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.”
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 credits anthropology professor Bob Mishler and music professor Melvin Hill in particular for expanding her perspective.
“Dr. Mishler blew up my life. He was an incredible professor,” Montoya said. “I was so pissed off to take anthropology and he made it so interesting. We became lifelong friends. He was insured with me for thirty years.”
Growing up, Montoya had only ever heard Spanish music, mariachi, and country music. “Dr. Hill introduced me to classical music, so I wanted to learn all about the different music,” Montoya said. “Coming from little Las Vegas and taking intro to music with Dr. Hill just broadens your horizon.”
Montoya earned her Master of Business Administration from Highlands in 1985. She was married and had kids, so she earned it slowly, taking two classes at a time and working as a graduate assistant for finance professor Hal Olafson.
Montoya was also running her own accounting firm, and 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.
“Highlands was awesome because the teachers genuinely cared. I had some rock star teachers,” Montoya said. “If people say, ‘Should I send my kids to Highlands?’ I tell them ‘Absolutely, hands down.’”