The forthcoming Flathead Valley Community College center and performance hall is a fine capstone to Colleen Unterreiner’s career, the unlikely arc of which can be traced from growing up on a ranch in Belt, Montana, securing a job with the CIA straight out of graduate school, working for the intelligence agency in Europe, owning three retail stores in Los Angeles and then dedicating the last two decades to the community college.
Unterreiner recently retired as the FVCC Foundation’s executive director, with her last day on Dec. 23. In her 11 years in the position, which was preceded by nearly a decade in other jobs at the college, she played an integral role in building up the school’s scholarship endowments, bolstering the school’s programming and raising millions of dollars for new and updated facilities on campus.
Unterreiner is quick to deflect praise, and while she is correct in describing fundraising as a collaborative community endeavor reliant on the support of countless individuals, there is no denying her influence in overseeing and facilitating a series of efforts that will shape the college and the valley for decades to come.
FVCC President Jane Karas says Unterreiner has deeply impacted the college in foundational ways, beyond the significant dollars-and-cents contributions, with students first and foremost reaping the benefits of her legacy.
“Colleen’s kindness, generosity, empathy, her ability to focus on the needs of our students, has all been part of her great success,” Karas said. “There aren’t enough words to say all the wonderful things about Colleen and all that she’s accomplished. The college and I will never be able to express how much gratitude we have for what Colleen has done while she’s been here.”
The school’s most ambitious capital-improvement undertaking during Unterreiner’s tenure was the $18 million ONE Campaign, which raised money to construct the new library and learning commons and 58,000-square-foot college center, slated to break ground in spring 2020 and open by fall 2021. After reaching its goal of $18 million, the college launched an Encore Campaign this summer to raise an additional $3 million to expand the performance hall from 750 seats to 1,000.
“That’s going to be something I think is going to really change our community,” she said. “I’ve been honored to raise money for that and be able to be a part of it.”
Unterreiner, a music aficionado who plays the piano, is especially thrilled to see the performance hall coming to fruition, describing the venue itself as “amazing” and the donors’ generosity in establishing it as “humbling.”
“I’m so excited about it,” she said.
In addition to donors, Unterreiner, who is married to Kalispell Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Joe Unterreiner, heaps praise on the foundation’s board of directors and college faculty and staff for both the campaign’s success and the broader evolution of the school in recent years, led by Karas’ ambitious vision and forward-thinking leadership.
“Jane always has a belief that we can do it, and that gives me the belief that we can do it,” Unterreiner said.
Unterreiner took a diversely circuitous path to FVCC, beginning with her childhood in Eastern Montana, after which she earned her bachelor’s degree in communication at Washington State University and a master of public administration degree from Arizona State University in 1980. She secured an administrative officer job with the CIA immediately after graduate school and was assigned to service in Washington D.C. and Europe.
From 1984 to 1990, she owned and operated three successful franchise clothing stores in Los Angeles and then worked as a fundraiser at the Pasadena Playhouse for six years. Ready to return to Montana, she and Joe moved to the Flathead Valley, where he got the chamber of commerce job and she started at FVCC.
Unterreiner worked as a grant and research specialist, executive assistant to the vice president of educational services, director of educational services and executive director of institutional advancement before taking the foundation’s helm in 2009. She has been involved in myriad efforts to, in Karas’ words, “help students be successful and achieve their dreams,” while developing programs such as the student ambassadors.
“Her focus on students is always her number one priority, whether individual students or students as a whole, as well as her commitment to the community to always make it a better place,” Karas said.
Karas noted that Unterreiner was invaluable in not only the ONE Campaign’s success but also in other campus improvements, while also overseeing significant growth in the foundation’s endowments, which now provide more than $1 million in student scholarships annually.
“Free education is such a wonderful gift to somebody,” Unterreiner said.
Unterreiner, a self-described “workaholic,” has a lengthy record of volunteer service and plans to remain active in the community during retirement.
“I’ll stay busy,” she said. “I’m really looking forward to redefining myself, reinventing myself.”
“You have to keep life interesting and keep those chapters rolling,” she added. “I’m ready for the next chapter. It was a good run.”
Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.
Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.