56 Counties: Chuck Tooley, Alexis Bonogofsky

Aug 5, 2019

Chuck Tooley (left), Alexis Bonogofsky
Credit courtesy Chuck Tooley and Alexis Bonogofsky

Yellowstone County is the largest county in the state of Montana by over 40,000 people. It's an interesting intersection of commerce and labor, business and agriculture, and probably most striking, rural and urban cultures. This week's guests on 56 Counties come from very different backgrounds, with Chuck Tooley being raised in Washington, DC, and Alexis Bonogofsky growing up on a farm right across the Yellowstone River from Billings. But they have both been heavily influenced by their connection to Montana in order to work hard at making Yellowstone County and Montana a better place. 

Chuck Tooley’s interest in human rights began in childhood when he became friends with an African slave while living in the Middle East. This interest continued through high school and into college during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Decades later and Chuck served on the Billings City Council and then mayor of Billings during a time when skinheads and other white supremacists were actively promoting hate activity in our community. Chuck introduced the City’s resolution against hate and violence which passed the Billings City Council with a unanimous vote.

When he was mayor, Chuck appointed a Human Relations Commission to advise the city council on emergent issues of racism and discrimination. He also appointed a Board of Ethics to provide a way to ensure city government was operating with integrity and to hear grievances of those who might feel city government needed correction in policies or practices.

Chuck was one of 27 mayors invited from around the world to the Jerusalem Mayors Conference in 2004 which addressed the topic, “The Role of the Mayor in Times of Crisis”.  He was later asked to be on the organizing committee of the Middle East Institute for the Study of Peace and traveled to Cyprus to help lay the groundwork.  Chuck worked with Al Gore to help get The Climate Project launched and has spoken around the country on climate change. He was a board member of the Population Institute in Washington, D.C. and was the founding Chair of the 200-strong U.S. Mayors Committee on Population and Resource Conservation.  Chuck was pleased to receive the Jeanette Rankin Award from the Institute for Peace Studies joining earlier recipients Mike Mansfield, George McGovern, and Archbishop Richard Hunthausen.

Alexis Bonogofsky is a fourth-generation Montanan, goat and sheep rancher, and freelance writer and photographer, who lives and works along the Yellowstone River in southeastern Montana where she grew up. She also works for the Quivira Coalition helping beginning farmers and ranchers.  Her writing and photography can be found on her website East of Billings and various news outlets and magazines including Mountain Journal, Montana Quarterly,  Farm 406 & High Desert Journal. For ten years she managed the Tribal Lands Partnership Program for the National Wildlife Federation. She received her B.A. in International Studies from Gonzaga University and her M.A. in International Development from University of Denver's Korbel School of International Studies.

Her conservation work was featured in the book and movie, This Changes Everything, by Canadian journalist and author Naomi Klein and in the recent National Geographic coal documentary, From the Ashes. In 2014, Alexis was awarded the Cultural Freedom Fellowship from the Lannan Foundation in Santa Fe.