Montana Gov. Steve Bullock made a surprise visit Friday to the 40th annual Montana History Conference, which was hosted in Sidney this year for the first time ever.

Montana History Society director Bruce Whittenberg announced to conference attendees during the luncheon Friday that the governor would come by later that day, at 2:30 p.m., which would change the conference schedule of sessions.

The surprised gasps from the attendees following the announcement indicated excitement. “This is the first time a Montana governor has ever come to a Montana History Conference,” Whittenberg said.

Sidney Herald publisher Robert Arrowsmith served as a catalyst for the change in schedule. When Arrowsmith found out Bullock was going to be in Sidney for his “back to school” tour at the same time as the history conference, he called Bullock’s press secretary Thursday.

“I thought it was a good idea for him, while in Sidney, to speak at the conference,” Arrowsmith said. “I just thought the timing was right.”

Bullock was greeted with a standing ovation from around 150 history conference attendees, a mix of educators and history lovers. The theme of the conference this year was “Boom and Bust.”

During his speech, which was not pre-written, Bullock mentioned that Sidney had “both great opportunities and great challenges for the state.” He also emphasized the importance of history and education.

“Really, when you look at where Montana can go…the real hope is fulfilling the potential of our students, and that’s where our economy changes,” Bullock said.

He mentioned the second largest industry in Montana is tourism.

“The Historical Society — wonderful to have all of you gathered here in Sidney, and hopefully we recognize that the work of the Historical Society isn’t limited to a building on Sixth Avenue in Helena,” Bullock said. “A lot of what makes us rich and wealthy is our appreciation of even what tomorrow can be and will be is what we’ve been in the past.”

The Montana History Conference alternates host locations within the state and every other year it is hosted in Helena, where the Montana Historical Society is based.

A few regular conference attendees found it funny that the conference often takes place in the state capital, but the first time a governor stopped by was when it took place across the state in Sidney.

“I certainly appreciate getting to be maybe the first governor in 40 years to actually come to one of the historical…conferences,” Bullock said in his closing statement.

“I’m glad we were able to work it out and that he was able to make that stop,” Arrowsmith added.

Bullock also met with Sidney Mayor Bret Smelser and school officials Friday before heading to the history conference.