In a Father’s Footsteps

The legacy of long-time MSU Billings instructor, Dr. John M. Self, is carried out through his only son. In his father’s honor, John Self, Jr. established the John Self Rehabilitation Counseling Scholarship Endowment at MSU Billings in 2004. Scholarships from this endowment are available to undergraduate and graduate students pursing degrees in rehabilitation and human services.

Self shares his late father’s motivation for supporting higher education.

“I think in a lot of respects, he certainly felt it was a way to improve the lives and the futures for a lot of people,” Self said. “And I agree with him.”

A career change

Dr. Self was a man whose dedication to others is demonstrated by the choices he made throughout his life. Born to James and Florence Self in 1920, he spent his childhood years in Havre, Montana. He served as an Army officer during World War II, and then Dr. Self began his journey in higher education.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism at the University of Missouri, Dr. Self returned to Montana to serve as the editor of the Shelby Promoter in the 1950s. But he was once again called to continue his education just a few short years later.

“One of the things that he used to say is that the reason he went back to school to pursue other degrees is that he started to believe the editorials he was writing about the need to do those types of things,” said Self.

Dr. Self received a Master of Education from Montana State University in 1962, followed by a Doctorate of Education from Colorado State College in 1967. It was then that Dr. Self returned home again to Montana – this time to Billings.

Inspiration sparks

            Dr. Self joined Montana State University Billings, then Eastern Montana College, in the late 1960s, specifically to launch the university’s Vocational Rehabilitation Counseling program. He had contacted schools around Montana with his idea to bring vocational counseling to the state.

            “At that point in time, it was just when vocational counseling was starting to be offered at universities around the country,” said Self. “It was in Billings that someone agreed to have him come in and design and set up the program.”

            Dr. Self became the only vocational counseling professor at the college during the program’s inception.

            “The vast majority of the time my father was there, the program was in a getting-off-the-ground-and-growing state,” Self said.

            Dr. Self continued to teach at MSU Billings until his retirement in 1990. Perhaps his greatest lesson, however, was imparting his son with a passion for education, too.

A son’s journey

            During his father’s time as a newspaper editor, John Self, Jr. was enjoying childhood in Shelby, Montana. After graduation, he followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the U.S. Navy where he spent seven years as a submarine sailor.

            “In submarine service, you do a lot of teaching others in the ship because everyone has to know how to perform a specific job,” Self said. “I found that I enjoyed teaching, and I thought I’d enjoy teaching young children more than adults.”

            Having met his wife of 54 years while stationed at a nuclear reactor plant in Connecticut, the two returned to Self’s childhood state to pursue his interest in teaching. Self earned a bachelor’s degree in education from his father’s alma mater in Bozeman, and he taught elementary education there before moving to Mesa, Arizona, where he and his wife continue to reside today.

Legacy of learning

            When Dr. Self began experiencing health complications, he desired to establish his legacy in education.

            “In talking with my father, I learned from him that he would like to have some sort of a lasting connection to his educational efforts and to the university,” said Self.

            The family established a scholarship at the MSU Billings Foundation to assist students pursuing what Dr. Self called the “helping professions.”

            “My father was always looking for students who basically needed a hand up with a little help,” Self said. “There were lots of times during his teaching years where he was working hard to try to find extra financial help for students.”

            Dr. Self died on Dec. 2, 2004 knowing his goal of assisting others in improving their lives and their futures was achieved; the first scholarship from his fund was awarded the previous academic year.

            “He had the chance of knowing that his legacy was engrained more firmly than it had previously been,” said Self.

            Today, Self continues his father’s legacy by supporting the John Self Rehabilitation Counseling Scholarship Endowment.

            “It’s a way to acknowledge who my father was, and also to have a memory of who he was and who he really still is.”