Montana Tech

Alumni

Capturing history

By Gerard O'Brien

The care and concern that Montana Tech professors took to heart over their charges impressed Ellen Crain, a former nontraditional student at Tech.

"You see professors sitting with students at lunch, talking about class or just socializing," she said.

"If you missed a class, they were on you too. They'd want to know why and what you were up to," Crain said. "I never experienced that in other colleges." Crain was a nontraditional student, having gained a couple of years of college at Eastern Montana College in Billings and then working in Silver Bow General Hospital as a phlebotomist with Drs. John Newman and Raymond Grondahl in 1978.

"I wasn't well-suited for the work and they encouraged me to complete my degree. It was then that Tech had just started its Liberal Arts program, and liberal arts were where my heart lay," she said.

She started out part time, but when Silver Bow General closed down, she went full time to Tech.

The rest is history, so to speak, because with Crain's degree she was able to join the fledgling Butte-Silver Bow Archives as its Archivist.

Today, the archives is undergoing a much-needed $7 million renovation and expansion, thanks to Crain's dedicated work.

Q. Why did you choose Montana Tech for your studies?

A. I started going back part time. I didn't want to work in the medical profession because it was a challenging job even in my 20s. Liberal arts was a pretty new degree at Tech, and since I was working part time, it was convenient. I chose liberal arts because as the Archives board will tell you, I'm not a math girl.

Q. How did you choose your area of study?

A. I always enjoyed learning how public process works. I got my degree in Society and Technology — public policy division.

During my last two semesters at Tech, I was working in mining research for the Environmental Quality Council and an independent mining company; it really was a lot of fun. I was working for a mining company when I graduated — Aries Resources, mapping the Independence Mining District just west of Butte. I used the Archives to conduct the research it was really just starting. The records had just been pulled together from City Hall, the courthouse and the World Museum of Mining. The documents were sort of spread all over town. At that time Bill Walker convinced then-Chief Executive Don Peoples to donate the fire hall on Quartz Street. Arco also gave the archives a little cash.

Q. What is your proudest moment in your career and goals you've accomplished?

A. Gaining the trust of the voting public of Butte-Silver Bow to build a state-of-the-art archival facility for $7 million. It just blew us away that the bond passed so easily, but Butte loves its history and I think, up until that point, the voters have seen that we've done a good job.

We hope to have the renovation done and ready for the public by March 19 of 2010. What will be interesting is the new building will be a 100-person high-tech auditorium available to the public for use for lectures and research. Our catalog will be online so people can search names and the databases, such as the names in the cemeteries; something we are always getting requests for.

Q. Tell us about some memorable college experience, either how it applies to your work today or just something that was fun for you at Tech.

A. I'd have to say meeting a diverse group of people at Tech and learning a great deal about the world.

Academics are front and center at Tech. It is a very disciplined place. If you missed a class someone called you on it. The professors paid close attention to your progress. The student-teacher camaraderie — where the professors joined the students for lunch just to chat was impressive.

The professors were very approachable. And you can see it across disciplines.

It was also fun to watch the engineers building things out of their French fries or their silverware, such as bridges and such.

I think bringing liberal arts onto the campus gave it a fresh approach for students not so well versed in those studies as well.

Q. Who is a favorite hero to you, mentor, public, private and why?

A. There were so many. There have been a lot of people in my life who have helped me along. Doctors Newman and Grondahl convinced me to return to school, they said the medical work was not my forte, not my love. I really liked just dealing with the patients, but not the other work.

Q. How did Tech serve you in your past, current or event potential, future jobs? Give us some examples.

A. I received a first-rate education at Montana Tech and it has served me well in my career. I also use the excellent staff at Montana Tech as a resource for the Archives as well as the Archives' clients. The Archives has been able to provide internships to Tech students in the past which has enriched our organization and the student's résumés.

Q. How do you stay connected to Montana Tech?

We use their students for volunteers at the Archives and I give regular presentations to the student body use their library.

Q. What advice would you give high school students who are considering entering college?

A. Study what you are passionate about. That's the most important thing.

Julia, my oldest daughter, came home as a sophomore in high school and started right away to work hard to get into the college of her choice. She needed thousands of volunteer hours on top of good grades. She started getting involved and graduated from Seattle University cum laude in urban design. My middle child, Sarah, was a junior in high school and wanted to be an engineer. She's now in her third year at Tech. My 17-year-old son, Patrick, is now deciding what he wants to do.

I think it's really important that parents encourage their kids to go to college--either right out of high school or later on. My parents had no question that we all had to go to college.

And, again, do what you love.

About Ellen Shannon Crain

Current address: 405 S. Excelsior Ave Job title: Archives director for the Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives.

Personal data: Husband, Gordon Crain; children: Julia, Sarah and G. Patrick Crain When did you attend Tech? 1979-1983 Professional activities: Coordinator for the Butte, Anaconda, Walkerville and the B.A & P. Railway National Historic Landmark District Project.

Coordinated all aspects of the development including: raising funds, contract oversight, document review, photography. Provided explanation and documentation of the Butte-Anaconda Historic District to the National Park Service Advisory Board at their meeting in 2006. Provided reference material and documentation as well as oversight and review of the research and writing of the nomination form.

Created a historic properties database that was linked to a geographical information system to create maps that display attributes of historic properties.

Attended National Park Service Landmarks Committee Meeting to respond to questions and defend the nomination for this district, attended National Park Service Advisory Committee meetings to respond to questions regarding this nomination.

This nomination comprises more than 9,000 acres and contains nearly 6,000 historic properties.

Books: Finn, Janet L., Crain Ellen, "Motherlode: Legacy of Women's Lives & Labors in Butte," Clark City Press, Livingston Mt. 2005.

Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives, The Montana Standard, & The World Museum of Mining, "Remembering Butte, Montana's Richest City," Montana Magazine, Far Country Press2001.

Awards: Distinguished Alumni Award of the Society and Technology of Montana Tech 2002

American Library Association Reference and Adult Services Division — John

Sessions Memorial Award for Outstanding Service to the Labor Community — June 1995, Chicago.

Alumni Events

View events calendar »

Alumni News

Montana Tech Veterans Group Helping Collect Toys for Tots
The Montana Tech Veterans Group has teamed up with Butte's Marine Corps League Detachment 724 to help with the local Toys for Tots Program this holiday season. ...Read More
National Radiologic Technology Week at Highlands College
The Highlands College Radiologic Technology Program, will be observing National Radiologic Technology Week, November 2-8. ...Read More
Montana Tech Named a Top College for Nontraditional Students
BestColleges.com has named Montana Tech a top college for nontraditional students. ...Read More
Read More News Stories » Follow MTechAlumni