Hallie Schauer Heartfelt tribute to Mother Nancy Jo McElroy

Hallie Schauer Heartfelt tribute to Mother Nancy Jo McElroy

Nancy Jo McElroy, a pioneering force in Montessori education within Billings, Montana, has left behind a legacy that transcends the conventional boundaries of learning. Her life’s work, culminating in the establishment and nurturing of Billings Montessori School, has served as a beacon for the unique pedagogical approach championed by Maria Montessori in the early 20th century. This heartfelt tribute delves into the life of Nancy Jo McElroy, her contributions to education, and her enduring impact on her community, as shared by her daughter, Hallie Schauer, and her colleagues.

Nancy Jo McElroy’s journey into the realm of Montessori education began nearly 45 years ago when she founded the Billings Montessori School. McElroy’s commitment to providing an alternative educational model was unwavering from its modest inception in a house on Prickett Lane to its eventual establishment at 2316 Rehberg Lane. 

Her daughter, Hallie Schauer, reflects on her mother’s dedication, noting that for McElroy, “everything in life was like a Montessori lesson.” This philosophy extended beyond the classroom and into the fabric of their lives, showcasing the depth of McElroy’s devotion to the Montessori method.

At the heart of Montessori education is cultivating a child’s natural desire to learn through exploration and interaction with their environment. This method emphasizes learning through all five senses and encourages children to work at their own pace, often in small groups or individually, with a focus on practical life skills. McElroy’s school became a testament to these principles, fostering an atmosphere where the joy of learning could flourish.

Rhonda Ioane, McElroy’s assistant for 30 years, and other colleagues have lauded McElroy’s ability to embody the essence of Montessori teaching. A profound belief in the necessity of a loving devotion to the educational process characterized her approach. This combination of joy and dedication made McElroy a revered figure among her peers and the families her school served.

McElroy’s influence extended beyond the confines of her school, inspiring others within the Billings community to embrace the Montessori philosophy. Notable examples include Rebecca Despain and Mary Beth Gregory, who each embarked on their journeys to establish Montessori schools, further enriching the educational landscape of the area. Their efforts, rooted in the foundation laid by McElroy, have contributed to the growth of Montessori education in Billings, with more than 250 students enrolled in the various schools.

The impact of McElroy’s work was recognized when she was honored as Woman of the Year by the YWCA Billings in 1993, a testament to her significant contributions to the community. McElroy’s passion for Montessori education remained undiminished even in her final days. As her daughter Hallie Schauer recounted, McElroy spent her last week visiting Montessori schools in Arizona, seeking to absorb and share knowledge until the end.

McElroy’s passing marks the end of an era and the beginning of a lasting legacy. Billings Montessori School continues to operate, embodying the principles its founder held dear. The staff and families associated with the school draw strength from the Montessori principle of love, a value that McElroy exemplified throughout her life.

Nancy Jo McElroy’s life and work have left an indelible mark on the field of education in Billings, Montana. She has inspired generations of educators, parents, and students through her unwavering dedication and pioneering spirit. Her legacy, encapsulated in the halls of Billings Montessori School and the hearts of those she touched, will continue to foster the joy of learning for years to come.

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