Montanans You Can Count On

One thing stands out most when you get the privilege to visit with longtime Missoula residents Larry and Dianna Riley. Come drought or high water, you can count on them to follow through for people and issues they care about.

It’s why the couple gave $25,000 for an endowed scholarship for law students, plus an additional $5,000 to bridge the time that the endowment is annuitizing.

Taking advantage of the Montana Endowment Tax Credit (METC), the Rileys established a charitable gift annuity as part of their commitment to UM. As alumni with a passion for helping students succeed, the Rileys say giving back comes naturally.

“My opportunity to go to college was made possible when I was given a full-ride athletic scholarship and played basketball for the Griz,” says Larry Riley. “Today I am inspired to hear young students talk about the difference that a scholarship can make in their lives.”

Tied to the country of eastern Montana, Larry grew up in Jordan, Mont. until age eight, when his parents moved their four children to Roundup, Mont. to run the local Stockman’s Bar. It wasn’t until many years later that he would recognize what a big sacrifice this was for his mom and dad.

“One day, my father and I were back in Jordan, tending to the fencing, and taking care of business at the ranch, when suddenly I realized that there was something so different about the way my dad looked,” says Larry. “He was home. He was content. He was glad to be back. He hated the bar business, but my parents were committed to getting their kids into college and that was the price they paid for 11 years until they were certain we were all set in our schooling.”

Dianna’s parents felt the same way about getting their kids into college.

“Larry’s father was the only one of our parents to finish high school,” says Dianna. “Our parents knew the value of education, but not the mechanics. My parents simply told us, ‘You are going to college.’ No questions asked.”

Growing up in Helena, Mont., Dianna Reber Riley’s childhood was vibrant with interesting experiences. She still maintains deep friendships with her Helena High School classmates, many of whom were freshmen with her at UM in 1961.

This value of education is something that Larry and Dianna would take to heart many years later when they became involved with UM’s Black Studies program during the tumultuous times of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Larry received his bachelor’s degree in political science in 1963 and a juris doctorate in 1966. By 1968, Larry says that UM, along with the rest of the nation, was embroiled in the politics of the time.

“It was a dynamic time on campus, and incredibly the University of Montana was only the second college in the United States to have a formal Black Studies program,” says Larry. “Initially, we didn’t know much about the struggles of minority students on campus, but once we got to know the Black Studies program founder, Ulysses Doss, we knew that it was imperative to support the efforts of African American students on campus.”

By then, the couple had begun their family, with Dianna taking time off from school to raise the children (ultimately returning to school to obtain a bachelor’s in history, with an english minor in 1988), with Larry working full-time in legal practice at the firm Garlington, Lohn & Robinson.

Even with these significant commitments beyond UM, the couple doubled back to support the Black Studies program by housing students in their home, and with Larry acting as an advisor and advocate on campus, working closely with UM President Robert Pantzer to get the Black Studies program off the ground.

The Rileys have been deeply involved with UM over the years:

  • Larry spearheaded fundraising for an endowment in memory of his good friend and former law school classmate, Jim Anderson, who was killed in a plane crash right after graduation.
  • Dianna was awarded the Montana Alumni Award for her efforts to make a Black Studies program reunion a reality in 2009.
  • The couple supported another scholarship in honor of Ulysses Doss, Ph.D., at the College of Arts and Sciences.
  • Larry taught trial practice courses at UM for 19 years (while still maintaining a fulltime legal practice in his own right, as a partner in one of the biggest firms in Missoula).
  • Larry took a 10-month sabbatical from the practice of law in 1981 to lead the efforts of revamping the trial practice curriculum at the University of Montana School of Law (now considered one of the country’s top trial practice programs).
  • Larry serves as co-chair for the current Centennial Scholarship Campaign at the law school.
  • Larry continues as a guest lecturer at the law school and the school of nursing.
  • And today Dianna is working with the Alumni Association to celebrate the 45th Anniversary of the Black Studies Department this fall.

“The University of Montana has been the center of so many experiences for us,” says Larry Riley. “What could be more important than what the University provides––in being exposed to new ideas, in opening your mind, in expanding your horizons?”

And one last commitment, maybe the most important one of all, was celebrated on June 15, 2013, the Rileys’ 50th wedding anniversary.

“The University of Montana is where we met, and where we fell in love,” says Dianna. “We simply have so many great memories from our time with UM. We feel pretty fortunate to be here.”