Emma Lommasson, 106-year-old University of Montana alumna, was 68 years old when President Seth Bodnar was born.
“58?” Lommasson asked Thursday.
“Even better,” she said.
“I love to see these young people get up there,” Lommasson continued. “They have young minds, they have active minds.
“Don’t surround yourself with old people like me.”
Lommasson spoke to a crowd of UM staff, reporters and friends in the sunroom at The Village Senior Residence in Missoula, before new president Bodnar came in to meet her.
The 1933 graduate has met every president since 1921.
So when Bodnar came into the room bearing gifts (UM branded chocolate bars and blankets), he told Lommasson how much of an honor it was to meet her.
“It’s an honor to meet you,” Lommasson replied. “Not an honor for you to meet me.”
Bodnar kneeled next to Lommasson, who sat at the head of the room flanked by her friend Mick Holien, former 31-year Grizzlies football announcer.
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The room buzzed with cameras and chatter while Bodnar and Lommasson talked; Lommasson occasionally interrupting to marvel at how many people cared to come out and see her.
“I’m just a girl from a little coal-mining town who said to her mother and father she wanted to go the university,” Lommasson said. “She didn’t know a thing.”
Since showing up on campus, Bodnar said he’d heard story after story about Lommasson and her decades of service, from being a student to teaching to working as registrar.
“It’s our turn to carry the torch for you,” Bodnar offered.
“No. You carry your own torch,” Lommasson said, who also steadfastly refused to give Bodnar advice, at least with everyone around. “He is doing his own thing.”
Bodnar’s wife Chelsea asked Lommasson about living in the president’s mansion in the 1930s. Lommasson, who lived in an upstairs room, was delighted when Chelsea said their kids had built a fort in the house recently.
The two talked for about 30 minutes, covering stories from Lommasson’s childhood — learning to drive — to her thoughts on the University’s future — “the young people are taking over … trust them.”
Bodnar also made Lommasson grin by reminding her it was Charter Day, and the University’s 125th birthday.
And — one more surprise — UM football coach Bobby Hauck showed up to say hi as well, pausing on his way in to talk football with some penny poker players in the next room.
Bodnar promised he’d be back to see Lommasson again, and seek out her advice. He also wanted her to come to campus soon if possible. Lommasson agreed, though she regretted she couldn’t be working.
“I’m sorry I won’t be there to be the registrar for you.”