Thirty years ago, Connie Jenkins co- founded Chouteau County Performing Arts. Thirty years ago, she took a leadership role in Fort Benton Summer Celebration. Twenty years ago, she helped start the local Farmer’s Market. Eighteen years ago, she was a founding member of the Chouteau County Cancer Support Group. Connie serves on the Montana Tourism Board. She volunteers with Chouteau County Country Christmas. She dedicates so much of her time to community endeavors that she has difficulty fitting it all in her schedule.
And she’s happy to do it.
To Connie, volunteering isn’t a burden or an obligation. It is a gift. It is a joy. Connie Jenkins gives freely of her time because without volunteers, Fort Benton would not be the community it is today.
“It’s important that we have volunteers to make things happen. It’s good for business, good for our town,” she says. “When you put your time into things and see them turn out well, that makes you feel good.”
In 1992, Connie and her friend, Tracy Taylor, left their first big mark on the community when they established the nonprofit Chouteau County Performing Arts (CCPA), which works with the Montana Performing Arts Consortium to bring world-class talent to small town Montana. CCPA places a high priority on its outreach program, packing kids from Fort Benton, Geraldine, Big Sandy, and Highwood into the Fort Benton auditorium during the day, or sending performers out to smaller towns for special appearances. The organization also brings memorable events to patients at the Missouri River Medical Center.
Establishing such an organization was no easy feat, of course, but it was worth the effort, and it remains worthwhile to maintain.
“The Arts are so important,” says Connie. “I’m reminded of the sign above the shop door at Fort Benton Elementary: ‘Industry is Useless without Culture.’”
That same year, Connie and Tracy were asked to oversee the annual Fort Benton Summer Celebration—another major undertaking. This celebration of “Montana’s Birthplace” brings to town hundreds of visitors and is perhaps the most lucrative weekend for the community each year.
Juggling two unpaid positions of such magnitude would be too much pressure for most folks, but not for Connie and Tracy.
“That sort of thing is our cup of tea,” says Connie.
Each year since, Connie has been instrumental in the success of both the CCPA and Summer Celebration. Moreover, her list of volunteer commitments has grown.
“She would do anything for Fort Benton,” says her daughter, Tonya Jenkins.
Inspired by her mother, Tonya also volunteers in the community; though, she admits that Connie is hard to keep pace with.
“She works her tail off!” says Tonya. “I’m so proud of her. She’s an amazing human being.”
What makes Connie’s volunteer efforts all the more impressive is that, in these last thirty years, she has battled cancer twice.
“When you’ve had cancer, you learn to use your time left more wisely,” explains Karyn Giles, a founding member of the Chouteau County Cancer Support Group and fellow cancer
survivor. “When Connie’s cancer came back, she didn’t stop volunteering. That time is important to her.
She’s an excellent example of someone who understands the blessings of volunteering.”
Connie Jenkins is no quitter. Like her battle with cancer, she’ll never stop fighting to enrich her community. To Tonya, Karyn, and many others, Connie is a hometown hero, a champion of Chouteau County, and a role model for its citizens.
Karyn hopes that Connie’s example will encourage others to consider their own contributions to Fort Benton; “If Connie can do all of that, I can do something.”