The University of Montana and the Flathead Valley are mourning the loss of George Dennison last week, a man who is widely regarded as one of the most impactful educators in the state’s history. Dennison had been battling cancer and passed away Tuesday morning in Missoula.
A Kila kid, Dennison graduated from Flathead County High School and played tackle for the Braves before joining the Navy in 1953. The next year he married another Flathead native Jane Schroeder, a union that would last 62 years and produced two sons, Robert and Rick.
Dennison’s career in education began in earnest in the late 1960s as an historian and educator at the University of Arkansas and the University of Washington. He then held various titles for 18 years at Colorado State University.
But the most influential years of his career came in the two decades he led the University of Montana, becoming the longest-serving president in school history. During Dennison’s tenure, the university saw enrollment increase nearly 50 percent; the campus endowment grew to $120 million, and the university added more than 1 million square feet in learning space, to name just a few of his many accomplishments.
He gained the reputation across the campus as a “no-nonsense leader” who guided the university with a positive and inspirational spirit. We at the Inter Lake recall his many visits to meet with the editorial board, where he shared his enthusiasm for the university and for Montana. One of his long-time goals was increasing the opportunity for Montana children to have the chance to study at the University of Montana.
“With his expansive vision, tenacity and optimism, he seemed to think the University of Montana could take over the world,” remarked UM Interim President Sheila Stearns.
“He was probably the greatest president UM has ever had,” commented former Montana Secretary of State Bob Brown.
Worthy praise for the remarkable legacy left by one of the Flathead’s finest.