A bit of Montana nostalgia will disappear this year after the state implements a rule on vehicle license plates, though some people are finding ways to keep their pieces of history.
Implementation of a 2009 law requiring license plates be replaced every five years is underway, with a public meeting in Helena set for next Wednesday at 10 a.m. about the proposed implementation, including replacing license plates no longer manufactured, such as the "NMC" license plates issued for Havre's university while it was still Northern Montana College.
Once implemented, when people renew their registration they will have to replace old college plates.
Restructuring of the university system in 1993 changed the college to Montana State University-Northern - now the plates would have to be replaced with "MSUN" license plates.
NMC student and more-than 25-year employee of the university Betty Clark said she found out about the requirement, that would have impacted her next year, in February when she went to register her vehicle.
"I was sad," Clark said, although she did find a way to keep her NMC plates permanently.
Clark, and some 400 others in Montana, had been renewing their outdated college plates every year although the NMC and other college plates had not been made for years. After this year's renewal, she would have had to replace them.
She said her husband, Jim, who died last year, as well as her three children and 19 other aunts, uncles and cousins graduated from Havre's university.
"So it was just kind of a sentimental thing ... ," Betty Clark said. "I was kind of heartbroken, not being able to keep the (license plates)."
All of the family and business vehicles - including her three children's, though they all graduated from MSUN - had NMC plates, Clark said.
Jim Clark, who went back to school later in life, was among the last graduating class of NMC in 1994, while Jim and Betty's son, Jimmy Jr., was among the first graduating class of MSUN in 1995.
The proposed Administrative Rule of Montana implementing the 2009 law says the reflectivity of license plates drops to one-half within five years. Replacing the plates increases safety by making vehicles more visible when the plates are reflected in headlights, and also makes it easier for law enforcement officers to read the plates, the proposed rule says.
When the license plates on vehicles being registered are five years old or older, people will have to pay for new plates to replace the 5-year-old plates, and again in another five years.
People can replace them with the same plates - even with the same numbers, if requested - if the plate is still available. As the college plates have not been available for years, people with those license plates will have to change to something else.
The cost is $10 for standard-issue plates, with an additional $15 to keep the previous numbers, and additional fees charged for specialty plates.
Havre's institution was Northern Montana College from the time classes began in 1929 until the reorganization of the university system in 1993. NMC became part of the Montana State University campuses in 1994, as did Eastern Montana College in Billings, now Montana State University-Billings.
Butte's college became part of the University of Montana system as Montana Tech of the University of Montana, and Western Montana College in Dillon became University of Montana-Western.
The state Department of Justice reports that 131 NMC plates still are being used in the state. The list of registrations also includes 95 Eastern Montana College EMC plates and 156 Western Montana College WMC plates still in use.
But Clark found a way around the rule - as her 2002 pickup is more than 11 years old, she was able to purchase permanent registration - now she can keep the NMC plates. She said she put permanent registration on another vehicle, and has saved her other NMC plates.
"I would have liked to have kept the others but they are hanging in the garage," she said.
People whose vehicles are newer than 11 years old do not have the permanent-plate option, though Clark said she has heard of people finding another way to keep NMC on their plates. People are requesting personalized license plates with "NMC" at the start of the personalization, she said.
"I like displaying the NMC plate," Clark said. "It shows you go back a long ways."