Giving Back After a Lifetime in the Field

Bill Gabriel came to the University of Montana as a graduate student in 1967. His plan was to get a master’s degree, but Dick Taber, one of the first wildlife biologists hired by the University, pulled him into the PhD program with the promise of a graduate assistantship. The Veteran’s Administration supported his tuition.

“That’s how I got here. It was mostly Dick Taber’s fault,” Gabriel said. “And it changed my career opportunities because I came out of UM with an education in both wildlife and environmental analysis. The second wasn’t yet a course of study but something I learned incidentally from the professors with whom I was working.”

Gabriel had already worked for the U.S. Forest Service for over a dozen years, as well as with the United Nations in South America. But his UM degree helped him blaze trails in environmental analysis, then a new field. After graduate school, he went on to a varied and colorful career in the discipline, starting as environmental section chief with the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers in Alaska.

When asked how his UM experience shaped his professional life, he stresses that it’s the people here who made the biggest impact.

“Three and a half years at UM changed my life. I will be eternally grateful to Taber, Professor Les Pengelly, Dean Arnold Bolle, and also to the UM registrar, Emma Lommasson, who registered me one quarter with her personal check when I was up in Alaska,” Gabriel said.

BillTheir support encouraged him to give back. In 1998, he endowed a scholarship for undergraduate wildlife biology students.

“I have added to it over the years with gifts of stock, cash and IRA proceeds, depending on what worked best for me each year,” he said. “I also assigned half of my life insurance to the scholarship, as well as half of any residual value of my IRA.”

After his old mentor, Dick Taber, died in January 2016, Gabriel knew he wanted to recognize him with a gift in his honor.

“In gratitude for what he – and the University – had done for me, I contributed $10,000 toward funding the Richard D. Taber Memorial Scholarship.”

In addition to scholarships, Gabriel has made it possible for more undergraduates to experience the outdoors. He donated his 50-year accumulation of field equipment: tents, sleeping bags, stoves, backpacks, axes, camp stools, a spotting scope – and more. It took two professors with pickups to haul it away.

“I guess that behind all this is a love for the out of doors learned as a kid on a Virginia mountain farm and as a Boy Scout in Richmond,” he said. “I just want to help some student realize their dream of a life among mountains and trees.”