Jim Auger

“We haven’t had a cross word and we’re starting our 14th year,” says Jim Auger in this scene from February 2010. Auger became Art Mandell’s partner at the South Higgins Avenue Dairy Queen back in 1997.

MICHAEL GALLACHER/Missoulian

MISSOULA — Part of why Jim Auger loves coming to work at the Dairy Queen on South Higgins Avenue is because of the work ethic of the Missoula teenagers he employs.

“I get to work with the hardest working kids in Missoula,” said Auger, who has co-owned the iconic A-frame ice cream shop for more than 15 years. “We try to get them at 16 years old. We like to get them off on the right start.”

That’s not the only place where Auger is helping young Montanans get off on the right foot.

Last week, the University of Montana announced a $2 million estate gift by Auger, which will provide need-based scholarships to in-state business students.

Except, there’s a small catch. Auger is requiring that any UM student who receives the scholarship — which covers tuition, fees and books — will need to perform a minimum of 120 hours of community service each academic year with a charitable organization that provides services to underprivileged Missoula residents.

Kids these days work hard, travel, play sports and participate in a wide variety of extracurricular activities, Auger said. They’re busy people.

The one thing missing, however, is an understanding of the struggles of people living in their own community, he said.

“My big thing is local,” he said. “Right here in Missoula there are people who are struggling. I want these kids working front-line jobs. I want them having face-to-face interactions with these people.”

If the gift were offered today, it would provide scholarships for 11 in-state students. That will vary over the years as tuition and fees change, said Beth Hammock, UM Foundation vice president for strategic communication and marketing.

A gift of this size is significant to UM, Hammock said. The university doesn’t typically receive more than one gift of this size per year. Plus, the volunteer component meets the university’s goal of training students to become future members of their community, she said.

Auger’s hope is that the experience will help UM graduate more well-rounded students – graduates with compassion and a realization of their own fortunes.

“I really want a business student to realize it’s not just about the stuff they acquire over a lifetime, but what you do with it,” he said.

Auger, 54, graduated from UM in 1982 at the bottom of his class. He started at the bottom of companies and worked his way up, accepting every unpopular job transfer until he made his way to regional directors at two different retail companies.

At 33, he returned to Missoula, working several different jobs until Art Mandell one day called and asked if he was interested in owning a portion of the Dairy Queen on South Higgins.

“That was 16 or 17 years ago and it’s been a blast ever since,” he said.

Some of Auger’s fondest memories were during his time as a student at UM, and since he doesn’t have any children of his own, this is his way of helping pay for a child’s education.

When Auger was a college student, he didn’t volunteer. But he wishes he had. He wishes he had been exposed to volunteerism and understood the importance of giving back at a younger age.

He understands it now.

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