Richard “Monk” Montgomery ’67 MS, ’73 Ph.D. was known as many things: an adored father and husband, a beloved professor with a sense of humor and a heart of gold, a selfless supporter of his community. One thing everyone who knew Montgomery agrees on is his commitment to helping others in whatever ways he could.
“It was not uncommon to come downstairs on a weekend morning and find Dad at the dining room table with a student, two cups of coffee, and an assignment they were working through,” recalls his younger daughter, Margaret “Maggie” Montovan.
“I remember joining him one year in Martha’s Vineyard,” says older daughter Katherine “Katie” Archambault. “He was teaching intensive classes at a student’s home there. I got to play with goats while he taught. Everyone got to have fun.”
It was not unusual for Montgomery to conduct lessons outside a traditional classroom setting. Former student Elizabeth Kading ’00 BGS fondly remembers Montgomery’s “cafeteria classes.”
“UConn Avery Point didn’t offer all of the upper-level math classes at that time, but Monk would teach them to interested students,” she says. There wasn’t classroom space available for this, so Montgomery had to improvise. “He held classes in the cafeteria. Students would sit together with Monk, have coffee, and do their upper-level work.”
These were just a few examples of the ways in which Montgomery went above and beyond to support his students.
“He had a lot of enthusiasm for sparking interest in mathematics among the introductory students who sometimes were weaker in the subject,” his son, Benjamin Montgomery, says. “His goal was to first create interest, and then for the students who caught the math bug, to support their progress in math as far as they wanted to go.”
Katie agrees. “He liked to take those who were terrified and turn them into lovers of math,” she says.
Kading was one of the students who initially was weaker in math. A nontraditional student returning to college in her mid-30s, Kading was intimidated at the thought of even the introductory math class. Montgomery, she says, changed that for her, using his hallmark sense of humor to help ease tension for Kading and other students who were anxious about math.
“Monk could laugh at himself and would make you laugh,” Kading says. “And he would do anything to help you.”
Kading ended up taking both of her required math courses with Montgomery and says that something clicked in her brain in the second class. With Montgomery’s encouragement, Kading became a math tutor for Avery Point’s tutoring center, which she continued to do even after graduation. She also served as Montgomery’s teaching assistant in other classes.
“Monk gave me confidence in myself, in what I could do,” Kading says. “His support was life-changing.”
Montgomery’s children were similarly influenced by their father’s support. Katie and Ben pursued careers in academia, and Maggie taught canoeing and kayaking for 15 years.
“Some of the people I taught were really scared and I was able to help them actually enjoy the activity,” Maggie says. “I believe I learned that ability from my experiences and memories of my dad’s teaching.”
When Montgomery died just eight months after his wife, the siblings were overcome with grief. It was a middle-of-the-night spark that inspired Katie to suggest establishing a fund at UConn Avery Point to honor their father and carry on his legacy.
“I wanted to find a way for us to make something good out of all this sadness and loss,” Katie says.
Her siblings were immediately on board.
Katie, Ben, and Maggie established the Monk Montgomery Memorial Fund, which provides scholarship support for undergraduate students at the Avery Point campus who have financial need. The fund also supports students at Avery Point who are facing urgent, unanticipated financial shortfalls that inhibit their ability to cover the costs of adequate and nutritious food daily.
“Food insecurity on campuses has been an increasing issue nationwide and especially during the pandemic,” Ben says. “Maggie’s primary work is in farming, I’ve spent a lot of time working with a nonprofit that deals with food-related issues, and Dad volunteered at a local soup kitchen. It felt like a natural fit to make food insecurity a part of our fund.”
“It is an honor to remember one of our beloved Avery Point faculty members in such a special way,” says Annemarie Seifert, campus director, UConn Avery Point. “The many stories I have heard about Monk since my arrival five years ago all speak to his passion and dedication to our community. I am extremely touched by the efforts of Monk’s children to honor him and his legacy at UConn Avery Point. By minimizing financial barriers, Monk and his family are helping to position Avery Point students for success, and I couldn’t be more grateful.”
“My father’s entire career and much of his education was at UConn, and we grew up feeling like Avery Point was part of our extended family,” Ben says. “Continuing to have some relationship with UConn’s Avery Point campus allows us to honor how important it is in our lives.”