The O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West was formally established by the Montana University System Board of Regents in 1992 as a forum to explore, examine, and articulate an inclusive regional
identity and vision using a variety of disciplines. The very first gift received by the Center in establishing its endowment – a gift of $600,000 from the O’Neill Family Foundation of Oregon
for use in establishing a study program in western history - was received in the early 1990s. A Challenge Grant
from the National Endowment for the Humanities of $520,000 was then secured and matched with additional contributions exceeding $1,560,000. Carroll and Nancy Fields O’Connor, both graduates of The University
of Montana, provided the single largest endowment gift and the Center was named for them in recognition of this.
Additional endowment gifts to the Center exceeding $100,000 also have been made by the Billings-based Foundation for Community Vitality, Chris and James Scott of Billings, and Norman Creighton, a UM alum
formally from Los Angeles. Today, through other contributions and earnings growth, the Center’s total endowment fund now exceeds $3.7 million and is continuing to grow.
The Center’s initial programs were in history and the humanities with programming focused on the U.S. Northern Rockies. Several early Center-initiated conferences of note included “Montanans New
and Old” and “A.B. Guthrie’s The Big Sky – After 50 Years.” In the mid-1990s, the Center expanded its geographic focus to include the entire region centered around the North American Rockies, including
areas within two Canadian provinces and five or six U.S. states. From the early 1990s to the present, this region has had the fastest growing economy of any region in North America. The Center
added a program for sustained study of the region’s economic growth and change in the mid-1990s. Additional programs followed with focuses on important areas in public policy. Today, the O’Connor
Center is one of the leading university-based, regional study programs in the entire western United States.
The O’Connor Center remains a work-in-progress and will continue to expand and shape its programming to provide inquiry, expert analyses, and public education of greatest relevance to the region and its
key leadership and stakeholders.