Partners in Education: Celebrating Patricia and Joel Meier

This winter, Patricia Meier, better known as Patti, celebrated her 50th year as a ski instructor, first at Missoula’s Snowbowl and now for Vail Resorts in Colorado. Her husband, Joel Meier, has worked as an Outward Bound instructor and as a Peace Corps training officer in Puerto Rico. Avid adventurists, they’ve set foot on all seven continents. They’ve trekked in Nepal, kayaked the coastal waters of Siberia, and travelled by motorcycle through Switzerland, New Zealand, and multiple African countries.

Joel and Patti MeierTheir adventurous streaks, though, are hardly the most noteworthy thing about them.

Active environmentalists and philanthropists, the Meiers have dedicated their lives and legacy to outdoor recreation, conservation and education, contributing generously first in their careers and now through their philanthropic efforts. At the University of Montana, they have supported the W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation by endowing two faculty positions and donating to the Native American Natural Resource Program and to the Wilderness Institute

Married for 55 years, the Meiers are both from Nebraska and met during college at the University of Nebraska.

With a background in dental hygiene and public health, Patti spent her career ensuring access to medical and dental care and supporting disease prevention efforts and health education. She worked for 40 years as a consultant with Head Start, for various programs supporting migrant communities, and with the Indian Health Service, providing training and technical assistance under the American Indians Program Branch Interagency Agreement serving Native Americans and Alaska Natives.

Joel devoted his career to conservation and environmental education. He was working at the University of Nebraska as the intermural sports director when he was told he would need a doctorate to remain in higher ed. He headed to Indiana University to earn his PhD in recreation and park administration with the intent to return to Nebraska after, but in 1970, a faculty position in the recreation management program opened up at UM.

“That lit our fire, and we ended up in Missoula for 25 years,” Joel said.

In addition to being a professor, Joel served as coordinator of the Recreation Management Program and also eventually became associate dean of the College of Forestry and Conservation.

Later the Meiers returned to Indiana, where Joel worked as a professor and department chair at Indiana University. They now live in Colorado.

The Meiers do their best to give back to the communities they’ve called home through financial donations to academic programs and other organizations – including the FCFC.

“From the time we were married, our values merged together pretty well,” Joel said. “Our commitments in the way of philanthropy reflect who we are, our lives and our values.”

The Meiers have made annual contributions to the FCFC’s Native American Natural Resource Program and to the Wilderness Institute to support students. They have recently sponsored a new professorship, the Joel Meier Distinguished Professor of Wildland Management, and, through their will, have committed to endowing the Patricia and Joel Meier Distinguished Chair of Parks, Tourism and Recreation Management.

“When I was professor at the University of Montana, my focus was pretty much on outdoor leadership, wilderness and wild lands, so it made a lot of sense to both of us to try to do something for the FCFC in the way of bolstering the level of academia focused on those sorts of things,” Joel said.

They have also endowed or supported the Eskenazi Museum of Art, the Patricia and Joel Meier Chair of Education, the Patricia and Joel Meier Art Therapy Program, and the Patricia and Joel Meier Youth Art Education Program at Indiana University. At the University of Nebraska, they have supported the Sheldon Museum of Art, the Patricia Meier Curator of Academic Programs, the Campus Recreation Joel Meier Assistant Director for Outdoor Adventure Programs, and the University of Nebraska Outdoor Adventures Speaker Series Fund. They have also endowed the Montana Trails, Recreation and Park Association Joel Meier Scholarship Fund; the Keystone Science School Meier scholarship fund; and the Patricia and Joel Meier National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) Scholarship Fund.

The Meiers knew early on they wanted to be philanthropists.

Joel says he was fortunate that Patti, as a 23-year-old student at the University of Nebraska, had the foresight to take a business course on investing.

“We decided that was going to be our goal in life. I would invest. Then we would live minimally,” Patti said. “Everything was set aside to be gifted.”

The Meiers lived on very little, making ends meet on one salary and investing the other.

“After a while, it all came to fruition,” Joel said. “We were able to start to make these kinds of commitments to UM and to our other two universities. It’s brought us a lot of joy to be able to pay back to those programs, people and institutions that gave us so much.”

“We truly miss Montana and always enjoy getting back there whenever we can,” Joel said. “We are glad we can make some kind of contribution to such a special place and a special institution.”