Agnes and LeRoy Luft
LeRoy ’59, ’67 M, and Agnes (Morast) Luft ’68, have a long and endearing relationship with Montana State University. So much so that they have included MSU in a long-term plan to give back to the university through two endowed scholarships funded by charitable gifts from their individual retirement account (IRA).
The scholarships reflect the respect and passion the Lufts have for MSU, for their lifelong professions and for up-and-coming students from rural Eastern Montana.
When LeRoy headed out from his home in Culbertson, Montana, in the fall of 1955 to attend Montana State College in Bozeman, he may have left the farm he grew up on, but the farm and farming world remain deeply rooted in him throughout a long and distinguished career in agriculture higher education.
For Agnes, it was a rural teaching experience as a young woman and a later return to college as a pioneering nontraditional student — a married woman and mother of two — in the late 1960s that led her to a rewarding career as an elementary teacher and librarian.
LeRoy began his education in a one-room country school just a few dozen miles from the Montana-North Dakota border. He later attended school in Culbertson, where he was active in Future Farmers of America (FFA) and was first exposed to vocational agriculture (vo-ag). His high school vo-ag teacher was a recent graduate of MSC, who acted as a role model for the young LeRoy and encouraged him to attend Montana State.
“Being an ag kid, vo-ag was what I was mostly interested in during high school, and he was a good teacher, and I thought, gee, I think maybe I could do that. So that was the influence for my degree in Ag Education,” LeRoy recalled.
LeRoy stayed true to his farming roots while at Montana State and was active in the Alpha Gamma Rho (AGR) fraternity, collegiate FFA and the Ag Club. He was also in Army ROTC and was commissioned upon graduation in June of 1959 with a bachelor’s degree in Ag Education. His military obligation didn’t start until March, so he took a job as a temporary county extension agent in Wibaux, Montana, a move that would provide the entryway to a career in extension.
It was during this time that LeRoy met Agnes Morast, his future wife, who was teaching in Froid, Montana. Agnes was born in Hazen, North Dakota, and went to college at Minot State Teachers College (now Minot State University) where she earned a two-year teaching degree.
The couple married in September of 1960 while LeRoy was in the Army stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas. LeRoy credits his time in the military for preparing him for his future career.
“I had great experiences in the military. I was Assistant Adjutant for almost a year, which gave me responsibility for all the activities in our battle group, which was probably 1,200 to 1,400 men. I had really good administrative experience, which probably prepared me for getting into extension and being a director and administrator,” LeRoy said.
During their time at Fort Riley, the couple welcomed their daughter Sheri (Sheri (Luft) Larsen ’84) into the family. Upon discharge from the Army, the young family returned to Montana, and LeRoy again took a job as a county extension agent in Teton County. Their next stop was in Richland County, where they added a son, David Luft ’88, to their family.
As an extension agent, LeRoy was encouraged by MSU Farm Management Specialist Gene Quenomoen to pursue a master’s degree in Ag Economics. LeRoy took the advice, returned to Montana State and earned his master’s degree in 1967. Not long after, he was offered a job on the faculty at MSU.
Meanwhile, Agnes too, decided to go back to school and finish her four-year bachelor’s degree. As a married woman and mother of two, she was a nontraditional student when she attended MSU. “I felt strongly that MSU was a good school, even though I was married and probably didn’t socialize much as a college student, it felt like I received a really good education,” she said.
She continued, “I loved being around young people. That was a fun part of the experience. I was often the oldest one in the classes.” She graduated in 1968 with a degree in Elementary Education.
For LeRoy, “I realized that if I was going to be a faculty member, I needed a Ph.D., so I went to the University of Nebraska on an instructorship and also the GI Bill,” he recalled.
Doctorate in hand, LeRoy returned to MSU in 1971 and once again joined the faculty as an extension specialist until 1980, when he left the university to go into private consulting. He returned to MSU in 1985 as Associate Extensions Director and later took over as director for two years until he accepted a position as extension director at the University of Idaho in 1989 until his retirement in 2001.
The couple moved back to Bozeman in 2002 and again, MSU came knocking. “At that time, they asked me to teach an extension methods course in spring semester of 2003, and I also was hired as Interim Extension Director. I re-retired in January of 2004,” LeRoy said.
When asked why they chose to give back to MSU in the form of scholarships, LeRoy replied, “One of the reasons is that I had a $250 Sears-Roebuck scholarship when I went to school. That paid for a lot of my fees that first year. I was from a large family and that scholarship meant quite a bit. We were on a not too large farm and with nine kids — I was the first one to go to college — and that scholarship helped a lot and meant a lot to me.
“Since it helped me so much, I thought, well, we can give back to help kids,” he concluded.
The first scholarship the couple established was seeded by an old mutual fund and later built up with annual distributions from an IRA. The LeRoy and Agnes Agricultural Scholarship was created to support incoming first-year students from Eastern Montana who are pursuing a degree in Agricultural Education.
Once the first scholarship grew to $25,000 and achieved endowment status, the Lufts turned their attention to the College of Education, Health and Human Development and established the LeRoy and Agnes Education Scholarship for students from Eastern Montana pursuing a degree in Elementary Education. That scholarship is also endowed.
LeRoy explained that the couple worked with the development staff at the MSU Alumni Foundation, discussed their charitable giving with their financial advisor and found that it was a good way to receive some tax benefits and help some students.
Agnes put it this way, “We’ve always enjoyed Bozeman, we’ve always enjoyed Montana and we’ve had wonderful experiences there, you know, and many wonderful friends at the university. There’s a special place in our hearts for MSU. It’s always nice to be able to give back when you can.”
LeRoy and Agnes Luft enjoy an active lifestyle as they split their time between Bozeman and Arizona. At 84, LeRoy enjoys golfing and still plays softball. Agnes is a lifelong hiker and was one of the founders of Palouse La Treks, a women’s hiking and skiing group in Idaho that boasts over 100 members and is still growing strong after years.
Like the Lufts, you can support students and areas at the university you care most about with a gift in your estate plan. Contact Kevin Brown at 406-994-4815 or email@example.com to discuss your gift options.