2010 MEA-MFT Members of the Year

Laughter and tears, passion and pride filled the evening March 26 as MEA-MFT celebrated its three new members of the year.

The event took place during MEA-MFT’s 10th annual Representative Assembly (RA) in Billings.

Around 240 RA delegates attended the festivities, joined by National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel and other guests.

Congratulations to all three members of the year!

Lynn Witts, Education Support Professional of the Year
“Lynn will just not allow her charges to fail.” That statement from Polson teacher Judie Woodhouse sums up the boundless dedication and determination of Lynn Witts, MEA-MFT’s Education Support Professional (ESP) of the Year.

Witts works with at-risk high school students in Polson. She has worked in the Polson schools for over 20 years in a variety of jobs, including special education, bus driver, study hall proctor, writing lab monitor, suspension supervisor, and even subbing for coaches.

“Anything that comes up, if they need someone to do it, it’s Lynn,” said Woodhouse in introducing Witts at the March 26 gala.

Witts currently works as a resource paraprofessional in Woodhouse’s high school English class, helping at-risk students. “They know she is the one who will help them understand what they need to do to succeed,” Woodhouse said.

Accepting her award, a tearful Witts said, “This has been an incredible journey.” She explained that she works on an Indian reservation, with a high percentage of low-income students. “They are so needy.” She has had kids knocking on her door late at night, asking her to edit their term papers or to tell her they’ve run out of gas.

As education support professionals, Witts said, “we are your support, your secretaries, your paraprofessionals, your bus drivers, your food preparation people. The kids know we’re here for them—to make them feel safe and secure so the teachers can get on with the business of teaching.”

Witts was key in organizing the Polson Classified Education Assoc. and serves as its president. She will now go on to represent Montana in the National Education Support Professional of the Year program sponsored by the National Education Assoc.

Mike Kupilik, 2010 Faculty Member of the Year
University of Montana economics professor Mike Kupilik was honored as MEA-MFT’s first Faculty Member of the Year.

Mary Verploegen, a professor at MSU-Northern in Havre, introduced Kupilik at the March 26 reception, calling him a distinguished teacher, a family man, a former school board member who was honored twice as Montana’s school board member of the Year, and a union activist who has dedicated decades to his union and his colleagues.

Kupilik helped organize the faculty at UM 34 years ago and served as president of his local union for years. He also helped organize faculty at Montana Tech in Butte and most recently at Montana State University-BozeĀ­man. “He doesn’t just organize and leave it,” Verploegen said. “He sticks around.”

Kupilik told the crowd, “When I started at UM, we had no union contract. Now that we have one, I can tell you that having a union contract is better than having no union contract. That is what evens the playing field between administration and faculty. Nothing is more important.”

Jill Cohenour: 2010 Public Employee Member of the Year

MEA-MFT’s first Public Employee Member of the Year, Jill Cohenour, is a “master of science and chemistry and a master of networking, a mom, community volunteer, wife, and my mentor in politics,” said MEA-MFT member Debbie Willis of Billings as she introduced Cohenour.

Cohenour works as a chemist at the state Dept. of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) environmental lab, part of a team that keeps Montana’s drinking water safe. She has served as president of MEA-MFT’s largest local affiliate for state employees (around 570 members) for 11 years.

Cohenour has served four terms as a state legislator and is now seeking election as a state senator in the East Helena-Jefferson County legislative district. “She has made a mark on the Montana Legislature that will stay for a long, long time,” Willis said.

“I accept this award with the understanding that it’s about all of you, public employees doing good work every day,” Cohenour told the gathering in Billings. “You understand what ‘government’ really is. It’s the common good and Montana values. You not only do work that matters, you do the work that matters most.”

Other public employee members nominated for the award were Beth McKenzie and Angie Haller, both employees at the state Dept. of Revenue.

Feaver asked all nominees to “help MEA-MFT spread the word that part of our Work that Matters campaign is to recognize internally the great work our member do. One way to show this is through our Public Employee Member of the Year program.”