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 pastime 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 community.

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 Bitterroot Health Daly 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!

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.

Cynthia Pilkington
Secretary

Cynthia’s love for Montana and the Bitterroot Valley dates back over 25 years. She and her husband Tom have had a residence in Hamilton since 2005, and they were fortunate to become full-time residents of Hamilton in 2020.

Cynthia has multiple decades of executive leadership experience in the live entertainment and special events industry, and she is a partner in an Entertainment & Sports Consultant business. Most recently, she served as a VP of Corporate Ticketing in Las Vegas.

Cynthia and her husband have a passion for community volunteer work, hiking and their two dogs. She is honored to serve alongside her fellow Bitterroot Performing Arts Council board members.

Stacie Duce
Board Member

Stacie Duce 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!

Steve Fullerton
Board Member

Steve Fullerton was born in the Bitterroot Valley, received a Journalism degree from UM and chose to stay in the valley. Steve has been involved in media – mostly on KLYQ radio, but also at the Ravalli Republic newspaper and online. Live entertainment is a top priority for him. He has loved helping the Hamilton Players community theater throughout the years, worked on the Tuesday at 12 concert series since its inception, and is proud of his efforts in the Daly Mansion Murder Mysteries. Steve wants to help the Bitterroot Performing Arts Series continue to introduce some of the world’s best entertainers to the valley’s best audiences.

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 to live here even though her grandmother had already passed away. Together with her husband Clint and their dog Theo, Kristina enjoys all the wonderful things this area has to offer, hiking, biking, horseback riding, flying into the back-country, skiing, etc. Kristina loves playing the guitar and singing, and had played for twenty-five years as part of a local duo, BitterSweet, playing in local restaurants and at local events.  What she loves the most about this community is that it really is still a small town in many ways, where you know your neighbors, and where you can head out your back door and have so much beautiful nature around you, but at the same time, have fantastic opportunities like the performing art series right here.  Kristina and Clint have been longtime season subscribers to the series, enjoying what is one of the best things this community has to offer. Kristina is honored to again serve as a board member of the Bitterroot Performing Arts Council, to help promote the mission of the Council, alongside her fellow board members, dedicated staff, and wonderful volunteers.

Jenn Adams
Board Member

Jenn moved to western Montana in 1980. After graduating from the University of Montana, she pursued a 30-year career as an entrepreneur, traveling musician and singer songwriter.  Jenn’s passion for music education grew while attending Berklee College of Music. After graduating in 2011, she quickly moved back to Western Montana where she currently owns Rooted Music in Hamilton and is a co-founder of the Bitterroot School of Music. Jenn believes music is the magic that changes lives and strengthens communities. She is honored to participate in the BPAC mission to provide access and exposure to artists from around the world.

Staff

Larry McCloskey
Executive Director

After a career in the computer industry, Larry moved to Hamilton in 2017 to join family in enjoying all that the Montana life offers. Since making his home in the Bitterroot Valley, Larry has been actively engaged in working for local non-profit organizations, especially promoting his passion for the performing arts in the valley. He has produced a number of concerts in conjunction with the Bitterroot School of Music, and helped develop events as a board member of the Bitterroot Celtic Society. Larry is honored to have been selected to be the Executive Director of the Bitterroot Performing Arts Council, and looks forward to working with the Board and staff to lead this outstanding organization in its presentation of world-class performances and community outreach programs.

Jacque VanDenburg
Director of Operations

Meet Jacque, a dedicated resident of the Bitterroot Valley since 1995. She proudly calls Corvallis, Montana her home. Jacque’s love for the performing arts is evident through her involvement in the local community. As the former President of the Board of Directors for Ballet Bitterroot Performing Arts, she has dedicated nearly two decades to promoting performing arts in the Bitterroot Valley. She is also engaged with several non-profit organizations in the valley, actively working to make a positive impact.

Originally from Corvallis, Oregon, Jacque has fully embraced the Montana lifestyle. Beyond seasonal activities skiing and enjoying the outdoors, Jacque remains deeply connected to the arts throughout the year and finds immense joy in witnessing children discover the magic of the arts.

Jacque’s life revolves around her passion for the arts, her dedication to the community, and her love for the Bitterroot Valley.

Deanna Read
Box Office Manager

Deanna has lived in the Bitterroot Valley since 2005.  She has a love of the Mountains and all things nature.  She enjoys sharing Montana’s wonderful treasures with her Husband and four children.  She has a background in Dance and Theater Arts and has spent many hours of her life dedicated to theater productions.  She is very excited to be a part of Bitterroot Performing Arts Council to continue to bring our valley musical talent and inspiration.