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WESTERN MONTANA LIVES - Sally Scott’s enthusiasm was infectious
WESTERN MONTANA LIVES - Sally Scott’s enthusiasm was infectious

Walking through a door doesn't simply get you from one room to another.

Crossing a threshold can be a transformative process. As a teacher, Sallie Scott helped her colleagues realize how stepping into a classroom meant taking on a personality and authority very different from who you were in the hallway. Kids become students and adults transform into teachers.

Big Sky High School English teacher Lorilee Evans Lynn recalled how Scott helped her assume the mantle of educator when she crossed the threshold. Scott also led by example in walking out of some significant doorways.

"She was 18 years in the classroom and I was just getting started," Evans Lynn said of her student-teaching days. "She's so much a part of the fabric of who I am in the classroom."

"She'd just as easily come leaping into a classroom as walk in," Evans Lynn said. "She took the classics very seriously, but she'd do anything to keep kids interested."

When Big Sky's staff got a chance to restructure the way they managed themselves 15 years ago, Scott leapt into that as well. The process she helped design moved lots of management decisions away from central administration and down to the people who worked in individual buildings and classrooms.

"She had an energy that would propel things," said fellow teacher Bill Lowney. "She carried other people with her enthusiasm."

Sometimes, that energy was put to use walking out of a door. Scott was at the heart of a tumultuous time for Missoula's Roman Catholic church community 30 years ago, when many churchgoers found themselves at odds with their spiritual leaders.

Christ the King Parish had been on the forefront of some radical re-imagining of Roman Catholic tradition and dogma. In particular, former pastor Frank Matule said his congregation sought to break down some of the exclusionary walls around church ritual. In particular, they questioned why lay people couldn't offer sermons, why women couldn't sanctify sacraments, and why priests couldn't marry and continue their pastoral duties.

"Sally raised the question early on: Are priests the only people in the church who have 'magic hands?' " Matule recalled. "She wondered why people were excluded. That led her to the conviction that everyone had magic hands - it was an expression of shared ministry. Her faith grew out of deep convictions."

These challenges, which were also playing out in several other churches in the Northwest, eventually resulted in a change of Roman Catholic bishops in Montana. In 1982, the new church leader stripped Matule of his authority, and a large number of Matule's friends felt similarly cut off.

"Most of us had left Christ the King, and we were seeking to continue our spiritual life," Matule said. "We spent two years looking for a new place, going through the natural process of forming a community."

Scott took a leadership role in that transformation. One position for which she advocated was to rent space instead of buying or building a new worship hall. That freed up the community's resources to do charitable works.

The result was the Spirit of Peace Alternative Catholic Community in Missoula, which just celebrated its 26th anniversary. Lowney, who was another founding member with Scott and Matule, said it took great courage to step away from the traditional Roman Catholic institution, but that Scott helped define it as a way "to take charge of our own spirituality."

Scott walked out of another door in 2000, when she retired from teaching after 28 years. Evans Lynn said Scott told her she could stay in a classroom forever, but the paper load was growing beyond her.

"The amount of work English teachers must do to do justice to the writing of 120 students or more a year - she said she just couldn't do it any more," Evans Lynn said. So she looked for another way to open minds.

Scott found it walking into the Learning Tree toy store. She took it over with her husband, Jerry Fetz, and focused her energy on finding great books and toys that needed no batteries to entertain. Friend Karen Callan said Scott's greatest pleasure came from connecting someone with the perfect toy or book for their interests - especially if it happened to be for the child or grandchild of one of her many friends.

Callan loved the way Scott would spot a person's favorite pleasure and then make a point of remembering it. For Callan, it was applesauce. Lowney loved cashew bars. Scott would produce them on birthdays, Christmas, or any other occasion she felt needed a sweet note.

"She made you feel like you were the center of the universe," Callan said. "She became an important person quickly to other people - a life force."

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