By Suzanne Waring
Making a conscious decision that she would devote time to those who struggle with circumstances that life has handed them, Deb Kottel has made a difference in many lives. Because of dedication to this mission and her many community and statewide contributions, the Athenas of the Great Falls Area Chamber of Commerce are recognizing Kottel as the recipient of the Athena award.
The award recognizes individuals who show creative and excellent leadership in their profession, leadership in the community by providing service leading to quality of life improvement for others, and personal mentorship of others in realizing their own leadership potential.
In 1987, Kottel came to Great Falls to teach legal studies at what is now the University of Providence after having graduated from law school and working eight years in corporate law.
“I like teaching paralegals. A good 60 percent of them go on to law school,” said Kottel.
Soon after she decided to teach rather than practice law, she was diagnosed with cancer.
“The cancer told me that maybe I had better get busy, because I might not have an abundance of time to put my goals into motion,” she said.
In addition to her ongoing and cyclical extra-curricular responsibilities at the University of Providence—serving as director of her department, past dean of the College of Graduate Studies, past member of the University Board of Trustees, and chair of the faculty—she has been involved in public service by working as a member of many boards, committees, and legislative bodies.
From 2017 to 2018, she served on the Montana Supreme Court Justice Committee and was Chair of the Great Falls International Airport Authority board from 2000 to 2007. She also served as a Montana State Legislative Representative from 1995 to 1998 and from 2007 to 2012.
Many praise her work. “Inspirational, dedicated, selfless, humble: These sentiments and countless other superlatives fall short of Deb Kottel’s singular contributions to the larger Great Falls Community,” said David Gides, Associate Professor of Theology, at the University of Providence.
Twenty-five years ago, Kottel created Camp Skychild for children of parents who are incarcerated. It is held every summer, and this year it will be at Camp Rotary. Usually 40 to 80 children attend for the week, and the child-camp counselor ratio is three to one. This much-needed program has been successful in helping these children cope as well as move forward in a positive way.
Referring to programs such as Camp Skychild, Deanna Koepke, Assistant Professor of Sociology from the University of Providence, stated, “Instead of talking about social problems, Deb Kottel actively works to solve them and embodies the mission of the Sisters of Providence by serving the poor and vulnerable. She is wrapped in compassion. Great Falls is a better place because of her.”
Lately Kottel has been active with the Grace Home Veterans Center, located at 2211 Fifth Avenue North. The Grace Home provides transitional housing for homeless veterans and serves about 40 veterans a year.
Kottel also assists at the St. Vincent de Paul homeless drop-in center located across from the Thrift Store on Central Avenue West. Its purpose is outreach to the homeless, providing a resource for getting haircuts, showers, assistance with writing resumes and, generally, a place for relaxing and getting warm.
“The belief that has driven me all of these years is that everyone has intrinsic dignity. They always have it; they don’t lose it. Because they have some barriers and may need some help doesn’t mean that they lack that dignity,” she said.
Presently she is helping St. Vincent raise funds to build a commercial kitchen for area charities that will gather and use processed and seasonal produce for distribution to those in need.
“Kottel’s work on behalf of the poor, neglected, and downtrodden is truly Catholic social teaching in action, representing the very best of what any one person could offer,” said Gides. “She is well deserving of the Great Falls Area Chamber of Commerce Athena Award. We are much, much more than fortunate to have her at our university and in our community.”
The National Athena program was adopted by the Great Falls Area Chamber of Commerce in 1986. Since then, more than 30 Great Falls women have received the award, presently sponsored by City Motor Company; Anderson Zurmuehlen, CPA & Business Advisors; and Embark Federal Credit Union.
Kottel will be formally honored as the Athena recipient at an upcoming Chamber of Commerce event. Check the Great Falls Area Chamber of Commerce’s Facebook page or call 406-761-4434 for details. MSN