At the 2021 Gala All-State Concert, the Council of Past Presidents conferred awards to the following people: 

Gary Bowman

At age 7, while living in southern California, Gary Bowman expressed an interest in accordion. His folks found out that you could get a rental accordion and 10 weeks of lessons as a package. That is what they did and Gary began his career in music. Within a couple of years, he was doing accordion festivals playing solos, in quartets and even accordion bands. His military family of three boys moved quite a bit within the US, but when his dad retired, he chose western Montana to raise his boys. Gary finished grade school at Potomac and when he was a freshman at Missoula Sentinel, he started playing the baritone in band. Chuck Johnson from Hellgate High School worked with him to get him up to speed because Potomac never offered band. His sophomore year, he was officially in symphonic band. He continued to also play accordion but discovered that his true love was that of keyboard. Gary pursued learning to play piano and organ after high school, and as a student at the U of M, started out as a music major. After the first year, he changed to a business major with a minor in music. While going to school, Gary played organ in night clubs and continued doing that for 10 years, and was hired by Dickinson Music in Missoula to play organ in the showroom in the afternoons. Thus, a music retailer was born.

Gary graduated from U of M in 1978 and continued in music retail. He began working for Earl Morgenroth when he bought Dickinson Music in 1988 and the company grew to 4 stores. Music retail is not an easy business, and he soon discovered how important it was to listen to the customers because they were truly the ones in the driver’s seat. Through life lessons and some hard knocks it was determined that Morgenroth could be better with a lighter load, so the company reduced its size to just the Missoula store in 2010. In 2013 Gary purchased the Missoula store from the Morgenroth family and set out to be the best store possible. With the internet strongly influencing our world, he knew he had to compete. He adjusted pricing, reduced obsolete inventory, embraced the community and focused on service. Employees became first on his list, followed by community. Gary continues to believe that these two changes are complicit in the business the store enjoys today. He is committed to giving and serving his community and employees. He says, “The day I don’t appreciate the sparkling, enthusiastic and joyful eyes of a 5th grader coming in to get their first instrument will probably be the day that I expire.”

For outstanding service to the music community in Montana, the Council of Past Presidents and Executive board awards this Special Recognition to Gary Bowman.

John Combs

After graduating from The University of Montana in 1977 John Combs went on to engage in the Montana music education community for the next 43 years.

He graduated with his Masters degree from The University of Southern California and was given the Departmental Award as that school’s top music education graduate student in 1981. From that time, John has served on the Montana Music Educators Association board as Treasurer, as Bandmasters President and as Board President. For the past six years John has served on the National Executive Board of the National Association for Music Education and served as the Northwest Division President.

John started his career with Shelby Public Schools and after receiving his masters returned to Montana as the Director of Bands at Hellgate High School in Missoula for 28 years. He was then hired as the Fine Arts Supervisor for Missoula County Public Schools for the final eleven years of his career. During his time as Fine Arts Supervisor, Missoula was selected by the Kennedy Center as an ANY GIVEN CHILD site. This allowed Missoula County Public Schools unique access to the Kennedy Center’s treasure trove of select programs for the benefit of the entire arts community. John is currently serving the MMEA as the Mentor Coordinator, connecting young teachers with experienced veterans to ensure success.

Throughout his time as a music educator, John was blessed by the support of his wife Bobbi and their three daughters, Amanda, Lindsay, and Elena. He wishes to thank them for their patience and endurance and thanks the Montana Music Educators Association for decades of outstanding professional development provided by amazing music educators.

The Council of Past Presidents and the MMEA executive board would like to recognize John for his significant contribution to music education in Montana. In pre-Covid times, the MMEA president, and president-elect have attended a Delegate assembly for NaFme in Washington DC. Part of that event is a Hill Day, where the delegates visit their Congressmen. John has been a very large part of that effort for the past 8 years, and his words made a difference in what the Congressmen heard about the importance of music education. We have all benefited from his leadership, which continues on in his Mentor Coordinator efforts. For his dedication, service and lifelong leadership, we award John Combs with the Distinguished Service award.