Make it Matter: The Jeannette Rankin Peace Center


The Jeannette Rankin Peace Center, or JRPC, was first established in 1986, when small peace centers and justice groups decided to work together to achieve their common goal of spreading peace.  They wished to spread the word of peacemaking and information on how to become more involved in making a better tomorrow.  Growing from humble beginnings in a small loaned room, the JPRC was able to continue to grow into their new home at 519 S. Higgins overlooking the Clark Fork River.  Every New Year’s Eve, the JRPC heads to Caras Park and digs out an enormous peace sign at the bandstand. They then invite the community to come and create luminaries to fill in the peace sign. The end result is spectacular.  This last week, I helped the JRPC build the peace sign, an activity that was both fulling and amazing.

It was New Year’s Eve, and all of my friends were in full party mode getting everything set up at our house for people to come in and welcome the New Year with open arms. Once the party was set up, I got into my silver Corolla and headed down to the JRPC to pick up a special button for volunteering. Finally this volunteering was starting to pay off.

As I arrived at the JRPC, I discovered that they have a variety of things for sale, and I spent the next twenty minutes looking over the brightly colored scarves, the small wooden toys (which I always have to stop myself from purchasing) and their various brochures about how to be more involved in the peace movement.  Once I was satisfied, I talked with the woman who was working as cashier. She gave me a bright smile. As she thanked me for lending a hand, she handed me a colorful button which would help get me into a few of the events that were going on downtown for free.  This button had more power than I thought.  I looked at the time and discovered that it was only one o’clock. My shift did not start until 4 p.m., so I headed home and made myself a nice late lunch.


Before I knew it, it was half past three, so I started making my way to the Caras Park Bandstand.  Once there, I saw a group of children riding ponies and a few parents watching and laughing.  It seemed like a lot of fun, and I was on my way to ask what the age limit was on pony riding when I saw a man walk over to the bandstand with a few shovels.  I figured he was working with the JRPC, and I introduced myself.  His name was Roger, a soft spoken and warm-hearted man who appeared to be in his late fifties. He greeted me with a smile and explained how he would like to get the peace sign done.  I grabbed a shovel, and we got to work.  First we dug out the circle and then dug through the middle to give the sign that iconic look.  (Fun Fact: The peace sign was based off of semaphore signals.  The signals the inventor used were “N” and “D” which stand for nuclear disarmament.”)  While we were shoveling, another volunteer showed up. His name was Peter.  Peter was also in his late fifties and introduced himself with a warm handshake that felt good at the end of December.  With the three of us working, we had the peace sign formed in no time.


Once the peace sign was done, the fourth member of our team, Nancy, arrived.  A lively woman, Nancy is the type of person that can warm your heart and light up the night.  This was due to her personality and also to the fact that she had delivered the supplies we needed to make the luminaries.  Nancy thanked me for coming down and explained to me what the rest of my shift would be like.  It was easy and fun really.  I would fill small brown bags with a scoop of sand and then Nancy would put in a candle at which point Peter and Roger would spread our newly formed luminaries over the peace sign.

While filling the brown bags with sand, Nancy and I discussed the past year and all of the ups and downs it had for us and our lives.  Nancy is the Volunteer Coordinator for the JRPC. She has been working in this position for the past three years and gets great satisfaction from her work.  She told me about the days before the bandstand was built at Caras when they were able to make a massive peace sign. It sounded amazing especially when our current peace sign was as big as it was.


Soon into the shift, people started to arrive to make their own luminaries.  They would write down their message for peace on the brown bag and hand it over to us so that we could light it.  Then they would head over to the peace sign with the luminary and place their message in the sign.  So we had the luminaries everywhere, and as the sun went down, it created a wonderful glowing peace sign that was clearly visible from the Higgins Bridge.

Soon enough my shift had ended, and I said my goodbyes to Nancy and Peter. We wished each other a happy New Year, and I started my walk back home.  From the bridge, I got to see what the peace sign looked like from above, and it was spectacular.  A warm symbol on a cold night; a symbol that was asking for a year of peace.


If you are looking to become more involved with the peace movement, then visit the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center at 519 S. Higgins or give them a call at (406)543-3955.  Also, if you are looking for activities like the one I just wrote about, then visit to get more information about volunteering events happening near you.


My name is Will Schultz and I am a student at the University of Montana.  As of now I am a senior in the Management of Information Systems program and am looking to graduate at the end of May.  I am originally from Butte and have been living in Missoula for the last few years.  I love the sense of community that Missoula has created and am hoping to become more involved.  I enjoy working on computers and I get a great sense of accomplishment that my skills are being used to help others!

If you like this article then volunteering may be for you.  It is a great way to meet people and is more rewarding than my command of the English language can describe.  Visit to find ways to lend a hand near you.


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