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harles, Mary, Marguerite and Alberta Bair of Martinsdale left behind an incredible legacy of Montana history and philanthropy. The family passed into legend when its last living member, Alberta, died in 1993.

They left behind three foundation trusts, domiciled at US Bank in Billings, that primarily benefit Meagher, Wheatland and Yellowstone counties with philanthropy aimed at health, education, cultural, civic and human service activities. In addition, these trusts operate the Bair Ranch and a house museum known as The Charles M. Bair Family Museum at Martinsdale. These trusts control assets comprised of land, buildings, art, antiques, investments and cash.

Fewer museum visitors In February, The Charles M. Bair Family Trust voted to close the museum for financial reasons and began developing a business plan to guide its future.

The trust is tasked with fiscal responsibility by the trust documents. The museum experienced 2002 visitation of 4,357 people with the per-head subsidy approaching $50 each. Visitation was on a declining trend and costs were increasing.

The trust has always employed the C. M. Russell Museum complex in Great Falls to operate and manage the museum at Martinsdale and it continues in that capacity today. The board feels that the house and collection are beautifully displayed and in good condition, a testament to C.M. Russell's curatorship and management abilities.

Though closed for the season, the museum has some maintenance construction scheduled for summer 2003.

Firestorm of criticism The closing has been highly controversial and has set off a virtual firestorm of criticism in the upper Musselshell River counties of Wheatland and Meagher and other areas of Montana. Letters and comments have appeared in Billings media and other areas of the state. US Bank is receiving and archiving written comments and letters. Concerns range from speculation that the collection is about to be pirated to Sotheby's to genuine concerns for loss of economic activity in the upper Musselshell.

All legitimate concerns will be taken into consideration by the trust as it does its work in determining the future of the museum.

The trustees are responsible for creating the museum according to trust instructions and committing appropriate funds to do so. Attendance has been disappointing compared to cost. Alberta gave the trustees full discretion, after a mandated five years of operation, to act in a financially responsible manner.

Sunday TV program

Wayne Hirsch and James Roscoe, members of the Board of Trustees of the Charles M. Bair Family Trust, will be interviewed by Jay Kohn on Face the State on KTVQ and its affiliated stations at 9 a.m. Sunday.

Alberta and Marguerite were tremendously fond of their family history and the memory of their father, Charlie. The task of perpetuating this memory ultimately fell to Alberta, the last surviving member of her family. She created The Charles M. Bair Family Trust and additionally tasked it with creating the museum and preached common sense for the management of both. She was aware that the trust could spend a dollar only once. If it goes to the museum, it will not go to philanthropy. If it goes to philanthropy, it will not go to the museum.

Balancing priorities For this reason the task facing the board of trustees is one of balancing financial priorities. The issue is not whether or not there is enough money to continue the museum, it is an issue of financial responsibility. The target counties and the state of Montana will benefit from the Bair legacy regardless.

Pitting big against little, emotion against fact, and sacrificing financial reality for sentimentality will muddy the waters and ultimately bring down a good thing. Our board is proceeding deliberately to make an appropriate decision. It has high regard for the Bair story and keeps Alberta's wishes in mind at all times. Patience and rationality are needed from all those having a stake in this issue. We are all Montanans and capable of making quality decisions. The Bairs would like that.

James P. Roscoe, a Billings businessman, chairs the Charles M. Bair Family Trust board of directors.