How did Butte get its first paper girl? Why do thousands of people go online every day to watch what’s going on at a ranch south of Missoula? Both answers are bookends to the life of SuzAnne Miller. She is 72 years old and has traced a storied line from Butte to Chile to Alaska, and back to Montana.
SuzAnne grew up in Butte in the 1950s. Her brother slung newspapers each morning, and she wanted a route, too. However, a girl had never held that job before. The newspaper staff refused. When their reasoning collapsed under staunch argument from SuzAnne’s father, she became Butte’s first paper girl.
“‘Women can do what they damn well please,’ my father said. He, of course, was raised by women—his mother, grandmother, older sister, and a bunch of aunts. That upbringing gave him a belief that was way before his time,” SuzAnne said.
In high school, she traveled to Washington, D.C. as part of Girls Nation, an annual civic training program run by the American Legion Auxiliary. There, SuzAnne spent an entire day with the Chief of the U.S. Forest Service. She even manned his desk for a mock meeting with Smokey the Bear. When the day was done, staff asked SuzAnne if there was anything else she wanted.
“A job,’” SuzAnne told them. Days later, she returned to Butte with an assignment at the Highland Mountain Lookout. “They thought I would last two weeks. I was there two years,” SuzAnne chuckled.
She shared a story from her last night on the mountain.
“There was a horrible thunderstorm…lightning hit the radio transformer, and a fire started. I put it out and got out of the building. To minimize the chance of being struck, I had to get as small as I could with as little contact with the ground as possible. So, I waited out the storm squatting on my toes,” said SuzAnne.
On a recent visit to Butte, SuzAnne found herself looking up at that lookout from the valley below. Later, she wrote her thoughts down in a personal essay: How young I was, how much I learned. This place taught me to trust myself, be self-reliant, take risks, and enjoy my own company. I am grateful to that young woman for choosing that place as her launching pad—however much of her lives in me still.
After those lookout years, SuzAnne graduated from The University of Washington with a degree in Biomathematics. Work took her to both Chile and Alaska.
“In Chile, the fisheries department gave me opportunity beyond my abilities. I had to crawl my way up to what was expected of me,” she explained.
Later, in Alaska, SuzAnne conducted research for the Department of Fish and Game. Eventually, she moved up the male-dominated totem pole to become Chief Biomathematician. More biometric research led her to develop the department’s first microcomputer network.
In 1998, SuzAnne returned to Montana. She bought a ranch in Lolo, where she could care for her ailing parents, and named the property Dunrovin. She transformed the property into a guest ranch. Two guests return every spring—a breeding pair of ospreys.
In 2012, U of M researchers approached SuzAnne about installing a camera with a live feed to monitor the birds. Eight years later, she’s expanded that single camera into four. With live feeds, demonstrations of ranch life, and more, followers can log onto DaysAtDunrovin.com to see what’s happening on the ranch at any given moment.
“There’s nothing out there that’s anything like it,” SuzAnne said.
Today, SuzAnne is a Montana ranch woman and tech entrepreneur. For her, it’s a natural fit.
“This feels, in many ways, like a culmination of my life’s work. Had I not spent my career in research, U of M would not have approached us about the osprey project. I didn’t know anything about setting up live, online networks, but those years in Alaska gave me the confidence to tackle the technology. My love of science, the arts, and the outdoors guides what we create for our online community.”
For SuzAnne Miller, a paper route isn’t just a paper route, and a ranch isn’t just a collection of mossy fence posts with weeds growing from aged cow pies. For her, there’s always been something more to discover.
“When I hiked with dad, we couldn’t just go on a hike. I took a geology pick and a sample bag. I was curious about what we might find. That’s the way I approach life.”
Visit SuzAnne and the Dunrovin Ranch at DunrovinRanchMontana.com.