By Tyler Allen
Explorebigsky.com writer

BIG SKY – On Friday, Dec. 21 Jill and Loren Bough handed a $400,000 check to Big Sky School District Superintendent Jerry House. The money was a donation to the Friends of Big Sky Education, earmarked for theater and music opportunities in the district through the new Warren Miller Performing Arts Center.

Friends of Big Sky Education has been around for eight years. It’s led the effort to create Lone Peak High School, bring the football stands from MSU for the LPHS Big Horns, helped facilitate the new school gymnasium and been active in contributing to education in the district. They have also led the fundraising effort for the WMPAC, set to open this winter.

The board was started by Jill, Loren, Mark Goode, Ann-Marie Mistretta and Barbara Rowley because they identified a need for secondary education.

“When we moved to Big Sky there was no high school,” Loren said. “Kids were being bussed to Bozeman to what we considered an already oversized school.”

It was not an ideal education for the kids in Big Sky to be travelling so far and without a local support network. Many of Big Sky’s families ended up leaving the community as their children neared high school age, he said.

The addition of LPHS has added a culture that was missing in Big Sky. The community now has sports teams to follow, more concerts and theater to attend, and assemblies like the Veterans Day celebration this November.

Since the high school opened in September, 2009, the Big Sky School District has grown from 155 to a projected 280 students for the 2013-2014 school year.

“Local businesses and the resorts can be confident that their quality employees can remain in this community to raise their children,” Bough said.

The WMPAC will serve the student population of Big Sky but will also benefit the community at large. During after-school hours and weekends the space will be available to the Arts Council of Big Sky and other organizations to hold performances based on an application and booking process.

“I’m so happy this community supports arts and education,” House said. “Having a school and community facility in one . . . we couldn’t ask for anything better than that.”

The facility will allow Big Sky to draw the National Honor Society, professional musical and theatrical acts, national speakers, and Broadway type productions.

“I’m excited about it,” he said. “We hope to have it completed by the end of January. It’s awesome for [Big Sky], something we can all hang our hat on.”

The Bough family has donated about $900,000 to FBSE since its inception and more than $350,000 to local charities. Jill and Loren both grew up in small towns in Montana and choose to live in Big Sky for the lifestyle it affords.

“There was a time in our career that we realized we could live anywhere in the world,” Loren said. “We had already lived in many interesting places, on the east coast and overseas, but we chose to return to Montana, and specifically Big Sky. The bottom line for us was ‘where is the best place to raise our children?’”

Friends of Big Sky Education continues its fundraising effort for the WMPAC, selling engraved seats with donors names for $500-$1,000. Big Sky has one of the fastest growing school districts in the state, but the challenges of that fast growth – including classroom space and hiring new teachers for the growing student population – are being met with a strong financial commitment from the community.