The Gary Cooper Spirit of Montana Award
by Penny Ronning, creator of award
Dreams are like a river. They start with a drop of inspiration, travel a long and winding path, and end up somewhere they could never have imagined their journey would take them. Dreamers are like the current that makes the river flow. They are the gravity pulling the river to a final destination, but every dreamer knows unseen forces can come into play to cause that river to shift, turn, overflow, or even dry up. Montanans know all about rivers. For the agriculture industry, rivers are a needed water supply for crops, animals, and the long-term health of the industry and our country.
Montanans also know all about dreams. Dreamers settled our state. They survived the harsh winters and traveled great lengths to reach their closest neighbors. Montanans are not loners; we just simply love our rivers, our neighbors, and our dreams.
I’m not sure, but I don’t think Frank Gary Cooper ever believed as a child growing up in Helena, Montana that one day he would become a Hollywood legend. I believe he had a dream in his heart and that dream took him places he could never have imagined he would be. I will ask Peter Fonda, but as a child growing up in Hollywood I can’t imagine that he ever believed he would one day settle full time in the mountains of Montana. I believe he had a dream in his heart that took him places he could never have imagined he would be.
The Gary Cooper Spirit of Montana Award is all about our dreams and those people that encourage the dreamers. For Montanans, Gary Cooper is the reflection of dreams manifested. He is the symbol of dreams achieved through hard work, compassion, determination, integrity, and a love for his craft. Gary Cooper had passion, but more importantly, he had compassion for his fellow man. When I created the Gary Cooper Spirit of Montana Award I was proud to honor a man of integrity and kindness, a man who loved the arts, and a man who loved the rivers and the dreamers of his home state, Montana.
I was also proud Jeff Bridges presented this one-time-only award to Mr. Peter Fonda. Like Gary Cooper, Peter is a man of compassion and kindness. He is a man in love with his craft and in love with the process from which it flows. He understands the drops of inspiration, the twists and turns dreams can take, and he understands the importance of encouraging young dreamers.
It is true: in Montana legends are earned. Peter has earned the respect of his peers and hisfellow Montanans. Jeff Bridges so eloquently related Peter’s ability to visualize and fight for his vision for Easy Rider the night he presented the award. The significance of Easy Rider to the arts is difficult to capture with words. It must be seen and it can be. It can be seen in the young men and women Peter encourages through the classes he teaches at UCAL – San Diego. It can be seen in the young men and women he encourages at Montana State University-Bozeman. It can be seen in the young actors he directs on stage or in film. It can be seen in a young man named Titus Mischke. Ty entered MontanaStateUniversity’s Media and Theatre Arts program specifically because of Easy Rider and Peter Fonda. Today, he is successfully working in the film and television industry in Los Angeles. Ty continues to credit Peter Fonda and Easy Rider as the encouragement of his dreams.
Dreams are like a river. They start with a drop of inspiration, travel a long and winding path, and end up somewhere they could never have imagined their journey would take them. Many dreamers came together to honor these two great, great men. When Peter looked around the room that evening of September 12, 2004, it was my desire that he saw and felt the realization of all of his dreams. Because it doesn’t matter if you are a young cowboy from Helena, Montana or the son of a Hollywood legend, drops of inspiration come to each one of us and like rivers, they are a life force.