Montana Historical Society

Big Sky ~ Big History

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Montana 250th Commission

July 4, 2026, will mark the 250th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America. This occasion represents a unique opportunity to engage with our nation’s history, including the millennia of Indigenous history prior to the founding of the United States, and to reflect upon how this knowledge of our country’s past can build a stronger future.

The U.S. Semiquincentennial Commission was established by Congress in 2016 to orchestrate nationwide activities in recognition of the 250th anniversary. Many state governments across the country have created their own commissions to implement commemorations on a local level, adapting initiatives to the distinct historic contexts of their states.

Accordingly, the 2023 Montana Legislature passed House Bill 0377, establishing the Montana 250th Commission to coordinate statewide efforts to commemorate the United States Semiquincentennial. The objectives of this commission are to promote civic engagement and increase public awareness of United States and Montana government and history, including the history of Tribal nations. The eleven-member commission will work with partners to:

  • Increase participation in the United States civics test, as well as youth proficiency in United States and Montana government and history and in the distinct and unique heritage of American Indians through Indian Education for All (IEFA);
  • Recognize schools for outstanding achievement in civics and proficiency in history, government, and IEFA;
  • Plan, coordinate, and implement an overall program to build public awareness of and foster public participation in celebrating and commemorating the 250th anniversary of the independence and founding of the United States;
  • Draw attention to the achievements, honors, innovations, and significance of the people in this state and recommend ways for this state to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the independence and founding of the United States;
  • Recognize the vibrant Indigenous cultures living in this place in 1776;
  • Emphasize the service and sacrifices of veterans who have secured and preserved American independence and freedom;
  • And celebrate and commemorate with events and activities throughout this state.

Commission Members:

The following eleven commission members were appointed per the stipulations of the enacting legislation:

Emily Arendt

Dr. Emily Arendt is Chair of the Department of History at Montana State University Billings, where she teaches and researches the history of the early American republic, including the American Revolution.  Her award-winning scholarship has been supported by grants from the New York Public Library, Culinary Historians of New York and the Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts, and Montana Historical Society.  She has articles appearing in journals such as Journal of the Early Republic and Food & Foodways, with new pieces forthcoming in Montana The Magazine of Western History and Early American Studies.  She is currently editor of The Panorama, the digital companion to Journal of the Early Republic that brings scholarship to a wider audience by publishing shorter-form, accessible pieces on the American past and engaging with current events in historical context.  She lives in Billings with her three children and two Great Pyrenees. 

Christopher Averill

Chris’s interest in history was nourished at a very early age. Born in Boston, Mass., Chris had easy access to structures and places of importance to the American experiment throughout his formative years. This interest progressed into a B.A. in History from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, an institution full of history in its own right. With that also came a minor in Government and Legal Studies, and the start of a two decades-long career in and around politics and government. Following work on a U.S. Senate campaign, Chris moved to the halls of Congress, spending the better part of seven years working in administrative, policy, research, and communications positions in both the House of Representatives and Senate. After a stint in the private sector, Chris returned to government service, joining the U.S. General Services Administration as a political appointee and, ultimately, returning home to serve as the agency’s Regional Administrator for New England. Chris moved to Montana in 2021, and resides in Helena with his wife and son. He is the Vice President of Communications and Government Affairs at Strategies 360. He currently serves as Chair of the Lewis and Clark County Heritage Preservation and Tourism Development Council, and was appointed by Governor Greg Gianforte to the Montana State Historic Preservation Review Board in 2022.

Marietta Croft

Marietta Croft is a 6th year social science teacher at Colstrip High School in Colstrip, Montana. The two core classes she teaches are US History and Government. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Education from Chadron State in 2017 and received her Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction from the American College of Education in 2020. She began a Master of Arts with a Specialization in Teaching American History and Government through Ashland University in 2022 and will complete this degree by December 2024. In June 2023 she accepted the James Madison Memorial Fellowship.

Jane Lee Hamman

Jane Hamman received a Bachelor’s degree in sociology and history magna cum laude from Carroll University, a Master’s degree in organization and public policy from Columbia University and Syracuse University. Earlier employment was at Cook County Welfare Department, as planning-allocations director of the United Way of Central New York and executive director of the Council on Child Abuse and Neglect in Columbia, SC. Always active in numerous church, civic and community volunteer services, in 2019 Jane was honored to receive the Montana Library Association Jane Lopp Trustee of the Year award and the National Society Sons of the American Revolution Lydia Darragh Award and to be elected Honorary State Regent of the Montana Society Daughters of the American Revolution for her 2016-2019 regency service and project providing patriotic education boxes to 240 one-room and other small schools in Montana. She lives to advance freedom, knowledge, and justice. Participating with other commissioners in planning and implementing ways to Celebrate America and our 250th Anniversary across Montana advances all three. She is honored and excited to be serving. 

Mike Jetty

Mike Jetty is an enrolled member of the Spirit Lake Dakota Nation and a Turtle Mountain Chippewa descendant. Mike is currently working at the Montana Office of Public Instruction as an Indian Education Specialist. Mike works to provide teachers with culturally relevant knowledge, skills, and resources so they can effectively incorporate instruction about American Indian cultures and histories in their classrooms. He has been working with Indian Education issues for the past 32 years and has teaching experience at both the K-12 and University level (Go Cats!). He has a B.S. in History Education, a Master’s in School Administration and an Education Specialist Degree. In addition to his work with K-12 education, he is an active member of the American Indian and Minority Achievement Council for the Montana University System.

Molly Kruckenberg

Molly Kruckenberg is the Director of the Montana Historical Society. She studied history as an undergraduate and completed a graduate degree in library science. She began work with the MTHS in 1999 and came to the role of Director after spending six years as an archivist and fifteen years as manager of the library and archives.

Deena Mansour

Deena Mansour is Executive Director of the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Center of the University of Montana. Since 2010, she has secured more than $40 million in funding to foster globally minded leaders of integrity through Mansfield programs in democracy and international exchange. Her current focus is on bolstering democracy at home and abroad in support of high school, higher education, and community audiences.  Deena has previously served as a diplomat, with a focus on supporting the U.S. National Security Strategy and democracy at the U.S. Embassy in Indonesia. She has also worked for a Dow Jones community newspaper in Michigan and at an international education non-profit in Washington, DC. She earned her master’s degree in public administration at UM, and a bachelor’s degree in international relations and economics at American University in Washington, DC. Deena and her husband Brian raised two children in Missoula.

Shannon O’Brien

Sen. Shannon O'Brien is a current member of the Montana State Senate, representing District 46. She was born in Portland, Oregon. O'Brien obtained a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Washington in 1991, a master's degree from Gonzaga University, and an Ed.D. from the University of Montana. Her career experience includes working as a high school teacher, high school coach, college access specialist, governor education policy advisor, and dean of Missoula College.

Linda Reksten

Rep. Linda Reksten is currently a member of the Montana House of Representatives, representing District 12. She was born in Polson, Montana. Reksten earned a degree in biology from Eastern Montana College, a master's degree from Point Loma Nazarene University, and a doctorate from the University of California at Los Angeles. Her career experience includes working as a middle school and high school teacher, an elementary school principal, and an author.

Hal Stearns

Hal Stearns is a teacher, historian, outdoorsman and storyteller who has been a lifelong scholar of the American West. One of his loves is to retrace the Lewis and Clark Expedition from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. Hal has led Lewis and Clark tours across the expanse of the entire trail. In 2012, Hal was recognized as one of Montana’s “Humanities Heroes” for his unique and expressive interpretation of the exploration and settlement of the American West. Among the boards on which he has served are the Nebraska and Montana Lewis and Clark commissions and the National Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation Board, the Montana Historical Society, and the Montana Coal Board.  Achieving the rank of General, Dr. Stearns spent 35 years in the Montana National Guard and retired as a brigadier general. He is a graduate of Officer Candidate School and attended the Command and General Staff College, National Defense University and the Army War College.

Molly Stockdale

Molly Stockdale has worked in nonprofit management, primarily in museums, for 30 years. She is currently the Executive Director of Travelers’ Rest Connection, a significant historic site of the Lewis & Clark Expedition and the Selis Qlispe people. Molly has worked with Mister Rogers on a children’s museum exhibit, raised funds to support individuals with developmental disabilities, been a stay-at-home mom and PTO president, and is a survivor of ovarian cancer. Molly received her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Masters of Public Management from Carnegie Mellon University. She is President-Elect of the Destination Missoula Board of Directors and has been a member of the Women’s Giving Circle of Missoula County since its inception. She is Montana's Advocate Leader for the Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance. Molly lives in Missoula with her husband, two young adult sons, and one very large dog.

Meetings:

The Montana 250th Commission will meet according to the schedule it determines most appropriate to carry out its responsibilities. Meetings of the commission are subject to Montana’s open meeting and public participation laws. The schedule and location of upcoming meetings will be posted on this webpage.

Schedule:

For more information, please contact MT250@mt.gov.