Board & Staff

Board of Directors

Laura Merrill
President

Laura moved to the Bitterroot Valley in 1990 and can’t say enough about living in Western Montana. With a background in forestry, it was the perfect place to move and enjoy the vastness of the region’s backcountry, wilderness lakes and rivers. Her other passion is music and she enjoys her past time of plucking away at the guitar. Laura has been involved in the local real estate industry for 26 years. Laura is thrilled to become a member of the BPAC Board and be a part of such a vital asset in our ommunity.

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!

Brooke Kimzey
Secretary

Brooke was raised in Montana, and after receiving her master’s degree from the University of North Dakota; she spent 6 years living in the Flathead Valley. She has called Hamilton home for the past 10 years. Brooke is currently a speech-language pathologist for the Corvallis School District. She enjoys spending time with her husband Dan and their two teenage children. They love to travel the state while supporting their children’s music and athletic events. They also enjoy camping, hiking and fishing as a family. Brooke has always enjoyed the arts, and has encouraged her children to become involved through dance, drama, band and choir. Brooke is very excited to help promote the arts –to people young and old in the beautiful Bitterroot Valley!

Byron Williams
Treasurer

Byron grew up in the Midwest and entered the University of Montana in 1967.  After military service, he returned to Missoula, graduated from UM and worked for the Forest Service, retiring in 2009.  He has volunteered on various community projects, including the establishment of Bitterroot Valley’s youth rugby club.  Byron played in bands in his younger years and has always appreciated the arts and live performance.  As a long-time season subscriber to the performing arts series, he was honored when asked to serve on the BPAC Board and currently serves as Treasurer.

Peggy Tonon
Past 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 previously served 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.

Stacie Duce
Board Member

Stacie Duce is the Director of Philanthropy for the Daly Hospital Foundation, which drives fundraising initiatives for Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital. She has been  involved in the Bitterroot Performing Arts Council since the beginning – first as a volunteer and then as a board member. She earned a degree in Communications/Public Relations from Brigham Young University and contributes to the marketing, promotion, hospitality, educational outreach and fundraising efforts that support the BPAC’s mission. Stacie and her husband, Jay, moved to Hamilton in 1998 and have raised five children plus three bonus children on the banks of the Sleeping Child Creek. Any faintly-remembered hobbies have been replaced with homework around the dining room table and chasing kids to performances, practices, games and lessons in dance, music, theater and athletics. Because there’s never a dull moment at the Duce’s wild home, thank goodness for BPAC date nights!

Chris Porter
Board Member

Chris was born in Missoula and grew up in Havre. He received degrees in trombone performance from the University of Montana, Mannes College of Music in NYC, and Indiana University. In 2009 Chris had the opportunity to live in South America as an invited artist with the Filarmonica de Montevideo in Uruguay. Eventually he realized how much he missed fly fishing, family, (and Hoagieville!) and decided to return to Montana. He met his future wife Addie and moved to Hamilton in 2011. They have recently added their daughter Janie to their family. Chris continues to play bass trombone in the Missoula Symphony and is the orchestra representative on the board. He has enjoyed the high quality of the BPAC concerts for years and is excited to be a part of it!

Mandy Barnings
Board Member

Mandy Barnings is a chiropractor and owner of Rising Wellness (formerly Barnings Chiropractic). She has been a part of the Bitterroot Valley since 1999, and loves being active in this incredible community. She was a previous member  of Performing Arts Board several years ago, and is excited to join this fabulous organization once again. In her spare time, she swims with her group of US Masters Swimmers, plays the piano, engulfs herself in music and wrangles her Giant Schnoodle dog.

Cory Keith
Board Member

Cory is a life long Montana resident since 1975. She eventually moved to the beautiful Bitterroot Valley in 1990 where her husband Randy settled in to raise three children. She is the Regional Operations Officer at First Security Bank where she oversees daily branch operations. Through the years, she has served in various positions accumulating more than 29 years in the financial industry. She has been active in various civic organizations that have involved developing leadership skills for our youth. Cory enjoys what our Big Sky Montana has to offer, she is an avid snowboarder, white water rafting enthusiast, paddle boarder and soon to be mountain biking daredevil. During the moments when the weather does not cooperate, you will find her in her tucked away in her craft room or visiting her grandchildren. Music and the arts have always been important to her for in the words of Shakespeare, “when words fail, music speaks”. She is excited to be involved with the BPAC.

Staff

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.”

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.