(Missoula Current) When Mae Nan Robinson Ellingson was 24, she was the youngest delegate to the Montana Constitutional Convention — a document often praised for its substance and vision.
During this time, she helped write the preamble to “the widely admired bill of rights that has, for 50 years, guaranteed equal rights for all Montanese.” Ellingson went on to work for the city of Missoula on multiple fronts – and both when city leaders were laying the groundwork for what exists today.
With that in mind, Missoula Mayor Jordan Hess proclaimed Monday the week of Oct. 24 “May Nan Ellingson Week” in recognition of his contributions to Missoula and the state.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the ratification of the state constitution.
“It is such an honor to read this proclamation,” Hess said. “The process by which it was designed and adopted is truly an embodiment of the best version of ourselves in Montana. This is public service, public administration and governance at their best. I am happy to have this document as the basis of our way of governing.
As Ellingson suffered from laryngitis on Monday, her friend Carol Val Valkenburg spoke on her behalf. Van Valkenburg and Ellingson first met 45 years ago, while van Valkenburg was reporting for the Missoulian and Ellingson was a city council attorney.
Van Valkenburg read Ellingson’s statement.
“It’s a privilege for me,” Ellingson said of the proclamation. “The city of Missoula has been so good to me for the past 44 years.”
Ellingson said she started working at the city attorney’s office in 1977 after graduating from law school. She described the city’s leadership at the time as “diverse, bipartisan, and forward-thinking.”
“The city has made great strides in beautifying and revitalizing our community in the six years I have worked for the city,” Ellingson said. “Most notably, and with considerable opposition – first from the business community and a few lawsuits – City Council successfully passed a Signs Ordinance, a Landscaping Ordinance and a parking that have helped make Missoula a better place to live and attract business. .”
Meanwhile, Ellingson said, the city council also created its first tax-raising district. Combined with a special improvement district, it was able to issue bonds to fund Missoula’s first parking lot.
The first open space link also saw the light of day, creating the funding needed to transform the waterfront trail on the south side of the Clark Force River. The proceeds also secured Missoula’s first conservation easement, “setting our community on a path to be a leader in protecting and improving the land, rivers, and mountains.”
Ellingson said the experience of those six years with the city prepared her for a career in city finance. She went to work for Dorsey & Whitney LLP, where she remained for 33 years. The firm continues to provide bond advice to the city, as well as other financial matters.
There, Ellingson earned the title of Missoula’s “matriarch” of public finance.
“One of the last things I did for the city as a volunteer was to help Mayor John Engen and Ellen Buchanan (Director of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency) find solutions to our beautiful Ogren lot. Park-Allegiance,” Ellingson said. “It was one of the most rewarding endeavors because it meant a lot to Mayor Engen and the hard work of Hall Fraser and Play Ball Missoula.”
Leaving Monday night, Ellingson noted that the Missoula City Council has more women today compared to when she served the city. She called it “great progress.”
City council member Stacie Anderson said it was an appropriate week to recognize Ellingson, as the week of October 24 was also Engen’s birthday.
“There aren’t many people who can say they’ve had such a lasting, solid influence on our community,” Anderson said. “I think all of us still in the public service field are grateful for the work they’ve done.”