Leadership Montana alumni in action: John Trudnowski, Butte - Class of 2018
Frank Garner
September 30, 2022

ALUMNI IN ACTION

Dave Phillips, Lewistown – Class of 2005

Dave Phillips, Lewistown, Class of 2005

Interviewed by Kelsy Cooper, Willow Creek, Class of 2020

Like many native Montanans who have the privilege to call rural Montana home, agriculture runs deep in Dave Phillips’ blood. Raised on a beef cattle operation about 35 miles west of Broadus, Dave grew up amidst the rugged hills of Powder River County in southeastern Montana. Aptly named after the river that traverses its landscape, whose name pays homage to the gunpowder-colored sand on its banks, Powder River County has a population density of 0.6 persons per square mile and, like much of eastern Montana, is a big country. A place where one can truly appreciate the big sky synonymous with our great State.
Throughout grade school and high school Dave was active in several leadership programs, including 4-H and FFA, both of which are known for preparing members for leadership, personal growth, and career success through agricultural education. He served as the State FFA President from 1963-1964, and upon graduation from Custer County High School in Miles City, Dave headed west to attend college at Montana State University, where he graduated with a degree in Ag Education and a minor in Biology. His intent to enter the school system as a Vo/Ag teacher was put on hold as he served 4 years in the Army as a helicopter pilot.
To those who know him well, it likely comes as no surprise that Dave’s love of agriculture and the communities of rural Montana, coupled with his propensity to excel at leadership, would translate to a very successful career with MSU Extension. A career that would span over 38 years, beginning in 1975 as a County Extension Agent and concluding in 2013 as a Regional Department Head. The majority of those 38 years were spent serving as the Extension Agent in Fergus County, where he currently resides.He served 22 years on the Governing Board of the Central Montana Medical Center, one term as the President of the Lewistown Area Chamber of Commerce, two terms on the Board for the Lewistown School System, and currently chairs the Fergus County Disaster Relief Fund, which formed in 2021 to provide assistance to those who suffered losses due to three wildfires that devastated different areas of Fergus County.

Always a proponent of leadership development, Dave jumped at the opportunity to join Leadership Montana’s inaugural class of 2005. He is forever grateful for the experience and credits the program for instilling in him the courage and confidence to transition from his role as an Extension Agent to Department Head, where he was responsible for supervising county agents in the central 1/3 part of our State – 17 county offices and 2 reservation offices. The in-depth conversations and coursework centered around gracious space equipped him with invaluable tools that he has relied upon throughout his professional career and personal life. “Leadership Montana really provided me with a better understanding of who I am and how I am perceived by other people.”

When asked to expound upon the role Leadership Montana plays in our State, Dave noted three key areas. First, it’s role in developing an individual from the inside out by forcing participants to take a closer look at how they communicate and interact with friends and foes. Second, it’s ability to foster leadership by improving communication through recognition of strengths and weaknesses and building upon each. Lastly, it provides participants with a deeper understanding of Montana, its varied communities, economies, and lifestyles. When you combine all three aspects, the end result is the creation of a compassionate individual with a newfound zest to bridge boundaries for the betterment of Montana and its communities.

Dave’s favorite thing about Leadership Montana echoes his greatest love in regards to Montana. “It’s without a doubt the people. There’s just no place like Montana.” And with kind, compassionate and articulate leaders such as Dave listed as Alumni, Leadership Montana has much to be proud of.