zoom. We will email you information about the workshop.
  7. Reservations and topics are first-come, first-served and are not processed until payment is received. Book early to save your seat! Call us for student discount information: (406) 443-2545.
  8. Food and Drink: The establishments listed are offering features and specials for the event. When ordering state that your purchase is linked to Great Conversations:
    1. SilverStar Steak Co. / 406.495.0677 / 833 Great Northern Blvd.
    2. Benny’s Bistro / 406.443.0105 / 108 E. 6th Ave.
    3. Gulch Distillers / 790 Front Street / 406.449.2393

That Was Then!

1. Researching the Revolution

Sparked by a few sentences in her grandmother’s journal, retired teacher Jean O’Connor set out to explore the story of James Lovell, a teacher at the Boston Latin School during the beginnings of the American Revolution. Jean’s research took her to Boston; Halifax, Nova Scotia; Washington, D.C. and Ithaca, NY. The product of her research, The Remarkable Cause: A Novel of James Lovell and the Crucible of the Revolution, was published by Knox Press in 2020. Whether your interest is piqued by Jean’s research during this critical time in our history, or you’re interested in crafting a story of your own, this conversation is for you!

4. A Whale of A Tale: A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Prehistoric Sea 

Chemicals tell us a lot about ourselves, what we’ve ingested, breathed and worn. Chemicals tell a lot about other creatures as well, including whales. Larry Taylor, has been studying the migratory behavior of prehistoric whales, not through fossilized whale bones, but through the chemicals found in the shells of fossilized barnacles attached to them—shedding light on whale evolution, ancient climate patterns and changes in the oceanic food web—data that can inform our decision-making today. Larry Taylor recently finished his PhD at UC Berkeley and currently teaches at Helena College. Go back hundreds of thousands of years with Larry and explore prehistoric whales and what they have in common with their modern-day counterparts.

TABLE CLOSED: 2. A Tale of Two Pandemics

With a combined 50 years of work in the public health field, including the Department of Health and Human Services, Todd Harwell and Greg Holzman will lead a discussion comparing the similarities and differences between the 1918 Spanish Flu and the Covid-19 pandemic. Join Todd and Greg for healthy conversation about the impacts, the science and lessons learned.

TABLE CLOSED: 3. Fire On The Gulch

Helena experienced four major fires in its earliest days (1869, 1871, 1872, 1874), and in the opening years of the 20th century (1928 and after the earthquake of 1935). As a result, fire shaped Helena’s downtown landscape, much of which we can still see and enjoy today. This history, along with the proximity of Mt. Ascension, Mt. Helena and neighboring wilderness, has fueled our uneasy relationship with fire. Join Dr. Charlene Porsild, President and CEO of the Montana History Foundation for a hot discussion of how our historical relationship with fire can help us understand Helena’s now-annual fire season. Dr. Porsild is native of Canada’s Yukon, a former Fulbright Scholar and history professor, and the author of several books including Montana Place Names From Alzada to Zoortman.

This is Now!

9. Jumpstart in the Job Market

Do students today have the technical and soft skills to become responsible, financially literate and capable employees? Should public schools do more to help youth not desiring a college degree find a direct entry point into the work force; and can programs such as Build Montana Workforce, Helena Wins, American Jobs for America’s Youth and the National Association of Manufacturers “Creators Wanted” programs be leveraged to assist K-12 education? Neal Blossom has worked in the manufacturing industry for nearly 40 years. Join him for a conversation about preparing students today for the manufacturing jobs of tomorrow.

10. Go With the Flow

While stream flows in Montana waterways are about more than how much water is left after a human endeavor, the volume of water actually moving downstream matters to trout. Reducing or stopping irrigation not only doesn’t solve the problem, but creates more! Dive into a conversation with Stan Bradshaw, retired water rights lawyer, and discuss stream flows, water and property rights and other human practices and their impacts on Montana’s world renowned trout. Stan Bradshaw spent much of his 44-year career addressing issues related to water quality, including 18 years working on behalf of Trout Unlimited.

13. Are You Cyber Secure?

The number and types of cyber security attacks are increasing, which should you worry about? How can you protect yourself when participating on an increasingly hostile Internet? Whom can you trust when conducting business or doing research on the Internet? Where do we go from here? So many questions and Rajan Kapoor, Security Principal at Material Security, an early stage San Francisco Bay area security startup, is just the person to help you with answers. Rajan was previously a Director of Security, Head of Data Security and Senior Manager for Trust and Security at Dropbox and has over 20 years’ experience with Security and Information Technology.

15.5. From Campo to BC: Thru-Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail

Why would anyone choose to hike the 2,650 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail? Montana native Christine Trefzger can tell you because she did just that this year. She will share the “why’s,” along with the fears, a day in the life of a thru-hiker, trail towns, helping hikers and the amazing people hiking the trail from all over the world. Christine, a speech-language pathologist for the Helena School District discovered backpacking 8 years ago and hasn’t stopped since.

TABLE CLOSED: 5. The Ted Lasso Effect

In the midst of an unrelenting rise of the anti-hero on America’s television screens in the last ten years, there comes a lead so completely and humanly decent that he has captured the hearts and minds of a pandemic weary nation. What makes Ted Lasso so compelling and why do we so desperately need a chance to step into a mindset that leads us to “BELIEVE” in ourselves and each other? Join us as we dissect the Ted Lasso Effect from both a psychological and television history perspective. Jim Shea currently serves as a Justice on the Montana Supreme Court by day, but stretches his savant-like knowledge of all things pop culture outside of the courtroom. Kathy Shea is a community-based therapist and suicide prevention specialist who is excited to finally enjoy a Great Conversations topic with her husband.

TABLE CLOSED: 6. Bouncing Back

Join Scott Trzinski for an engaging conversation designed to evoke thoughtful reflection and curiosity around childhood trauma, focusing on those children who overcome their circumstances. Scott has worked with children with mental health issues for 15 years with experience as a CSCT therapist in Montana schools and a primary therapist at Shodair Children’s Hospital. What constitutes trauma? What are A.C.E.’s? Most importantly how can we promote resilience in children?

TABLE CLOSED: 7. Books and More Books, Please!

Kay Satre is a soon-to-be-retired Professor of English at Carroll College, where she has enjoyed working with colleagues and students for over three decades. Her mom always said, “Books are our friends.” Yes, indeed! One of her favorite things (in addition to grandchildren, hikes, and ice-cream) is to talk with others about their adventures in reading. Kay would love to have you join her to talk about books that have left a mark on your lives and share those that have left a mark on hers. From your earliest, most memorable encounters with books, to what you’ve read this past year, who’s ready to book talk?

TABLE CLOSED: 8. Montanans Value “Montana Values”

But what are they, really? Montana native Chuck Johnson is a retired newspaper reporter who covered Montana politics and government for more than 45 years. Join him for a rich discussion—what are Montana values, and how were they shaped by indigenous people, Lewis and Clark and their expedition crew, homesteaders, immigrants and others? Chuck will also discuss how our values changed over time and why the values brought by newcomers so often raise our hackles. With a degree in journalism and a master’s in history from the University of Montana, Chuck also studied politics and economics at Oxford University in England on a Rotary Foundation fellowship for journalists.

TABLE CLOSED: 11. A Big Beautiful World From Costa Rica to Panama, Peru to Egypt, and South

Africa to Cambodia, our big beautiful world contains amazing cultures and wonderful humans. Bring your own travel experiences, stories and lessons and take a trip with Ryan Cooney on an excursion around the world. Ryan and his wife have traveled to numerous countries and continents, immersing themselves in different cultures, but it’s the people they have met along the way who have had the biggest impact on their lives.

TABLE CLOSED: 12. Culture War 2.0

What is Culture War and how does belief intersect with politics? What role has the internet/social media played in belief and polarization—has it dismantled public consensus, or simply highlighted pre-existing divisions? Jono Drake is a graduate student at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley where he studies cults, popular religious phenomena and conspiracies Bringing a religious studies perspective to issues of contemporary alienation and online political movements, Jono will explore the impact of the internet on shaping our beliefs and ultimately, our democracy.

TABLE CLOSED: 14. The Making of TED K

TED K, a film about the Unabomber produced by Helena native Matt Flanders, will debut on the big screen in 2022. Largely shot on location in Lincoln between 2018 and 2019, the film follows the life of Ted Kaczynski, stars Sharlto Copley and is directed by Tony Stone. Join Matt for a behind-the-scenes look at the making of TED K, film-making in general, as well as little known facts about Kaczynski himself. Matt has worked in film and television as a producer, writer and development executive for over 20 years. Past film production credits include Eat Pray Love, World War Z, and Twelve Years a Slave.

TABLE CLOSED: 15. Have You Been To Whitlash?

Some say the roads less taken are ultimately the most rewarding. Joe Furshong agrees! Join him for a discussion about his (and your) back road adventures in Montana, and learn about new and lesser known places to explore in our Big Sky neighborhood. Joe, a retired public school administrator, proud father and grandfather who is grateful to live in Montana and the Rocky Mountain West, describes himself as “chronically curious”—a hunger he feeds through reading, travel and conversation.

What's Next?

16. Managing Helena

As Montana’s capital city, Helena should be the strongest community in the state, right? In his book Bowling Alone, Robert D. Putnam described the loss of social capital and its impact on American’s communities. Based in part on Putnam’s study, Rachel Harlow-Schalk will discuss community strength, and her thoughts on building a strong Helena for generations to come. Rachel Harlow-Schalk has 30 years experience working in local and state government and currently serves as Helena’s City Manager.

17. More Than A Museum

A world-class destination, a gathering place, and a space to tell the stories of Montana and all our people, the future Montana Heritage Center will promote history education and heritage tourism. Learn more about the design and construction of the new Center, what gallery spaces will feature, and the impact the new Center will have on students from Molly Kruckenberg, Director of the Montana Historical Society, formerly archivist and manager of the Society’s research center.

18. Trail Talk

In 1996, our Prickly Pear Land Trust was formed in a living room at the base of Mount Ascension. 25 years later, PPLT holds working ranch conservation easements, has protected the backdrop of Montana‘s Capitol dome, maintains 90 miles of South Hills Trails, and is actively working on projects like Tenmile Creek Park, to deliver the benefits of nature to a broader cross-section of our human communities. For seven years, Mary Hollow has led PPLT’s regional conservation and recreation efforts. Join her to discuss what the next 25 years may bring!

20. How Does Rank Choice Voting Rank?

Is it time for an upgrade to our elections? Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) is a hot topic that many view as a solution to a number of long-standing problems in our American political system; the intractability of the two major parties; “spoiler” candidates; candidates who win elections without majority support; negative attack ads; and poor voter turnout and engagement. Instead of choosing just one candidate, RCV allows voters to rank multiple candidates in the order they prefer them (1st, 2nd, 3rd, and so on). Join Melinda Leas, Helena native and business owner interested in cultivating non-partisan solutions for better government, and Eric Buhler, leading this grassroots effort as executive director of RCV Montana to explore this possible next step.

TABLE CLOSED: 19. Are We Loving Montana to Death?

Our state parks are packed; the number of visitors to Yellowstone and Glacier continue to rise. Montana has much to offer and we are proud to tout our many attractions, but where does one draw the line? Should there be a line? What is the responsibility within tourism promotion to help protect the resource? Doug Mitchell has experience on both sides of the equation, from serving as Deputy Director of the Montana Department of Commerce (which houses the Office of Tourism), to Managing Director of the Montana Land Reliance and now Executive Director of Glacier National Park Conservancy. Doug is exactly the conversationalist to explore this convoluted topic with you.