After 27 years, Ann Courtney thought it was a good time to say goodbye.
The executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Butte since 1983, Courtney announced her retirement recently.
“There is a time to learn, a time to lead and a time to leave,” she said. “I felt it was a good time to go.”
Courtney, 66, grew up in Butte and graduated from Butte Central and Montana Tech. She worked as a clerk for the Federal Bureau of Investigation and as a law clerk for her father before settling down to have a family.
When she wanted to get back to work in the early 1980s, she applied to a blind ad in the newspaper that advertised an opening at a local nonprofit. She had no idea, however, that she was already familiar with the organization to which she was applying.
Back then it was called Big Brothers, but under the tutelage of Courtney it expanded along with the national program. It now includes big sisters, big couples and school-based
mentors. This year, it hopes to have 55 community-based matches in which a child spends time with an adult mentor in an attempt to foster friendship, good study and lifestyle habits and confidence.
Courtney knew immediately that it was an organization she wanted to lead.
“And I thought it would be something I would be good at,” she said. “I had experience fundraising and with the media and had lots of contacts. My husband had been involved with Big Brothers and the organization had been part of my life.”
When she took over, the nonprofit struggled to stay solvent. Courtney went right to work, however, trying to raise money and recruit donors.
“We did everything,” said Courtney. “We had raffles, garage sales, bake sales. We even did a Rent-a-Santa and Rent-a-Goat.”
Phyllis Costello, a longtime coworker of Courtney and program coordinator for BBBS, got roped into playing Santa.
“I drove her around from place to place in a Santa suit,” said Courtney. “I told you we tried everything.”
Despite their different personalities, Courtney and Costello worked together well.
Courtney was the fundraiser, the numbers gal, the straight-laced talker who could approach anyone and come away with a donation. Costello was the opposite, described herself as the “free spirit,” brought energy into the office and was not embarrassed to be driven around town in a Santa suit.
“I respect her immensely,” said Costello. “We are so different but because we each had our strengths we worked together really well.”
Breanna Hoard served previously as Courtney’s administrative assistant and took over the head job after her mentor’s retirement.
“She is amazing,” said Hoard. “She had that kind of charisma, was really great talking with people, advocating the program and building those personal relationships.”
Those qualities served Big Brothers Big Sisters well over the last 27 years. Courtney left Hoard in good hands with a financially stable organization resting atop a solid base of donors.
But staying that way takes work.
“I’m realizing how much is involved in this job,” said Hoard. “It’s really taking on so much more — talking with the legislators, all the federations, all the agencies in Montana.”
As for Courtney, she thinks Big Brothers Big Sisters will be a viable charity long into the future. To make sure that is the case she established the Ann Courtney Legacy Fund and requested that friends and family contribute to it “with the intent that (Big Brothers Big Sisters) could live on in perpetuity.”
“I feel so blessed to have a career where every day I went to work knowing I made a difference in the life of a child,” Courtney said.
But she also feels blessed by the volunteers who have given their time and energy to making differences in the lives of area children.
“I stood in awe of our wonderful volunteers, some of whom have been around as long as I have,” said Courtney. “They really make a difference and put children on a path toward success. They are creating a better community and a brighter future for hundreds of children and we’re all better off for it.”
— Reporter Tim Trainor may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 496-5519.