99 Years, Countless Memories to Share
On a bright July morning last summer, Helen Swan Bolle arrived at the College of Forestry and Conservation bearing a stack of books, portfolios and faded blue notebooks. They were items that had belonged to her late husband, Arnie, the former dean of the college.
Helen had just celebrated her 99th birthday, and the time finally seemed right to donate these treasures to the library at the Bolle Center for People and Forests. The center has been a think-tank for forest and land management issues since 1994, when philanthropists Liz Claiborne and Art Ortenberg established it to honor Arnold Bolle’s remarkable life and groundbreaking work. In 1970, Arnold was the lead writer on what was later known as the Bolle Report, sparking a national dialogue on forest management and the creation of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act.
But Helen wasn’t visiting UM that day to talk about the Bolle Report. She was there to honor and celebrate her own relationship with UM, as she confirmed an estate gift to support the University. The gift, which will fund scholarships for veterans, is made in honor of her and Arnie’s youngest son, Chuck, who was a veteran and died in 2012.
Why was a donation to UM meaningful to her? To explain, Helen started back at the beginning, sharing stories from almost a century of life in Missoula and the Pacific Northwest.
Her family has always had a deep connection to the land. Her father, K.D. Swan, was one of the first people to earn a master’s degree in forestry at Harvard and arrived in Montana in 1911 as a surveyor and photographer for the U.S. Forest Service.
Helen was born in Missoula and grew up on Jackson Street in the Lower Rattlesnake. She and her brother spent hours playing in the relatively unsettled woods around their house.
“Greenough Park was kind of our playground,” she explained.
When she wasn’t exploring the fish hatchery or raising an orphaned fawn the family named Dixie, she was at Camp Sweyolakan on Lake Coeur D’Alene. She spent seven summers there as a camper and a counselor.
“That’s where I learned that nature’s important, nature’s beautiful,” she said.
In the early 1930s, she started taking home economics courses at UM, living in North Hall under the guidance of social director Mrs. Theodore Brantly, for whom the building was later renamed. It was here that she met Arnie Bolle, who was completing his bachelor’s degree in forestry.
Their courtship involved sweets – she learned to make candy and brought it to him during his class breaks – and adventures in the wilderness. They went hiking almost every weekend in Pattee Canyon; as Helen explained with her characteristic dry wit, “He had a beat-up car, so that’s as far as we could go.”
They were married in 1937, as soon as he had graduated and received his first paycheck from the Sunnyside Ranger Station. They were poor – “we ate a lot of potato salad” – but blissfully happy.
After working for the U.S. Forest Service and the Soil Conservation Service in Oregon and Washington, and managing a dude ranch in Wyoming, Arnie joined the UM faculty in 1954.
Helen never thought she’d come back to Missoula, but the last 60 years have been good ones. The Bolles built their home on Jackson Street, just behind the house where Helen grew up. Their three children – Stan, Susan and Chuck – all graduated from Hellgate High School. Stan is also a UM grad.
In 1962, Arnie was appointed dean, and their UM involvement expanded. Helen was a like a den mother to the forestry students, and the couple hosted legendary faculty breakfasts where the bloody marys flowed.
“We had a ball,” Helen said.
This deep and abiding connection to UM is just one reason why Helen’s donation is important to her and her family. The other part is keeping the Bolle name alive here.
“This gift is in memory of my son, who died early. A lot of our support is about keeping something in his name here.”
Her generosity will ensure that generations of scholarship recipients know him and better understand the deep mark that this remarkable family has left on UM.
Helen Bolle passed away on January 26, 2016, at 99 ½ years old. We send our condolences to her loving family and our admiration for a life well lived.
Pictured above: (Top photo) Hellen Bolle with son Stan and grandson Dave inside the Forestry Building July 2015. (Bottom photo) Among the items donated to the Bolle Center is a small, three-ring binder full of notes from Arnold Bolle's birding trips in 1942 and 1943. He reported spotting hundreds of American Roughlegged Hawks near Eden, Wyoming.