As a career educator, John C. Board is used to nudging students along the path to discovery, yet his own path has been marked by any number of surprises, which Board has learned to embrace over his eight decades.
“I never dreamed that I would be able to attend college, to teach, or to experience all that I have in my life,” said Board, who arrived in Montana nearly 60 years ago from the Midwest, figuring his stay would be brief.
Instead, with only a few out-of-state forays—graduate studies in Wyoming and Oregon and a 12-year stint as director of Professional Practice and Government Relations for the Connecticut Education Association—Board has made a life out of serving Montana in numerous ways.
Board’s journey started in Indiana, where he taught English and journalism for one year before moving to Great Falls. There he taught middle school English and high school English and history. He simultaneously served several civic, educational, and religious organizations, beginning a pattern that continues to this day.
“I have fought and advocated for the just treatment of teachers and students and for transparency in all measure that govern them as well as for people in general,” said Board, who lead the Montana Education Association for eight years as president.
“My unifying theme in serving has been for justice, equity, and social justice for all,” said Board, who also ran for public office—the 1968 and 1970 races for Montana’s House of Representatives—discovering that his views better fit the Democratic platform than his initial campaign as a Republican.
Early in his teaching career, Board also met and began interviewing a plethora of people notable for shaping Montana’s history and culture, including Jeannette Rankin, the first female elected to Congress, whose legacy includes her commitment to pacifism and women’s right to vote.
“She was a woman who, at the time I knew her, did not like to be interviewed,” said Board, who focused his master’s thesis on Rankin. “She was very engaging, warm, and I doubt if she ever met a stranger.”
In addition to teaching, Board wrote and edited numerous items, particularly concerning professional teaching standards, that Board feels teachers should determine.
His admiration for teachers, coupled with his curiosity about the impact educators have had on notable Americans resulted in his research and editing of A Special Relationship: Our Teachers and How We Learned. Sparked in part by the story of Helen Keller and “Miracle worker” Anne Sullivan, Board’s 1991 book of excerpts from famous Americans—composer Aaron Copeland, newsman Dan Rather, musician Louis Armstrong, writer Eudora Welty—was rejected 33 times before finding a home at Pushcart Press.
“It became a passion and labor of love,” said Board, who relocated to Helena in 1996, continuing to publish articles about professional teaching standards for the National Education Association, getting involved in his local community, and making the occasional visit to Helena’s Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts.
Board was familiar with the Bray, as it is known, from one of its first directors, Branson Stevenson, a prominent Montana businessman and prolific artist whose association with Archie Bray led to the foundation of the venerable Foundation. Although he never published his research, Board had spent many hours interviewing Stevenson in the 1960’s.
In 2001, during the Bray’s 50th anniversary, Board began volunteering his time, eventually offering to catalogue their modest library of more than 50 books. Drawing upon his Masters of Library Sciences degree, he implemented a formal cataloguing system for the growing library, which in 2017 got a new home on the second floor of the Education and Research Facility.
There was no doubt whose name should appear on the door of the new library, said Resident Artist Director, Steven Young Lee, who helped orchestrate the dedication ceremony for the John C. Board Library, which now contains more than 3,000 periodicals, 800 exhibition catalogues, DVDs, and other materials.
“Technically he’s a volunteer, but he’s been one of our more regular volunteers,” said Lee. “He’s really become part of the family.”
Board was stunned at the honor. “My whole relation to the Bray was being a volunteer who felt lucky enough to be doing what I was for the Bray,” said Board, who went on to catalog the Bray’s art collection and has been contemplating creating a map of past artist residents.
In addition to spending one morning a week at the Bray—more if there’s more work to be done—Board continues to volunteer his time locally, including for the Helena Suicide Prevention Committee and the ethics committee at St. Peter’s Hospital.
“The thing that comes across is [Board] has such a strong moral compass,” said Lee. “He’s driven to helping others.” MSN