Scholarships Gave Anthro Alum His Start, and Now He’s Paying It Forward

Jim Keyser

Jim Keyser came to the University of Montana campus in 1968 planning to be a journalist. As a senior at Ronan High School, he edited the student newspaper and received a small scholarship to attend UM’s School of Journalism.

Then, he recalls, “I showed up in Missoula and discovered a class called Montana Archeology. It took me less than ten hours to change my major from journalism to anthropology.”

His only exposure to archeology had been picking up arrowheads near his childhood home north of Missoula. His UM courses and professors opened him up to a whole new world.

“That’s how I got started. I fell in love with college.”

Thanks to scholarships, including a generous one from regional grocery store chain Buttrey Food & Drug, Keyser could devote himself completely to learning. “I didn’t have to work; I could study all day long. I spent hours and hours and hours in the library. I just couldn’t get enough.”

He received both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in anthropology at UM and went to the University of Oregon for his PhD. He focused on rock art – paintings and carvings made thousands of years ago – and after graduation, landed teaching positions at SUNY Buffalo and the University of Tulsa.

Missing the west, he accepted an opportunity to work on the Minerals Impact Evaluation Team of the U.S. Forest Service. At the time – the late 1970s – the country had just passed new historic preservation legislation, and teams of experts were gathered to assess the impacts of mining and oil/gas projects in Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas. Keyser’s team was based in Billings before a promotion took him to Portland in 1980.

He spent the rest of his career as a regional archeologist for the forest service, retiring in 2005. His achievements earned him a Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Montana in 2003.

“If it weren’t for the University of Montana, I might not have got as far as I did,” Keyser says. “I feel UM gave me an opportunity I wouldn’t have had any other way.”

He felt compelled to provide that same opportunity to others, and decided to support a fellowship for graduate students in anthropology. In 2012, he and his wife created the Raymond and Mina Keyser PhD Scholarship in Anthropology, named for his parents, both Montana natives.

Five students have already benefited from their generosity, and the Keysers recently made another substantial pledge through their estate, which will benefit scores of students to come.

“I want to give to something that will really make a difference,” Keyser says. “To give some other kid that little kickstart – it’s a legacy that makes a difference.”