By Missoula Current
The University of Montana will launch its first endowed chair in the humanities thanks to an unspecified contribution from an anonymous donor, the school announced this week.
UM president Sheila Stearns said the chair will honor Lucile Speer, who served as the university’s librarian for 40 years before stepping away in 1968. She was also a delegate to the Montana Constitutional Convention in 1972.
“This extraordinary gift allows us to recruit, retain and reward top scholars,” Stearns said of the donation. “The Speer Chair will enhance the university’s already stellar reputation in history and political science.”
According to the school, the endowed position was an idea three decades in the making and dates back to when Speer passed away in 1987. It was then that a friend suggested honoring Speer’s legacy by establishing a professorship in politics.
While the funding wasn’t available at the time, Speer’s family, friends and colleagues created the Lucile Speer Memorial Lecture as part of the President’s Lecture Series – an effort to recognize Speer’s lifelong passion for civic and public affairs.
Richard Drake will serve as the first Speer Chair. A history professor at UM since 1982, he has focused his teaching and research on Europe and the U.S. and has published five books and dozens of articles.
For the past 30 years, Drake also coordinated the President’s Lecture Series at UM. His accolades include the Governor’s Humanities Medal, the university’s Distinguished Scholar of the Year, and Most Inspirational Teacher, among others.
“I never met Lucile, but I have developed enormous respect for what I have learned about her splendid qualities of mind and character,” Drake said. “Her devotion to UM and commitment to the common good inspired all who knew her. As the inaugural chair holder, I hope to acquit myself in a spirit worthy of her memory.”
Speer was born in 1899 in Branch County, Michigan. After earning a bachelor’s degree in English from UM and a master’s from the University of Chicago, she taught at Kalispell High School before launching her 40-year career at UM’s library in 1928.
She became documents librarian in 1938 – a position she held until her retirement in 1968.
According to her vita, Speer was actively involved in both community and state affairs. She was a member of the League of Women Voters of Montana, as well as the Missoula Democratic Club, and she worked on Eugene McCarthy’s campaign in 1968.
At 73, she was the oldest delegate at the 1972 Montana Constitutional Convention. The convention rewrote Montana’s Constitution, which had not been updated since 1889.
The Speer Chair will recognize a faculty member who has a distinguished record of research and scholarly activity, and the inaugural chair is a shining example.