Board & Staff

Board of Directors

Peggy Tonon

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

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!

Byron Williams

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.

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. She leads the programming committee in securing world-renowned talent for our series.

Kristina Bessenyey
Board Member

Kristina was born and raised in New York City but spent summers in Hamilton visiting her grandmother. After college, remembering what a special place this was, she decided to come back here even though her grandmother had already passed away. She has been working for the State of Montana as a State Probation and Parole Officer in Hamilton for the last fourteen years. She is also a paramedic part-time for Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital.  Eleven years ago she married Clint Adkins.  Together with their dog Piper, they enjoy all the wonderful things this area has to offer, hiking, biking, horseback riding, flying into the back-country, skiing, etc.  She also enjoys playing music, both at home with her husband who plays fiddle, mandolin, and tenor banjo, and also as part of the duo BitterSweet, often playing local venues and benefits.  What she loves the 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.  She hopes to be able to show this community how important it is to be able to have this here.

Laura Merrill
Board Member

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.

Nan Keiser Christianson
Board Member

Nan aspires to be horse riding, mountain hiking, river swimming, contra dancing, multi-instrument learning, flower/veggie gardening, cross-country skiing, story writing, dog walking, far-travel birding, locavore cooking Community Activist who looks for modest and meaningful ways to make a difference in her communities of place and interests.  She moved to Montana in 1976 and recently retired following a 38 year career with U.S. Forest Service.  She served on the Hamilton School District school board in the 1990’s, successfully leading efforts to design a new high school that would ultimately be supported by the community, while ensuring the new school had not just an auditorium but appropriate space to attract performing artists and lecturers. She served on the BPAC board during the formation of the Performing Arts Council and is delighted to rejoin this group, supporting its tradition of bringing diverse and talented artists who enlighten, inspire, entertain, and educate to the Bitterroot for all to enjoy.

Gina Lee Gossett
Board Member

Gina moved to Hamilton in October 2014 from Seattle, WA, when her husband Dan took a job here. She graduated from the University of Washington with a BA in Art History and minor in French Literature. Currently, she works remotely for a B2B marketing company. Since moving to the Bitterroot Valley, Gina has learned to embrace the cold Montana winter by spending weekends XC skiing, cooking, and baking. To work off said cooking and baking, she has recently taken up biking and continues to run half-marathons. When not working or playing around Montana, Gina and Dan can be found traveling the world. Gina has always loved the arts is excited to be involved with the BPAC.

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!

Brooke Kimzey
Board Member

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!


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 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
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.