As interviewed by Mary Peterson, Bozeman, Class of 2017
A member of the Board of Governors since 2014, Rolf Groseth has never actually been through the program. And yet, Leadership Montana has decidedly had an impact on this accomplished educator who’s done a great deal of leadership training in his own right, and whose sense of responsibility to the state of Montana shines throughout his long career.
Rolf grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and when he chose MSU for college, it was Michigan State University. Graduating in 1969, Rolf got his diploma and his draft notice on the same day and spent the a year in Viet Nam. As his tour of duty was winding down, Rolf heard from his undergraduate mentor who suggested Rolf seek a graduate degree in counseling at Iowa State. From there, he took a position in residence life at Georgetown, where he and the group of law students he supervised had ringside seats to watch the unfolding of Watergate in 1972-73. His next position took him to the University of Florida, where he was assistant dean of students and supervised veterans’ programs while earning his Ph.D. in higher education management.
It was 1977 when Rolf landed in Bozeman, thanks in part to his future wife Jaynee, who served on the committee that selected him to work at Montana State. (Jaynee also happens to be Anna Berg’s aunt!) While waiting for his job interview, Rolf says he got a quick education from a student he met in the SUB. When the student said he lived on a ranch out east, Rolf asked, “How many acres is your ranch?” The student looked a little puzzled, then informed Rolf, “Actually, we don’t do acres.” And when Rolf asked what had surprised the young rancher most about MSU, the guy thought a while and said, “Before I got to MSU, I had never seen anyone I didn’t already know.”
While in the MSU system, Rolf proved his mettle by serving in a wide variety of senior administrative positions. He had never thought about leading a campus, however, until he was asked to head up MSU Northern in Havre. There, Rolf admits to getting a bit tired of taking phone calls only to hear the friendly greeting, “Hey, is it windy up there?” He decided that if the American flag outside his window wasn’t blown out straight enough to see all 50 stars, it wasn’t really windy and would tell his callers no, it was just the usual blow! He went on to become chancellor of the Billings campus, where he served with distinction for four years before retiring in 2014.
Rolf’s involvement with Leadership Montana begins much earlier, however. When Tom Scott, who had been through Leadership Wyoming, determined to bring the program to Montana in the early 2000s, Rolf represented the university in planning the new program and helped select the first couple of classes. His eyes sparkle as he recalls the excitement of choosing those early class members, valuing diversity on every level, and promoting civility for the sake of the state and its people. Although the program has evolved and grown since those early years, particularly with the involvement of the Center for Ethical Leadership, its goals and potential have been there from the beginning.
On a personal level, he’s grateful to feel connected to such a broad reference group of people who have applied, and now to the more than 500 alumni who have been through the program. And when it comes to impact on the state, Rolf points to members of the legislature who, after being through the program, brought the practice of gracious space into the Montana legislature, and work to collaborate across the aisle to pass meaningful legislation.