MISSION & HISTORY
The mission of the Montana Natural History Center is to promote and cultivate the appreciation, understanding, and stewardship of nature through education. Founded in 1991, MNHC was the brainchild of a group of educators who were involved in various efforts to educate both kids and adults about the natural history of western Montana, and who decided to unite those efforts into one environmental education organization. MNHC was originally housed on the University of Montana campus, then moved to Fort Missoula, and at last has a permanent home at 120 Hickory Street, near McCormick Park in the heart of Missoula. MNHC provides nature education programming for people of all ages through summer camps, kids’ activities, Visiting Naturalist in the Schools, Master Naturalist certification courses and Field Days, evening programs, Field Notes on Montana Public Radio, museum tours, and more. Please stop by and visit!
Thurston Elfstrom, Executive Director, has spent the past 20 years developing digital experiences to market the State of Montana as a vacation destination. Thurston grew up in western Montana and earned a degree in Anthropology from Montana State University in 1993. Prior to joining the staff at the Montana Natural History Center, Thurston worked in cultural resource management archaeology before coming to work at the Montana Office of Tourism. Returning to Missoula in 2008 he coincidentally uncovered his passion for the community, philanthropy and fundraising. When Thurston and his wife, Suzanne, have a few spare moments, they like to run the trails in and around Missoula. Thurston has also been known to wet a line in his travels around the state and afterward, seek out a craft beer in local breweries.
Lisa Bickell, Education Director, started with MNHC in 1999 as a college intern. She has taught natural history and outdoor education to school groups at the Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center in Minnesota and the North Cascades Institute in Washington. Lisa has a B.S. in Wildlife Biology from the University of Montana and an M.Ed. in Science Education from Western Washington University, as well as an enduring passion for teaching and learning about the natural history of western Montana. Lisa is the 2006 recipient of the Montana Environmental Education Association’s Educator of the Year award.
Allison De Jong, Communications Coordinator, spent her childhood in Iowa, where she climbed trees, splashed in streams and puddles, and explored parks, fields, and the wildish green spaces scattered throughout her hometown. In between outdoor explorations, she spent most of her time reading and writing, which eventually led to a B.A. in English Literature and Creative Writing from Dordt College. Allison has always been passionate about volunteering and doing work that gives back, spending several summers in high school and college volunteering for service projects in both the U.S. and abroad. After college, she spent a year as an AmeriCorps VISTA in Chicago, then canvassed for environmental issues with North Carolina PIRG, which inspired her to pursue an M.S. in Environmental Writing at the University of Montana. Living in Missoula has given her an even deeper appreciation for the natural world, and she and her husband, Greg, get out into Montana’s beautiful wild places as often as they can. At MNHC, she’s thrilled both to work at an organization whose mission is to connect people of all ages with their place, and to get to combine her love of nature with her love of writing.
Christine Morris, Community Programs Coordinator, has a B.A. from Stanford University and an M.A. in Environmental Studies from the University of Montana, where she focused on Environmental Education. Her previous experience includes work with the National Park Service, curriculum development for Rice University, and as the Environmental Education Director for Boys & Girls Clubs of Seattle and King County, Washington. Christine is constantly fascinated by the organisms and elements of the natural world and loves exploring, learning, and wandering around in the woods.
Christine Wren, Teaching Naturalist, is an educator with 20 years of experience teaching in elementary public schools and outdoor environmental education programs. She earned a B.A. in English-Creative Writing and M.A. in Bilingual-ESL Education from the University of Colorado. She credits her husband, Richard, for first awakening her naturalist tendencies and their many miles of hiking together for nurturing that identity. The Visiting Naturalist in the Schools program at MNHC provides a great place for her efforts to integrate academic content with hands-on, inquiry-based learning.
Ramey Kodadek, Development Director, grew up in the Bitterroot Valley and earned a degree in Journalism from the University of Montana in 2003. After graduation, and a few months off to travel in South America, Ramey began working at Youth Homes. During her 10-year career at Youth Homes Ramey held a variety of program and development positions and was the Development Director for the past five years. Ramey’s passion for fundraising comes from helping make the community a better place for children and families. Ramey, her husband Jesse, sons Evan and Olin, and dog Lopez love getting outside to enjoy all the fun activities the mountains offer year-round.
Stephanie Laporte Potts, Youth Programs Coordinator, has an M.S. in Environmental Studies from the University of Montana, and B.A.s in Environmental Science and International Studies from American University. After falling in love with the natural world while at summer camp in her native Michigan, she has spent the last decade working in environmental outreach, education, and program management in Montana, Chile, Canada, and on the East Coast with organizations including the Student Conservation Association, EarthShare, the University of Montana, and Garden City Harvest. An avid birder, hiker, and gardener, Stephanie can often be found weeding her front lawn while surrounded by chickens, or exploring the rivers and mountains of Montana.
Drew Lefebvre, Teaching Naturalist and Volunteer Coordinator, grew up in the beautiful hemlock forests of southern Maine. She attended college in Boston, where she received a B.A. in Linguistics and Philosophy. In 2009 she moved to Missoula for a season of trailwork, and has been spending as much time as possible outdoors ever since. She credits local organizations such as the Montana Conservation Corps, the Great Burn Study Group, and the Wilderness Institute for providing her with experience as an environmental educator and naturalist. Most recently, she received an M.S. in Environmental Studies, with a focus on Environmental Education, from the University of Montana. Drew spends her free time exploring the natural world through hiking, backpacking, gardening, reading, and birding.
Holly Klier, Office Manager, has spent the last thirteen years working with non-profits and comes to MNHC from Homeword and, prior to that, The University of Montana Foundation. Holly has extensive experience in managing offices and enjoys streamlining office procedures. She and her husband, Patrick, have lived in Missoula for 13 years and enjoy growing fruit trees and making copious amounts of jam. Before their trek to Missoula, they resided in Alaska for 25 years where they grew enormous vegetables, caught, canned and smoked a whole lot of salmon, and raised their two daughters. Holly attended the University of North Dakota where she majored in creative writing. When she isn’t at work or canning jam, she is spending time with her four wonderful grandchildren and answering very frank and poignant questions such as, “So, Grandma, when you retire, are you going straight to heaven?”
Bailey Zook, Teaching Naturalist, was born and raised in north-central Florida where she spent most of her time exploring the lakes and conservation property in her backyard. This spurred her to study Environmental Science at Florida State University and continue on to receive her Masters in Geography. Through her work as a Fire Ecology Intern, Youth Leader, Instructor of Undergraduate Environmental Studies, and Teacher’s Aid, her love and appreciation for environmental education continued to deepen. In 2013, she and her husband traveled around the country in search of mountains, trees, and water, and have called Missoula home ever since. She enjoys wandering on foot and by boat to learn the biogeography of the surrounding landscapes as well as watching her chickens flap around their yard. Bailey loves to share her naturalist enthusiasm and knowledge and is grateful to be doing so at MNHC.
Sarah Millar, Development and Marketing Coordinator, has an M.Ed. from the University of Montana and a B.S. in Wildlife Biology. Her experience includes several field seasons as a wildlife technician, working as a mountain bike ranger for the Forest Service, and teaching elementary-aged students in a variety of settings. She has a passion for science education, natural history, skiing, and sailing with her family on Flathead Lake. Most recently, she and her husband opened The Dram Shop in downtown Missoula.
Jenélle Dowling, Research Specialist and Wings Over Water Program Coordinator, began training as a biologist at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. She completed her Ph.D. in behavioral ecology at Cornell University in New York. Before and during graduate school, she conducted field research in many remote, beautiful, and scientifically interesting locations, with many fascinating species, including the oriole shown in the photo. Learn more about her research at www.jenelledowling.com. She is a dedicated educator and has had diverse experiences in different teaching contexts, including higher education, early childhood, K-12, prison education, and public outreach. She is a naturalist in her free time and an amateur natural sound recordist, and enjoys exploring the mountains and following animal sounds with her partner, Cedar. The Wings Over Water program at MNHC (in collaboration with Erick Greene at UM) incorporates research, education, and conservation, and centers on Ospreys, one of Montana’s loudest and most charismatic birds!
Heather McKee, Wings Over Water Program Assistant, earned her B.A. in biology at Pomona College. She was inspired to pursue a career in environmental education after she developed the natural history and resource conservation programs for a backcountry lodge in the southern Appalachian mountains. She obtained her M.S. in Environmental Studies from the University of Montana, where she now teaches nature writing each spring. Her free time is spent seeking out the ecologically unusual in Montana – wet cedar forests, charcoaled remains of forest fires, and mineral-crusted lakes hosting masses of migrating snow geese and swans. She is excited and honored to work with the educators at the Montana Natural History Center and researchers at the University of Montana to help implement the innovative WOW program in public schools.
Stephanie Fisher grew up in the Appalachian Mountains of rural western North Carolina, where she spent much of her time exploring the French Broad River and surrounding national forests. She completed an undergraduate education degree at Appalachian State University in 2009 and has since taught full-time across a variety of grade levels. Currently Stephanie is working towards an M.S. in Environmental Studies at the University of Montana with an emphasis on curriculum development. In her free time, Stephanie can be found exploring Montana’s rivers, hiking lofty ridgelines, or cycling Missoula’s commuter trails and highways. Since relocating to Missoula in 2013 Stephanie has enjoyed learning and working alongside the Montana Natural History Center’s educational outreach program developers.
BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Ian Foster, President, was raised in Boise, ID, and studied Biology at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, WA. He has earned graduate degrees in Education and Recreation Management. He taught elementary and middle school sciences in San Francisco, Boston, and here in Missoula. Ian was also an environmental/outdoor educator for San Mateo Outdoor Education, Massachusetts Audubon, and Missoula Outdoor Learning Adventures. Ian and his wife April moved to Missoula for many great reasons in 2008 and love the access to wild places. Ian currently has the pleasure of spending his days with his young son and can be found enjoying Missoula’s parks and trails on a daily basis. Ian also volunteers with Missoula Children and Nature and Friends of Missoula Parks.
Kelley Willett, Vice President, is a native Montanan and a fundraiser. She spent 5 years at the University of Montana Foundation, and now is Director of Development for Montana Trout Unlimited. Previously she served on the board of the WestSlope Chapter of Trout Unlimited. She has a BA in political science from Wellesley College, served in the Peace Corps in Bulgaria, and tries to fish about 75 days a year.
Stephanie Lambert, Secretary, grew up on a farm in western North Dakota and graduated from the University of North Dakota with a degree in Communications and Graphic Design. She and her husband, Anthony, moved to Missoula in 2006 and opened Lambert Family Chiropractic. Stephanie recently started Vintage 44, which specializes in antique and unique event rentals. Stephanie and Anthony have three children, Lillie, Ella, and Lakin. They love exploring the rivers, mountains, and forests of Montana. She is excited to be a part of the MNHC board and support its mission.
Wayne Chamberlain, Treasurer, grew up in Los Angeles, where he lived and worked until 1999. After retirement, life got more interesting. Wayne has served as the Executive Director of the Blue Mountain Clinic, been one of the founding members of the Children’s Museum, served on the City County Planning Board and on the board of the Missoula Food Bank. He and his wife have been lucky enough to travel to many corners of the globe exploring the natural world of today and peering into times past. They are committed to the preservation and exposition of the “facts” of life in their original context. Wayne believes that it’s essential that young people have a chance to see, feel, and touch their own physical and cultural context, and wants to help make that happen in any way he can. He is honored to serve on the board of the Montana Natural History Center.
Peggy Christian is a naturalist, writer and photographer. Nurturing a life-long sense of wonder, she seeks, through her art and writing, to deepen our relationship with the natural world and explore how that relationship guides the way we live our lives and the choices we make every day. She is the author of several children’s books, including If You Find a Rock, and has taught writing and book arts for more than twenty years. She is a Master Naturalist and has volunteered for a number of environmental and literacy non-profits. Hiking, growing and preserving food, and skiing, both cross country and downhill, are her passions. She lives in Missoula, and shares her wanderings and wonderings on the blog BackwoodsandBeyond.com (An Exploration of the Wild Inside and Out).
Hank Fischer is a conservationist, author, journalist, and guide, and has been extensively involved in endangered species restoration in the northern Rockies. Hank studied wildlife biology and journalism and has an MS in Environmental Studies from the University of Montana. From 1977-2002, Hank was the Defenders of Wildlife Northern Rockies’ representative and his 1995 book, Wolf Wars, chronicles the effort to restore wolves to Yellowstone. Hank created the Defenders of Wildlife Compensation Funds for reimbursing farmers for wolf and grizzly bear livestock losses. Hank has been honored with many awards including the Don Aldrich Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Award, the Edward Lowe Enviro-Capitalist Award and a Special Achievement Award from the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee.
Katie Guffin, a Missoula native, studied Biology at Colorado College and earned her JD and MS at the University of Montana. She taught outdoor environmental education at Exploring New Horizons Outdoor School and San Joaquin Outdoor School in California’s Santa Cruz Mountains, and then taught science at Campbell Hall School in Los Angeles. She also enjoyed working as a summer field instructor at the Montana Outdoor Science School and the Gore Range Natural Science School, and spending a legislative season with Montana Trout Unlimited. She works as a civil defense attorney at Bohyer, Erickson, Beaudette & Tranel, P.C. and loves Montana’s wild, open, and accessible places.
Marcia Kircher is a Montana Master Naturalist with a 25-year communications career in project and program management for the information technology industry. She and her husband Bob relocated to Missoula in 2009 after a 40-year absence from Montana, a place well loved. She graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 2004 with a Masters of Science in Marketing and the intention to preserve the vitality of native Montana plant and animal diversity. She led an applied research project with the Nature Conservancy that benefited its partnership with the U.S. Park Service to preserve the Potomac Gorge of the Potomac River. She is delighted to help MNHC pursue its stewardship and education mission.
Edward Monnig has worked as an ecologist for the US Forest Service and held a variety of positions in the agency, including District Ranger on the Kootenai National Forest and Forest Supervisor of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. He enjoys a variety of backcountry activities, including skiing, backpacking and hiking, whitewater boating, hunting, and just aimless wandering in our wildlands. After retiring from the Forest Service, Ed and his wife Jackie returned to Montana where they had raised their two sons, who promise more frequent visits now that Ed and Jackie are back in Missoula. Ed also serves on the Board of Directors of the Five Valleys Audubon Society.
Rick Oncken works at Lambros Real Estate, specializing in ranch and recreational land. He is a member of most of the hunter-conservation groups working in Montana and is currently on the board of directors of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Rick’s interest in nature goes back to his youth, growing up in Iowa. Pets such as crawdads and turtles (mom said no to snakes), fishing with a cane pole, and helping relatives on their farms helped foster a lifelong interest in the world around us.
Tom Roy was a professor and later the director of the social work program at the University of Montana; in 1984 he became director of Environmental Studies Program at UM. He retired in 2006. Tom has been on board of the Montana Natural History Center previously during the 1990s. Tom has always been active with conservation-environmental and social service groups, serving on numerous boards, including the Youth Homes where he was board president.
Stephen Speckart is a retired oncology physician and ardent outdoorsman. He has hiked and backpacked through much of the West and volunteers with federal and state wildlife officials working on wolf research. He is active with the Rock Creek homeowners association and is a supporter of Five Valleys Land trust. In their spare time, he and his wife, Patricia Forsberg, have studied Italian and Japanese language and cultures. Stephen is a gourmet cook and is known for his lively wit and use of double entendres!