Above: BC Seniors Craig Tippett & Erin Paull with Tom & Marie MacLeod in May 2002
By Don Peoples Jr., President of Butte Central Catholic Schools
Catholic Education in the Mining City
“A Proud Legacy of Perseverance & Excellence”
From its early days in the 1880’s Catholic education in the Mining City has demonstrated a remarkable spirit of survival. For over 130 years, Butte Central Catholic Schools have found a way to flourish in a community that has seen its fair share of economic challenges. Dedicated supporters and generous benefactors have provided the strength and the resources to sustain a proud tradition of perseverance.
Butte Central’s proud history can trace its roots to back to nine Catholic parishes and an incredible Catholic community. Dedicated religious men & women including the priests of the Diocese of Helena, the Irish Christian Brothers, the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, and the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary have also all played a major role in building this community of faith. Hundreds of devout lay teachers have been amazing in their service to the Butte’s Catholic Schools.
A key component of this legacy has been the generosity and support of alumni, friends, and benefactors. Over the years Butte Central Catholic Schools have been blessed by many incredible families and individuals.
The Butte Central Education Foundation would like to take an opportunity to celebrate the proud traditions of Catholic education in the Butte Community and honor those who have helped keep Catholic education alive. Today’s feature story recognizes the generosity and support of the MacLeod Family.
In early April, I traveled with my father Don Sr. to Bloomington, Indiana to visit my youngest brother Kevin, who coaches football at the University of Indiana, and we had not seen since the beginning of the pandemic. We were both finally fully vaccinated, so we thought it was a great idea to make the trip. It just happened to be the week of the Hoosiers Spring Football Game, so the timing seemed even better for two football fanatics.
About ten days before the trip, Don Sr. suggested that we give Tom MacLeod, one of Butte Central’s greatest supporters a call to see if he would be available to join us for lunch. Tom lives in Dayton, Ohio, which is only a few hours from Bloomington. To our good fortune, Tom was available, so we made plans to meet in Richmond, Indiana on a Friday afternoon.
The lunch provided to be an outstanding experience for the two guys from Butte. The food was pretty good but the opportunity to reconnect with Tom was amazing. It gave us a chance to look back over the last 20 years and reflect on what a tremendous blessing the MacLeod’s have been to Butte Central Schools.
Our friendship with the MacLeod’s goes back to May of 2001. I was in my office preparing to wrap up the week and head down to East Middle School to help with the Central “A” Divisional Track Meet. Before I was able to get out the door one of our Foundation staff members informed me there was a gentleman from Ohio on the phone who would like to speak to me. It was Tom MacLeod and he wanted to talk about Butte Central Catholic Schools and his parents Tom MacLeod Sr. and Marie (O’Brien) MacLeod from the BC Class of 1936.
Tom informed me that he had recently traveled to visit his parents in Kansas City and noticed a copy of the Spring BC Alumni Magazine. Tom told me that his parents were very proud to be graduates of Butte Central and they were life-long-supporters of their alma-mater. Tom wanted to discuss honoring his parents with a commemorative gift to the school.
Over the next few months, I had several more conversations with Tom regarding ideas on how we could honor his mom and dad. It was decided that Tom and his wife Barbara would travel to Butte in the Fall to hear more about our schools and our strategies for the upcoming years. In September 2001, Tom and Barbara arrived in Butte for a series of meetings with school administration, Foundation and School Board members, and the pastors of our local parishes. It was our first opportunity to meet the MacLeod’s in-person and the start of a great friendship with a special family.
After hearing our presentations Tom and Barbara returned home to Dayton to finalize their plans to honor their parents. On December 7, 2001 they announced a series of incredible contributions through the Cardinal Foundation to benefit Catholic education in the Butte community. The Cardinal Foundation is a private charitable foundation founded by the family. They announced they would be supporting student scholarships, the establishment of an advanced placement program at the high school, a new computer lab at the high school, and a series of building improvements at both the elementary and high school. They also planned to fund a building expansion at Butte Central Catholic Elementary and to make a major gift to the construction of the Maroon Activities Center. It was a day that altered the future of Catholic education in the Butte Community.
In May of 2002, a large contingency of the MacLeod Family traveled to Butte for a groundbreaking ceremony to celebrate the construction of a new building on the campus at Butte Central Elementary and to dedicate a new computer lab at the high school. The new building featured six classrooms and the space to create a preschool through 8th grade school model. At the time, Butte Central’s 6th through 8th grade program was housed at the old St. Patrick’s School on Park St. During the groundbreaking ceremony it was announced that the new addition would be named the Marie (O’Brien) MacLeod Building.
During the ceremony it was also announced that the new computer lab at the high school was officially named the Tom MacLeod Sr. Computer Laboratory. It featured 20 brand new personal computers, a server, and new internet connections.
Construction on the new building began in June of that year and proved to be one of the most inspiring projects in BC history. The MacLeod’s and the Cardinal Foundation provided $250,000 to fund the building and volunteer labor was used to complete the actual construction. A faithful group of Maroon volunteers reported to the building site and worked tirelessly on the expansion. John “Bear” Stillwagon from the class of 1990 served as the leader of the project, which took almost 10 months to complete. Junior High students moved into the building in August of 2003.
Bear Stillwagon at work on the Marie (O’Brien) MacLeod Building Volunteer Crews at work
In 2004, the Cardinal Foundation made a significant gift to the construction of the Maroon Activities Center. In recognition of their generosity to the MAC the arena is now officially named Walsh-MacLeod Arena. A granite sign in the Cote Family Lobby and Reception Area at the MAC honors the generosity of the MacLeod and Walsh Families. Tom Walsh from the class of 1970 served as the general contractor on the construction of project.
In 2009, Tom established the “Last Man Award” in the Butte Central Football Program as a tribute to his father Tom Sr. and teammates Torger Oaas and Bob Cullerton. While in high school, the three Maroon football players called themselves the “The Last Man Club” as members of the 1935 BC Football Team. Their goal was to be the last players on the practice field each night. The award, which presented each year at the postseason football banquet has become a prestigious honor and an inspiration to Maroon players.
In 2014, the Cardinal Foundation made another major contribution to Butte Central Catholic Schools. A five-year grant award was presented to the Butte Central Foundation to help retire the debt on the Maroon Activities Center. In 2019, this grant along with the financial support of many others, completed the financing on this great facility.
In 17 years of operation the Maroon Activities Center has provided the students of Butte Central with Montana’s finest athletic and activities facility. It is estimated that the MAC has generated over $42 million for the local economy since its opening in 2005.
Throughout the years the MacLeod’s have supported many other projects and events in Butte Central Catholic Schools. They again stepped up in the last year to help Butte Central Catholic Schools meet the challenges of the pandemic.
In the last few weeks, I have had a chance to reflect back on the last 20 years. The opportunity to have lunch with Tom MacLeod in Indiana reminded us of what a great blessing his family has been to our school. His parents Tom Sr. and Marie were loyal and dedicated Maroons that never forget their Butte beginnings. Fortunately for our Catholic school system, they passed this pride and love for Butte Central to their children.
It is only fitting that we take this opportunity to extend our deepest thanks to Tom and Barbara MacLeod and the entire MacLeod Family. We cannot thank them enough for all that they have done for Butte Central Catholic Schools.