Emma Lommasson, one of Missoula’s oldest residents at 107 and the longest-serving alumna of the University of Montana, passed away over the weekend.
Lommasson was born on Dec. 10, 1911, and arrived in Missoula from Sand Coulee in 1929. She graduated from UM in 1933 with a degree in math sciences and spent the next 55 years working with the university in a variety of roles.
“Life is what you make of it,” the Montanan quoted Lommasson as saying during a meeting with incoming UM President Seth Bodnar in a 2018 article. “Stay positive and don’t complain. I’m just another person who attended the university from a small town, and I found out it’s the most wonderful place.”
Over her years, Lommasson met each of the school’s 19 presidents, less the first four. It became a rite of passage for an incoming president to meet with the university’s established matriarch.
Bodnar described Lommasson as a lifelong champion of education and an ardent support of UM and its storied mission. The main lodge on the UM campus was renamed the Lommasson Center in her honor in 2001.
“She held much of our history, having served the university as an employee for forty years and as a volunteer for a decade after she retired,” Bodnar said Monday. “In all, Emma shared her life with our university for nearly 90 years. While we will miss her, we are buoyed by wonderful memories and by her lifelong demonstration of service, community and positivity.”
Leigh Addison, whom Lommasson hired in the 1970s at UM, was with her good friend when she passed at St. Patrick’s Hospital on Saturday.
“She was an amazing person. We were awesome friends,” said Addison, attributing Lommasson’s longevity to decades of work with students. “She surrounded herself with young people. She must’ve helped thousands of students during her lifetime.”
Addison said they traveled and golfed together – and hiked to the Granite Park Chalet when Lommasson was in her 70s.
“She showed me how to snowshoe and I taught her how to cross-country ski,” said Addison.
“Emma was one of the brightest, kindest, most generous persons I ever met,” Addison, who worked at UM for 35 years and retired in 2011. “In the 43 years of friendships, I saw her instill and reinforce those traits in everyone who was lucky enough to know her.”
Lommasson also hired Paulette Nooney to work in the university’s Registrar’s Office in 1978 – soon before Lommasson retired. Even after retiring as the UM registrar, Lommasson showed up regularly, dressed to the nines, for about 10 years at Career Services to volunteer her time advising students.
Nooney said she had a special place in her heart for counseling students who were military veterans.
“She came in every day, had appointments and she advised students on their college careers,” Nooney said.
Lommasson often cited her favorite quote: “students have kept me young,” said Nooney, who retired last Friday, Nov. 29, after 42 years in the office. Nooney last saw her friend and mentor a few months ago. Lommasson insisted on walking – without a walker – to the elevator.
“She did not like to use a walker,” said Nooney. Even at her advanced age, Lommasson lived independently at the Village Senior Residence.
“Every day she would dress up in her finest; she had beautiful clothes. That day, two months ago, we got there and she was all dressed up. She said, ‘Oh my goodness, I forgot my jewelry’ and she went into her bedroom and took out beautiful pearls.’”
Last August, Nooney, former UM Law School Dean Martin Burke and good friend, registrar-hire and travel buddy Leigh Addison took Lommasson on a nostalgic tour of her namesake building on campus.
“We took her to every office in the Emma B. Lommasson Center,” said Nooney. “She glowed that day. Of course, everybody was stopping her and wanting to talk to her. She told stories about advising veterans and how she’d never been in an airplane – and how one of her veteran students took her up in an airplane. She took such good care of the veterans.”