More Than Just a Pretty Place: Why I Chose to Make It Missoula

By JIM O’DAY

Why do so many people “Make It Missoula” as the place they call home?

Well, it’s much more than just the beautiful scenery, the five valleys, the incredible fresh-water streams, the university, the many outdoor recreational opportunities, and the uniqueness of the town and its surroundings.

Actually, it’s the people who reside here.

After graduating from the University of Montana in 1980, my next 18 years were spent trying to get back to this marvelous and energetic community.

Sure, I had many, many fine memories of my two years in the Flathead Valley working for the Kalispell Daily Interlake newspaper, and the next 16 years running the family-owned Western Breeze newspaper in Cut Bank.

But, when the call came to accept a position for the Grizzly Athletic Association (now Grizzly Scholarship Association) in 1998, I couldn’t resist the offer. I sold my newspaper and moved back to the community I never wanted to leave.

I still remember what originally brought me here: Grizzly Athletics.

It was 1975, and the Montana Grizzlies were playing UCLA under legendary basketball coach John Wooden in the second round of the NCAA Basketball Tournament in Portland, Oregon. As a UCLA fan who, at the time, was probably looking to enroll the next fall at either Montana State or Carroll College, I listened intently on the radio as the two teams battled down to the wire.

UCLA won the game, 67-64, and eventually the national title (the final one under Wooden, who I would later come to meet in 2006), but the Montana Grizzlies had a new fan.

I couldn’t believe a small school in Montana could field a college team that could stay up with such a national power as UCLA. The next morning, I checked in with my high school counselor, and the rest is history. I enrolled at UM, while the majority of my friends from across the Hi-Line followed the usual trend and went elsewhere.

I will still never forget that afternoon in September 1975 when my parents drove me to Missoula, my first trip ever to the Garden City. I was extremely nervous as they dropped me off alone at Knowles Hall on the UM campus where I knew nobody, only to later realize it would be one of the best decisions I would ever make. In Missoula, I found a community of my dreams.

And I wasn’t alone. I loved it here!

A couple of recent events remind me why Missoula is such a wonderful place to live and raise a family – and is much more of a small rural community than a sprawling metropolitan, urban city.

One has been the rally by many residents in the community to save the UM Golf Course in an effort to protect the open space in that particular area of town.  While they all agree a new Missoula College of Technology, or “Missoula College,” is a necessity, their goal is to save the pristine environment and diversity of that particular piece of property, and have the new buildings located on a different site.

Their efforts are to be commended, and they are being heard. Already, they have accumulated more than 6,000 signatures on a petition opposing the location of the COT on the golf course property, which in itself is quite impressive.

Second was the unexpected death of a 33-year-old man in South Dakota, Curt Colter, who played football for the Montana Grizzlies during the team’s championship run in 2001.

Although he grew up in Custer, Big Sandy, and Hysham, and had spent five years following college in Arizona and most recently in Sioux Falls, when he passed away from heart disease on Oct. 30, the family decided his final resting place should be Missoula – where he had countless wonderful memories and friends. That says a lot about the community, and the great people who live and work here.

Yes, this is a very unique community.  To keep it moving in a positive direction, we need to “Make It Missoula” every way we can. We can all do our part. This is a very special place!

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Jim O’Day was Director of Athletics at the University of Montana from 2005-2012. Prior to that, he served as the Assistant Director of the Grizzly Athletic Association and later as the Director of Development  for Intercollegiate Athletics atUM.

Prior to returning to his alma mater in 1998, O’Day was the owner and publisher of the family-owned Western Breeze newspaper in Cut Bank, Montana.

Jim currently works for The Farran Group, a real estate development/ investment firm based in Missoula, MT.  In addition, Jim serves as a consultant for Epio Solutions out of Seattle, a sports based agency primarily focused on monitoring social media platforms for various colleges and universities.

Jim and his wife Kathy have three sons: Chris, Kevin and Brian.  Chris and Kevin are graduates of The University of Montana, while Brian is currently a senior at UM.