Norma Ashby Smith has been part of what is good about Great Falls and Montana for the last 58 years. She has given her talents and creativity to projects and events, time and time again.
For her contributions, determination to mentor young people, and inspiration she has been to all, the Great Falls Area Chamber of Commerce Athenas recognized Norma Ashby Smith with the 2019 We Stand Tall award.
Norma is a fourth-generation Montanan. She started life out in the Winston area where her great-grandfather had homesteaded after coming to Montana in 1862. She graduated from Helena High School in 1953, and, four years later, she received a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Montana in Missoula.
Armed with journalism credentials, she went to New York City to work in the photography department of Life magazine. Rounding out her four years in the Big Apple, she worked as assistant editor of the photography department at the MD Medical News magazine, a cultural magazine for doctors. As a side project, she founded the Montana Club of New York, which grew to 700 members.
Returning to Montana when an illness in the family drew her home, Norma landed a job at KRTV in 1962. She held that job for 26 years, broadcasting the show Today in Montana, where she interviewed celebrities and individuals in the community, both for their interests and for their jobs as community and state servants.
The show went live from Great Falls to statewide coverage, winning awards as Montana Program of the Year. When it was evident that television was changing, Norma wrapped up her everyday broadcast career in June 1988.
She has several principles she lives by. One is, “It’s amazing what gets done when you don’t care who gets the credit.” In 1968 Norma and other planners suggested that the Great Falls Advertising Federation honor Charlie Russell with a money-raising event by holding an auction for western artists.
The auction, which has gone a long way in helping to support the C. M. Russell Museum for 51 years, has grown from a one-day event into a week of activities and is enjoyed by western art enthusiasts across the country.
During the second year of the Charlie Russell Auction, Norma introduced the “I Like Charlie Russell” writing contest for fifth graders. Since its inception, 38,000 fifth graders, who studied Montana history, have written essays about Great Falls’ famous citizen.
“This will give the students an acquaintance with C. M. Russell that will stay with them the rest of their lives,” said Norma.
That first year the contest was held in Mrs. Vi Olson’s classroom at Riverview Grade School. Two students tied for first place. This last year, which was 50 years later, Norma invited those two students to the writing contest celebration.
They were Paula Egan-Wright, who is teaching at the French Embassy in Ankara, Turkey, and Bart Dzivi, who is a lawyer in Sausalito, Calif. Attending the event, they thrilled the children with stories of the first writing contest and their lives since then.
“I like to be involved in celebrations, because they can be planned, they are held, and they are over,” said Norma, “I make new friends of people who are dedicated workers.” She has been active with planning Centennial celebrations for Montana as well as Great Falls.
She coordinated the Montana Statehood Centennial Bell event, for which when people across the state rang bells in 1989 at the exact same time of day, 100 years after Montana became a state. Out of that event developed the Montana History Teacher of the Year Award at both the elementary and secondary levels. She continues to coordinate this event every year.
Norma is quick to accept a mentoring opportunity with young people, and she helped Miss Anaconda, who was a Miss USA contestant, with tips for interviewing. LynDee Feisthamel successfully applied for a P.E.O. STAR Scholarship with Norma’s help.
A student in the School of Pharmacy at the University of Montana, Feisthamel said, “Norma has been one of the best mentors I could have asked for. As our friendship grew, it was easy to see that Norma leads by example. Her upbeat, go-getter attitude radiates to those around her and makes me want to mirror her positive disposition. Norma has been such a blessing in my life.”
In 2017 Norma received the coveted Josephine Trigg Award from the Russell Museum for her service to the Museum where she has become a lifetime member. Also in 2017, she was elected to the Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame. Norma is an honorary member of the Blackfeet Tribe, was honored with the Paris Gibson award, and is the only living woman to be elected to the Montana Broadcasters Hall of Fame.
Recognized for her many contributions to the community and state, Norma received the Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Montana. She also served on the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services for three years.
Norma has written the book, Movie Stars & Rattlesnakes: The Heyday of Montana Live Television about her broadcasting career. MSN