Ensuring the future of elk, other wildlife, their habitat and our hunting heritage.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Honoring RMEF's First Life Member, Clint Mills R.I.P.

History and nostalgia often accompany each other arm in arm. For example, take this plaque to the right. It's old. It's durable. And it's quite heavy. It belonged to the first-ever life member of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. A family member recently delivered it to RMEF headquarters where it will eventually go on display in the Elk Country Visitor Center. It is linked to a unique man who believed in RMEF and had ties to the organization clear back to its founding in 1984. RMEF President/CEO David Allen tells his story in the President's Message of the September-October 2013 issue of Bugle magazine.

Paying Tribute to RMEF’s First True Believer

On March 1st, 1985, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation was living hand-to-mouth, headquartered in a trailer in Troy, Montana, that would have made the Unabomber feel right at home. With the RMEF’s first anniversary just two months away, total membership remained well south of 2,000 and the outfit was surviving on prayers and borrowed time. But on that day, a man named Clint Mills became the foundation’s first life member for $600.

“I can assure you, the odds that the Elk Foundation would live to see the end of 1985 were about the same as they are for a wobbly legged newborn elk calf,” says RMEF co-founder Bob Munson. “I can’t overemphasize the boost it gave us to have Clint believe in this dream of ensuring a future for wild, free-ranging elk enough to step up and make that kind of commitment.” 

Clint & wife Gloria of 58 years
So who was this man, the RMEF’s first true believer? Clint Mills grew up on a cattle ranch on Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front, the beginning of a lifetime spent on the back of a horse. He went on to manage cattle ranches and dude ranches, work the oil fields, log and operate heavy equipment on dirt construction, and—his favorite—work as an outfitter and guide in the Scapegoat and Bob Marshall wildernesses. 

Along the trail, though, Clint served 24 years in the Army, becoming a Green Beret (Special Forces) and doing two tours of duty in Vietnam. He left the Army as a First Sergeant with a Bronze Star and a Joint Commendation Medal from General Westmoreland himself. A master parachutist, Clint made more than 600 jumps, his worst injury a sprained ankle.

Clint’s great-nephew, Brett Mills, says, “I’ve been around some tough men in my life, and he’s one of the few I’ve been in awe of. He was old-school. He was a man of few words and all action. It was never about talking with him; it was always about doing.”

And that’s how it was with becoming Life Member #1. Since Clint Mills led by example 28 years ago, 20,962 others have been inspired to join him as life members of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. That means more than one out of every 10 RMEF members are now life members. The price of membership has since increased twice to keep up with inflation (to $1,000 in 1990 and $1,500 in 2006), but our members have remained more than willing to follow Clint’s lead. They hail from all 50 states and 16 countries, ranging from Australia to Switzerland. Newborn babies have been signed up in their first hour on Earth. Octogenarians with way more of the trail behind them than ahead have still gotten in for life. And even though they’ve already made a significant, lasting commitment, life members are consistently among the Elk Foundation’s best donors, showing their passion by making additional ongoing contributions to the future of elk country. 

“Clint was always proud to have been the RMEF’s first life member,” says Charlie Decker, co-founder of the Elk Foundation. “That sure goes both ways. We’ve always been proud to have him as the first.” 

Inspired by the example of his great-uncle, Brett went on to a career in the military himself. 

“Clint was my real-life John Wayne—he always commanded instant respect,” Brett says. “But he had an unbelievably kind heart. He helped a lot of young soldiers along the way.”

Brett says that Clint always savored the isolation and beauty of the outdoors. Where Clint and his wife of 58 years, Gloria, lived in Eureka, Montana, he could literally step out his back door and be in elk country. He went out that door often. 

“He had an innate sense about the wilderness,” Brett says. “He read the tracks and knew the plants. He was a great fisherman, and hunting was almost a spiritual thing with him.”

I expect that’s a trait a whole lot of our life members can relate to. Clint Mills died December 11, 2012, six weeks after his wife Gloria passed. He was 82. At Clint’s request, his ashes will be carried by horseback deep into the Scapegoat Wilderness where he loved to chase elk. They will be scattered on Bugle Mountain.

On behalf of every RMEF life member, Mr. Mills, we salute you.

--M. David Allen, RMEF President and CEO

Young Clint on a successful elk hunt

(Click here if interested in joining RMEF and receiving a subscription to Bugle magazine.)

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