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Nancy Pickhardt reminisces Tuesday morning how she and her sister, Barbara LeBuhn, loved to walk across the University of Montana campus in the fall. LeBuhn, who sold college textbooks, died of brain cancer in 2015 and Pickhardt has established a fund in her name to help students at UM who need financial help to buy textbooks.

Barbara LeBuhn loved to walk across the University of Montana campus in the fall with her sister, Nancy Pickhardt.

LeBuhn, who received a degree in education from Northwestern University, also loved books. She worked for the college textbook division of Houghton Mifflin, traveling around the country talking with students and professors.

After she and her husband, Tim Maly, adopted baby Malik, she would read him her favorite stories, classics like The Velveteen Rabbit and Harold and the Purple Crayon.

In 2014, LeBuhn was diagnosed with brain cancer. Pickhardt, a nurse who worked in neurosurgery in an intensive care unit, saw the image of the tumor the size of a lemon against her brain stem. She knew her sister wouldn't last long.

In June 2015, LeBuhn died in Illinois surrounded by loved ones, but this semester, the Barbara LeBuhn Memorial Book Fund comes alive. To honor her sister, Pickhardt started the fund to help students at UM who need help paying for textbooks, and it brings together the sisters' love for UM and LeBuhn's dedication to books and education.

"Barbara loved coming out here. Just this summer, we put some of her ashes in Flathead Lake," Pickhardt said.

And just this summer, the fund started helping UM students.


MaKayla Otterstrom, a junior at UM, used to skip out on buying textbooks for classes or shared them with friends because they cost too much, as much as $700 one semester. She even took six months off school to save up money one time because books and tuition get expensive.

In late August, she learned she was the recipient of a scholarship from the book fund.

"For me, it was actually almost a godsend," Otterstrom said. "I don't have any help from my parents, and I get all of my money from the work study that I do."

She saves money from her work in the summer and during breaks to buy books. This year, Otterstrom, who grew up in Montana, can put that money toward groceries or rent instead.

In the past, she worked 36 hours a week in addition to going to school in order to try to afford college, but she learned her lesson. She earned C's and has to redo a couple of her classes. Now, she works 14 or 15 hours a week at the most, and her job at the information technology department is flexible. 

"Last semester, I was able to make the dean's list," said Otterstrom, an elementary education major.

The books at her fingertips are going to help. In the past, she might have shared books, texting pictures of pages back and forth with other students, but she'll be able to spend more time with the material herself.

"It's completely more convenient that I can take the textbook home, and after I'm done with work, I can scan through them," Otterstrom said.

She won't be the only one to benefit from those books, either.


Darlene Samson, director of TRiO Student Support Services at UM, said the Grizzly Riders International started a book loan program in 2007, and a couple of years ago, the UM Foundation told her LeBuhn's sister wanted to honor her work in the publishing field.

"The foundation recommended that they work with our program to help students who are low income and need help with their textbooks," Samson said.

The book loan program offers textbooks to some 90 students every semester, and as long as faculty keep assigning the same books, the program can keep loaning them to students, Samson said. Last semester, the program purchased 71 new textbooks for $5,100, and it loaned an additional 182 already on the shelves.

The LeBuhn fund will support students in a similar way, Samson said. As it gets off the ground this semester, the initial amount will help another four students with roughly $500 each for the term, and it may make the difference in their ability to stay in school.

"For retention purposes, we really want to look at those students who have a lot of unmet financial need," Samson said.

She said the simple act of helping students purchase a textbook changes lives, and it also commemorates a family member in a meaningful way.

"It's a beautiful legacy for individuals who want to honor families, and I just feel like that's been a wonderful way to honor someone who has passed away," Samson said.


The UM Foundation puts the fund at some $8,862 so far, and Pickhardt wants it to reach $25,000 to bring it to an endowment level and provide support in perpetuity.

She and her sister grew up going to the library, and her sister lived a life of compassion, loving animals, opera and the planet, in addition to books. She also never complained about her diagnosis, Pickhardt said, even when she lost her vision and couldn't talk anymore.

And she was feisty until the end. One day when she was busy in the house, she told Pickhardt she was "getting ready for the next waitress." Pickhardt correctly deciphered her sibling's remark, of course. "Are you talking about Tim remarrying?"

She was, and Pickhardt is pleased he soon will be. LeBuhn also insisted on being independent when she could. Once, her husband fed her spaghetti, and she knocked the fork away from his hand with an admonition. "I do." She proceeded to push noodles into her mouth with her bare hands.

"One of the few things she could do at the end was eat, and she ate like crazy," Pickhardt said.

She had many friends because she herself was a true friend to others, and Pickhardt said she died surrounded by loved ones. 

"It was really sad that Barbara died, but right up until the end, we just laughed and had a great time. And she wasn't afraid to die," Pickhardt said.

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University of Montana, higher education