When the Hermits Peak Fire started, Rosemarie Montoya, a Highlands University alumna and long-time agent with State Farm, began working with the many community members who lost property.
“Every day since April 6 I’ve cried with people because they lost their homes,” Montoya said. “And before that it was COVID and crying with people when paying death benefits on their life insurance. It’s been a grueling three years, but I have never been more proud of this company and the way we’ve taken care of people.”
Being a good neighbor is important to Montoya, in her work and in her life. She is grateful for NMHU’s presence in the community and believes strongly in businesses and community members supporting the university in return.
“Las Vegas is a very strong community and when tragedy happens in this little town, Las Vegas steps up,” Montoya said. “When businesses partner with schools, it creates a stronger community, and everyone benefits because it creates a sense of responsibility towards the community.”
Montoya has been an agent at State Farm for thirty-one years. She credits her education at Highlands University for helping her to get a job that she finds to be so rewarding. Montoya graduated from West Las Vegas High School in 1972 at age 17 and finished her undergraduate degree in 1976 in financial management, with an emphasis in accounting.
According to Montoya, Highlands, like many universities across the state, felt the influence of the 1970s. She remembers fondly the hippies of “Hippie Hill”—the hill adjacent to Ilfeld Auditorium, along with the sentiments of “make love, not war” and protests calling for a Hispanic university president.
For Montoya, attending Highlands University was the only viable option financially, but due to the university culture and an array of excellent professors, she said the experience at the school broadened her understanding of the world.
Montoya earned her Master of Business Administration from Highlands in 1985. She worked as a graduate assistant for finance professor Dr. Hal Olafson, while working full-time and raising four children.
Montoya said she is proud and constantly inspired by her children, Mary Lucille Montoya-Fields, Candice M. Montoya (who received her BA and MBA at NMHU), Les W. Montoya II, and Justin Mayo Montoya (who received his BA and MA at NMHU), and her nine grandchildren.
After earning her degree, Montoya worked for the U.S. Postal Service. She went on to work for Mallette Feed & Supply as an in-house accountant for their many businesses.
Montoya was running her own accounting firm when she received the opportunity to apply to become a State Farm agent, it was Hal Olafson that gave her the nudge she needed to make the leap.
“Dr. Olafson said, ‘That’s an excellent company and with your background you’d be an asset,’” Montoya said. “He brought me to the library and started bringing up these articles on microfiche about how it was a family-run company. He said, ‘This is one of the best insurance companies. You need to take the test.’”
Montoya took the test and got the job. She said many employees at Highlands are insured with her, including all her former professors.
“I was a NMHU cheerleader captain as a student,” Montoya said. “And one of my business associates told me, ‘You were a cheerleader for the Cowboys back in the ‘70s and you continue to be a cheerleader for NMHU to this day.’”
Montoya is grateful to be the recipient of the NMHU Spirit Award, and thanks the NMHU Alumni Association and NMHU Foundation for the honor.
“Highlands was awesome because the teachers genuinely cared. I had some rock star professors,” Montoya said. “If people say, ‘Should I send my kids to Highlands?’ I tell them ‘Absolutely, hands down.’”