Photo: MH Anderson Photography/shutterstock
Photo: MH Anderson Photography/shutterstock

In the late 1800s, there were only a few ways to become financially successful in Montana. Railroads were big business at the time, and ranching also led some dedicated homesteaders to their fortunes. Charles M. Bair had a hand in both industries, serving as a conductor for the Northern Pacific Railway and becoming one of the largest sheep ranchers in the country. But Bair really cemented his fortune when he sold his flock and relocated to Alaska to sell machinery to miners working the Klondike Gold Rush. Drawing on the fruits of these enterprises, the Bair family set up a charitable trust that awards grants and scholarships, all the while staying true to Bair’s adopted home state of Montana.

Bair’s daughter, Alberta, was the last surviving member of the family. She passed away in 1993. This is when the Charles M. Bair Family Trust launched to carry on the legacy of the family’s philanthropic work in the state. This is an important foundation to know in Montana for a few key reasons.

First, the Charles M. Bair Family Trust is exclusive to the state of Montana and ensures that its funding activity stays within the state. More specifically, the funder is focused on the Montana counties of Meagher, Wheatland and Yellowstone. Past local grantees include the Billings Symphony Society, Interfaith Hospitality Network of Yellowstone County and Wheatland Memorial Healthcare.

Second, this funder has a wide variety of interests and supports many different types of nonprofits in Montana. A few focus areas include education, health, arts and culture, civic service, human services and scholarships. Grants are wide-ranging and reach everything from Montana universities to visual arts groups, senior citizens and blood banks. The Bair family was very interested in art, a tradition that persists through the Bair Museum in Martinsdale. The site features galleries depicting the American West and Native American art, and it provides additional opportunities to tour the Bair family home, view ranching memorabilia and have a picnic in the courtyard.

The Charles M. Bair Family Trust is an accessible foundation that welcomes unsolicited grant requests once a year. The annual grant deadline is March 1. Grantseekers can download an application form on the funder’s website in Word or PDF format to get started. The foundation asks applicants to send in their paperwork by mail. Meanwhile, the trust accepts educational scholarship applications by March 15 every year.

Learn more about funders that make local groups a priority by scrolling down to the Montana section in our Mountain States Funding Guide.

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