Board & Staff

Board of Directors

Peggy Tonon
President

Peggy Tonon arrived in Montana in 1971 to attend law school at the University of Montana. She liked it so much, she stayed after graduation and was a Ravalli County Deputy County Attorney for 16 years and then a law professor at the University of Montana School of Law for 20 years. She retired in 2010, but has been known to “flunk” retirement repeatedly. She currently serves as BPAC board president and is excited about all aspects of philanthropy and the arts. She is an active learner and dedicated to her role and stewardship and has subsequently ignited new excitement for the board, staff and patrons. Peggy and her husband, Warren, are also active in supporting many other noble causes in the community. She loves helping bring world-class performing artists to the Bitterroot Valley and seeing the faces of kids of all ages being introduced to great artists.

Ben Watters
Vice President

Ben was raised in Whitefish and is happy to once again call the Montana Rockies home. He and his family moved to Hamilton in 2012, where Ben works as an emergency physician at Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital. Ben enjoys exploring all that Hamilton and the beautiful surroundings have to offer. He believes one of those most precious assets is the Bitterroot Performing Arts Council. With its unique and vital role of bringing outstanding live performances to the Valley, this community asset enriches all who attend. Ben and his wife Rachael are committed to be not only consumers of but contributors to the community’s vitality for their young, growing family. Ben looks forward to many future seasons of high-quality entertainment in the Bitterroot Valley!

Stacie Duce
Secretary

Stacie Duce has been a member of BPAC’s Board for several years, lending her time and talents to marketing projects and promotion. She earned a degree in public relations from Brigham Young University and is a freelance writer, editor and columnist who frequently contributes to the Ravalli Republic as well as other regional and national news outlets. She also creates publications and assists in social media marketing for various clients. Stacie and her husband, Jay, moved to Hamilton in 1998 with their young family and have been involved in many worthwhile organizations in the valley. They have five busy children involved in dance, music and athletics, so if you can’t find her attending an event at the Hamilton Performing Arts Center, she’s most likely in the school’s bleachers or out on the grassy sidelines. Because there’s never a dull moment at the Duce house, thank goodness for BPAC date nights!

Michelle Mendenall
Board Member

Michelle Mendenall has served on the BPAC Board since its inception and believes the performing arts open our minds, our hearts and makes us better citizens of the world. A student of the performing arts through college, she feels strongly about supporting arts experiences for children and students of all ages. Originally from Texas, Michelle is a graduate of the University of New Mexico where she studied journalism and mass communication. She and her husband, Brian, began their careers in the insurance industry as catastrophe claims specialists. Since 1997, they have called the Bitterroot Valley home. In 2002, they opened their business, Allegra, in Hamilton offering business communications solutions. In 2012, they opened another Allegra in Missoula. Michelle and Brian have three children in the Hamilton schools, and enjoy shuttling them to activities, harassing their friends, attending BPAC events, and traveling when they get the chance.

Randy Lint
Board Member

Randy Lint settled in Montana more than 20 years ago to earn his law degree and open a practice with his wife, Jennifer. In 2010, he hung up his suit and tie to pursue his lifelong passion for great coffee and currently operates Big Creek Coffee Roasters on Main Street in Hamilton. Prior to his Montana adventures, Randy earned a degree in performance and composition from the Berklee College of Music in Boston. After spending a few years as a struggling musician, Randy admits, “it became clear that my life’s role would be as a supporter rather than a creator of the arts.” His enthusiasm on the BPAC board is a manifestation of such a realization and we are fortunate to have his talents on our team. He leads the programming committee in securing world-renowned talent for our series.

Judy Morrisey
Board Member

Judy Morrisey is from a fifth generation San Francisco Bay Area family and moved to Corvallis in 2007. Her love for the outdoors and time spent at her uncle’s ranch outside of Bozeman finally took its place in her life. Judy studied ballet from a very young age and became a professional dancer touring the United States and Europe. She served on several arts-related boards including Marin Ballet, Joffrey West and the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House working tirelessly to help restore the opera house after the California Loma Prieta earthquake. Judy raised a family in Marin County and was involved in several entrepreneurial endeavors. She was also able to follow her passion in music as a jazz and blues singer. Since moving to Montana, she has fostered a sincere interest in helping to bring culturally rich performances to the Bitterroot Valley.

Kristina Bessenyey
Board Member

I was born and raised in New York City but spent summers here in Hamilton visiting my grandmother. After college, remembering what a special place this was, I decided to come back here even though my grandmother had already passed away, and I stayed.  I have been working for the State of Montana as a State Probation and Parole Officer in Hamilton for the last thirteen years. I also work as a paramedic part-time for Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital.  Ten years ago this August, I married Clint Adkins.  Together with our dog Piper, we enjoy all the wonderful things this area has to offer, hiking, biking, horseback riding, flying into the back-country, skiing, etc.  I also enjoy playing music, both at home with my husband who plays fiddle, mandolin, and tenor banjo, and also as part of the duo BitterSweet, often playing local venues and benefits.  What I love most about this community is the fact that it really is still a small town in many ways, where you know your neighbors, where you can head out your back door and have so much beautiful nature around you, but at the same time, have opportunities like the Performing Art Series right here.  I hope to be able to show this community how important it is to be able to have this here.

Photo of Byron Williams

Byron Williams
Board Member

I’m a retired Forest Service construction engineer, worked on the Lolo for 25 years and came to the Bitterroot in 2001 to help with restoration after the fires of 2000.  My wife, Mary, is the recently retired Bitterroot National Forest Heritage Program manager, and was one of five historians in the entire Forest Service.  Now there are four. When I was younger I played double bass and tuba in school and professional bands (mostly jazz) and have maintained an interest in music and dance my entire life.  As much as I’ve enjoyed the majority of the BPAC concerts, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy makes me smile like no other.  I joined the BPAC Board to help maintain this precious resource.  Its too important to me, and the community, not to involve myself in its health.  Its one of the unique things that makes our community special.

Staff

Laurie Ruffner
Executive Director

Laurie has lived in the Bitterroot Valley since moving to Hamilton in the fall of 2014.  She is a native of Seattle WA with family roots originating in Whitefish, MT.  She received her degree in Communications from the University of Washington.  Laurie has over 30 years of experience working to develop leaders in the public, private, and non-profit business sector; helping them to improve their abilities to manage and develop their people.  She believes that this is accomplished by working collaboratively with people and that “none of us is as smart as all of us.”  She enjoys all aspects of the Performing Arts to include music, dance, opera, symphony, and comedy/plays.  Laurie believes that the Performing Arts are an important foundation that connects us all and helps to enrich our lives on every level.  She is passionate about serving and contributing to her community by working together with others through partnering and collaboration.  Laurie’s spare time is spent exploring her passion for fly-fishing; especially on Rock Creek where she and her husband Marty have had a cabin off the grid for over 12 years.  She also enjoys traveling, skiing, hiking, and cooking.  Laurie is honored to have the opportunity to work with the Bitterroot Valley and surrounding communities to continue the ongoing incredible legacy of the Bitterroot Performing Arts Council.

Jacque VanDenburg

Jacque VanDenburg
Operations Manager

Jacque has lived in the Bitterroot Valley since 1995, and calls Corvallis, Montana her home.  She has a degree in Business Administration.  She is no stranger to the performing arts in the Bitterroot Valley and served nearly 10 years as President of the Board of Directors for Ballet Bitterroot Performing Arts, as well as being involved in several non-profits in the Bitterroot Valley.  She is originally from the other Corvallis; Corvallis, Oregon.  Jacque really enjoys being in Montana.  In the summer, you will often find her pool side cheering on the Bitterroot Swim Team, and in the winter skiing at Lost Trail and Chief Joseph.  During the rest of the year don’t be surprised to find her backstage at the ballet, attending plays at our local playhouse, or taking time for a fieldtrip with students New York or even just Bozeman. “I love seeing children finding the joy of the arts.”

Photo of Kiersten Schmitt

Kierstin Schmitt
Volunteer Coordinator

Kierstin started volunteering with BPAC early on and became part of the staff in 2006.  Over the last 10 years she has had an incredible opportunity to be involved in the performing arts locally. Her main job is as the office manager and prevention coordinator at Emma’s House Children’s Advocacy Center. This allows her to contribute to the other most important part of our world- kids! And, the blend of opportunities for kids to experience the arts and meet performers is one of her favorite aspects of the Series, especially watching her daughter learn songwriting from Vienna Teng. Kierstin is thrilled to continue being a part of this amazing organization and the phenomenal performances they bring to our special place in the world.