The University of Montana lost its longest living, and one of its most respected alumna this weekend. MTPR's Edward O’Brien takes this look back at the life and legacy of 107-year-old Emma Lommasson.
Most students currently attending the University of Montana never met Emma Lommasson. But almost every single one of them is intimately familiar with her namesake building on campus. The Emma B. Lommasson Center houses, among other programs, Admissions, Financial aid, New Student Services, and of course, the Food Zoo.
It’s the heartbeat of UM’s campus. That's fitting really, given Emma Lommasson’s remarkable relationship with the university.
"The biggest gift of all that I’ve had is being able to work at this institution as long as I did. It is! It’s the greatest gift anyone could be given," Lommasson said in Feb. 2018.
When she woke up that morning, Lommasson could boast she’d met all but five of UM’s past presidents. By bedtime she’d whittled that list down to four. UM president Seth Bodnar visited her senior living center that afternoon to pay his respects.
Lommasson earned a bachelor’s degree from UM in 1933 and worked there from 1937 to 1977, retiring as the registrar and associate director of Admissions and Records. For a decade after retiring, she volunteered as a student adviser.
Her encyclopedic knowledge of UM was on display that afternoon she met Bodnar, when somebody asked who the registrar before Wayne Woolston was.
"Before Wayne Woolston? Oh! Well, J.B. Speer. Who could forget J.B. Speer?" Lommasson said.
"Well, we all did," said someone in the crowd.
“Yes. Short, little man – he didn’t do any harm," Lommasson said to laughter.
A gaggle of local media attended the meeting and Lommasson reveled in the attention. She repeatedly stressed the value of a good education and her admiration of young, curious minds.
I asked her if she trusted UM’s stewardship to the then 38-year-old President Bodnar.
O'Brien: By my math you were 68-years-old when President Bodnar was born. Does his youth concern you?
“No," Lommasson said. "I love to see these young people get up there and get those positions. They have young minds; very active minds."
In his message to the campus community Monday, Bodnar remembered Lommasson this way.
"Though she shied away from the notion, Emma had become quite popular over the years as a passionate fan of all things UM. She cheered for the Griz, shared recollections of the many people and events that shaped our University and was known for her positive attitude and generous spirit. I was struck by her love for UM and her passion for education and service to others."
Update 12/06/19 4:45 p.m.:
The University of Montana has announced its plan to honor Lommasson. UM is holding what’s being called a "Celebration of Life" for Lommasson, Tuesday, Dec. 17 from 4 to 6 p.m. in the University Center Ballroom on campus.