Student Memorial

Montana State students walk along Centennial Mall on Wednesday past a small, little-known memorial to students who died while enrolled at the university. Organizers are hoping to raise money to create a more visible and accessible student memorial.

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Students who have died while attending Montana State University are remembered at a small, out-of-the-way memorial near the duck ponds, and though thousands of students walk by every day, few know it’s there.

To make the memorial more meaningful and honor students who have lost their lives, student senators have been working for three years on plans to expand and improve it.

“The space could be really celebrated rather than being hidden away,” Kacie Cummings, a student senator from Cascade, told three-dozen campus administrators at Wednesday’s University Council meeting.

Since 2016, student leaders have worked with MSU administrators and designers to create a more prominent and welcoming landscaped space. Having selected a design, now they’re raising $250,000 to make it a reality.

The Associated Students of MSU Senate voted just before Thanksgiving to commit to raising $75,000 toward the Student Memorial. Senators approved $35,000 from current funds and committed to raise another $10,000 annually for four years.

MSU President Waded Cruzado’s office has agreed to match the students’ $75,000, and the dean of students office plans to raise $100,000.

Cruzado thanked the four ASMSU senators — Cummings, Rachel Schmidt, Allison Reinhardt and Ambika Murali — who presented the project.

“We need to make sure we never forget our own,” Cruzado said. “This is special for us at Montana State and special for families.”

Cruzado then called for a moment of silence to honor Cash Austin Taylor, an 18-year-old MSU student from Billings who was killed over the Thanksgiving holiday.

Matt Caires, dean of students, said Taylor had been hunting with his dad on the Hi-Line and was walking along Highway 2 on Sunday, when a vehicle lost control on black ice, striking and killing him. Taylor, a Billings Senior High graduate, lived in one of the Hedges dormitories. Fellow students were shocked by his death, the dean said, and the student counseling office was offering them help.

Taylor’s name will be placed with others at the student memorial, Caires said.

MSU’s Student Memorial stands just off South 11th Avenue between the Aasheim Gate and the duck ponds. Plaques inscribed with the names of students who have died over the past 30 years have been placed on pillars.

The architect’s design, chosen from nine finalists, would keep the plaques and pillars but open up the landscaping and create places to sit or grieve, students said.

It could become a space to hold events, play music and display students’ artwork, said Cummings and Schmidt, a political science major from Bozeman.

Since 2012, 24% of student deaths have been by suicide and 39% resulted from automobile or motorcycle accidents, said Reinhardt, a political science junior from Bozeman. Another 15% of student deaths occurred in recreational accidents. About 7% of the students died of natural causes and a similar number are related to drug or alcohol use.

The memorial was first created in 1990 after the murders of Brian Boeder and James Clevenger, two 19-year-old students shot to death in their Langford Hall dorm room by a fellow freshman, Brett Byers, who is still serving time in Montana State Prison.

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Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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