Senior Advocates for Montana: Big Sky 55+

By RUSSELL ROWLAND

How many would guess that Montana has the third oldest population in the country, behind New Hampshire and Maine? Just as surprisingly, Montana has not had a group that advocates for senior issues for about 10 years, when the Montana Senior Citizens Organization fell by the wayside.

Over the course of the past year, a group of resourceful seniors, led by Northern Plains Resource Council stalwart Pat Sweeney, have been forming a group to advocate for senior issues—Big Sky 55+.

They hired Molly Moody, who has been a professional organizer for most of her career. She traveled all over Montana for her self-titled “100 Cups of Coffee Tour,” interviewing 100 people over 55 to gauge the interest.

It was substantial.

Launch Party

On April 10th, Big Sky 55+ held a launch party in Great Falls, Mont., to announce the group’s intentions to bring more attention to issues facing our senior population.

“We are going to focus a lot on issues involving health care, social security, and Medicare,” Sweeney explained. “As our population continues to age, more and more people are concerned about whether they’re going to be able to afford to take care of themselves with the constant threat of cuts to social security and Medicare. We need to do what we can to prevent this from happening.”

Ken Toole

Ken Toole is one of the 10 people on the board, which includes former educators, union officers, ranchers, and farmers. He is also the son of one of Montana’s most respected historians, K. Ross Toole, a long-time professor at the University of Montana.

Toole’s parents divorced when he was a kid, but when he was in high school, he went to live with his father on a ranch in the Bitterroot, and that’s where he developed two things—an appreciation for working with the land and an appreciation for being active in the political process.

Toole worked for the Human Rights Commission part time before he eventually landed a full-time job with the Human Rights Network. He now lives east of Cascade, Mont., where he has built a straw bale house with solar and wind energy.

So he’s a man who practices what he preaches.

He spent some time in the legislature as well, as did another of the major players in this new group, Carole Juneau.

Carole Juneau

Juneau served in the Montana legislature for 18 years, with one term in the senate and two in the House. She was responsible for getting the Indian Education for All Act enacted in Montana, which still remains the only state in the union that requires every one of its school systems to teach Native American History.

Although education has always been high on the list of Juneau’s priorities (her daughter Denise was just hired as Superintendent of Schools for the Seattle School District), she also shares the concerns of her fellow board members about health care and social security.

“This is just as important to the future generations as it is to ours,” she explained. “We don’t want to burden our own kids and grandkids with the cost of caring for us, or leave them without any way to take care of themselves when they get to be our age.”

Big Sky 55+ was fortunate to get a three-year grant from The Kendeda Fund, an Atlanta organization dedicated to exploring how human beings can build a more just and equitable world, one in which we use resources wisely and relate to one another more mindfully.

Over the course of this coming year, the group will use its substantial influence and growing resources to influence the next election as well as the goings on in the Montana legislature. MSN

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