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Ben and Shirley Steele Endowed Scholarship

Artist and educator Ben Steele was born in Roundup, Montana, and grew up on a ranch in the Bull Mountains. He graduated from Billings Senior High School after dropping out for three years to work on ranches and help support the family. Ben enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1941, was sent to Clark Field in the Philippines, was captured on Bataan, and was a prisoner of war of the Japanese for 42 months. He found his career while in prison in Manila when he started drawing the life of a POW. The G.I. Bill enabled him to earn a diploma from the Cleveland School of Art, MBA from Kent State, and an MA from Denver University. After a career with the Department of Army Special Services at Fort Riley, Kansas, the Military District of Washington, and Third Army Headquarters, Atlanta, he joined the faculty at Eastern Montana College (now MSU Billings) and taught art, where he was also the department chair. He retired as Professor or Art Emeritus in 1982. Ben was Director of the Montana Institute of Art and served as president of the Yellowstone Art Museum Board. He was awarded the Governor’s Art Award in 1992. Ben taught life drawing, oil, watercolor, and portrait painting. His work is in both public and private collections across the country. Ben passed away in September 2016 at age 98. Shirley Steele was born in Alpena, Michigan, and grew up in New London, Ohio. She graduated from New London High School in 1943 and from Ohio Wesleyan University in 1946. She majored in journalism with departmental honors and a minor in art. Shirley worked as assistant buyer for the Sears store in Mansfield, Ohio, as secretary-bookkeeper for Ohio Body Manufacturing Company in New London, Ohio, and in the New London Public Library, the Fort Riley Main Post Library, and the Parmly Billings Library in Billings, Montana. After certification at EMC, she taught English at Billings Senior High School. She has also conducted poetry workshops, helped edit poetry publications, and published her own poetry. Shirley served as Poetry Chair and Writers Chair of the Montana Institute of Art. She was awarded the Governor’s Art award in 1992. Ben and Shirley hope their endowment will allow aspiring students the educational opportunities they were fortunate to have. The first scholarship was awarded in academic year 2013-2014.


“I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your support of the Ben and Shirley Steele Endowed Scholarship. As this years recipient, I am grateful for the opportunities this award will provide me. I rely on financial aid and student loans to help finance my education. Receiving this scholarship will help reduce my financial burdens and provide assistance for me as I continue pursuing my education. Upon completion of my degree I will pursue a career in graphic design and animation. Once again, thank you for supporting the students of Montana State University Billings. Your generosity truly makes a difference.” — Dacia R., Art major