Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) When Mae Nan Robinson Ellingson was 24, she served as the youngest delegate at Montana's Constitutional Convention – a document often praised for its substance and vision.

During that time, she helped author the preamble to “the widely admired Bill of Rights that has, for 50 years, guaranteed equal rights for all Montanans." Ellingson later worked for the City of Missoula on a number of fronts - and at a time when city leaders were laying the groundwork for what's standing today.

With that in mind, Missoula Mayor Jordan Hess on Monday proclaimed the week of Oct. 24 “May Nan Ellingson Week” in recognition for her contributions to Missoula and the state.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the ratification of the state's constitution.

“It's such an honor to read this proclamation,” Hess said. “The process by which it was crafted and adopted is really an embodiment of the best version of ourselves in Montana. It's public service, public administration and governance at its finest. I'm happy to have this document as a foundation of how we do government.”

While Ellingson suffered from laryngitis on Monday, her friend Carol van Valkenburg spoke on her behalf. Van Valkenburg and Ellingson first met 45 years ago while van Valkenburg reported for the Missoulian and Ellingson served as an attorney for the City Council.

Van Valkenburg read Ellingson's statement.

“This is a privilege to me,” Ellingson said of the proclamation. “The City of Missoula has been so good to me over the past 44 years.”

Ellingson said she began working in the city attorney's office in 1977 after graduating from law school. She described city leadership at the time as “diverse, bipartisan and forward thinking.”

“The city made leaps forward in beautifying and revitalizing our community in the six years I worked for the city,” Ellingson said. “Most notable and with considerable opposition – initially from the business community and a couple of lawsuits – the City Council successfully passed a sign ordinance, a landscaping ordinance and a parking ordinance that were instrumental in making Missoula a better place to live and to attract business.”

During that time, Ellingson said, the City Council also created its first tax increment district. Combined with a special improvement district, it was able to issue bonds to finance Missoula's first parking garage.

The first open space bond also came along, creating the funding needed to transform the riverfront trail on the south side of the Clark Force River. The revenue also secured Missoula's first conservation easement, “setting our community on the way to being a leader in protecting and enhancing the land, rivers and mountains.”

Ellingson said the experience over those six years with the city prepared her for a career in municipal financing. She went to work for Dorsey & Whitney LLP, where she stayed for 33 years. The firm still provides bond counsel to the city, along with other financial matters.

While there, Ellingson earned the title as Missoula's “matriarch” of government finance.

“One of the last things I did for the city on a pro-bono basis was to assist Mayor John Engen and Ellen Buchanan (director of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency) in finding solutions to our beautiful Ogren Park-Allegiance Field,” Ellingson said. “That was one of the more gratifying endeavors because it was important to Mayor Engen and the hard work of Hall Fraser and Play Ball Missoula.”

When leaving on Monday night, Ellingson noted that the Missoula City Council has more women on it today compared to when she served the city. She called it “great progress.”

City Council member Stacie Anderson said it was a fitting week to recognize Ellingson, as the week of Oct. 24 was also Engen's birthday.

“There's not a lot of people who can say they've had such a long-lasting and robust influence on our community,” Anderson said. “I think all of us still in the public-service realm are thankful for the work they've done.”