It turns out you can have your cake and eat it too, especially when the U.S. Navy’s second-in-command provides the goodies! So that’s exactly what members of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s Bull Run Chapter did at their recent annual big game banquet in Middleburg, Virginia.
Admiral Michelle Howard and her husband Captain Wayne Cowles (retired USMC), both long-time RMEF members and active chapter participants, donated a cake to celebrate the chapter’s 25th anniversary. The evening included dinner, silent and live auctions, giveaways and plenty of stories, smiles, handshakes and hugs.
|Admiral Michelle Howard (right)|
It was also a night to revel in the return of elk to their native Virginia range. A multi-year project to restore wapiti to the Old Dominion state wrapped up in 2014. The 71 released elk now number 130 or more with an additional 50 calves due in May. The goal is to grow the heard to about 400 and eventually institute a regulated hunting season.
Below are thoughts and experiences of two long-time members, Danny Smedley and Caroline “Tinker” Frazier, who lovingly reminisced about the chapter’s early days:
|Caroline "Tinker" Frazier and Danny Smedley|
For me it all started with a Bulge magazine I bought during my first visit to Yellowstone in the summer of 1990. I sent in my membership application and later that year I received a call from Kurt Ballantyne, who was previously the chairman of the Denver Chapter. His BLM job had relocated him to Washington, DC where he called all the RMEF members around the DC area and asked us to come to just one meeting. That meeting was the start of the National Capital Area Chapter which was later renamed to the Bull Run Chapter. Our first committee consisted of about a half dozen guys and our first banquet netted $6,000. We thought we did great considering my wife told me no one would come to a fundraiser for elk—an animal that most people around DC had never seen.
During our first banquet my wife and I were seated with John and Tinker Frazier who we had never met before. My wife won a brief case filled with $500. John and Tinker had such a good time that they joined the committee. Our second year we raised $7,000 and during our wrap-up meeting that year, Bradley Clarke asked what were the goals for the chapter? We agreed on a plan and within a year or so our banquets were averaging $30,000 net.
John and I attended the first banquet, sitting next to Danny’s wife. After I spilled a glass of wine on the table, she won the briefcase full of money – talk about motivating us to join the committee!
I remember when our chapter was asked to participate in a local sports show. We arranged to borrow a full size elk mount. As most people around the area had not seen an elk, the show promoter mentioned the RMEF and the elk mount in the show's newspaper and radio ads. The evening before the show started we were setting up our booth and waiting on our elk to arrive. But the guy with the elk was running late and the show promoter was getting nervous. Finally the guy who had promised to bring the elk called and told me sorry but he had sold the elk mount a couple of weeks before the show. After a few frantic phone calls I located the elk and had it on display minutes before the show started. The show owner was happy and he provided our chapter a complimentary booth at his show for years.
My oldest son was an active child and when he was about two. I remember placing him on Mr. Bull as if he was riding a horse. My son was thrilled. Now my son is almost 24 and a member of our committee. Our banquets have turned into a family event with the entire family attending and both my sons helping on the big day.
The chapter always prided itself in keeping a family flavor to each event providing merchandise and fun targeted to the ladies and our next generation of hunters – the kids. We felt unique in that way, and knew that our efforts would lead to a big pay day in the future.
|Kentucky elk release|
In the late 1990's as state chair, I worked with Dr. Parkhurst of Virginia Tech on a feasibility study for the re-introduction of elk in Virginia. Everyone was excited that we might get elk in Virginia. Our excitement was short lived as our game commission rejected the program. At the same time Tom Baker was state chair in Kentucky and on December 19, 1997 (my wife's birthday), members of our committee and I traveled together to Hazard, Kentucky, to see the first elk released there. We were thrilled to see the release and could not have imagined that in May 2012 we would see the ancestors of those Kentucky elk released in Virginia.
For more than 10 years we sold and resold an inflatable elk head along with a plaque containing the list of successful bidders. The winning bidder won the right to keep the elk head for a year and then we sold it again. Finally our inflatable friend developed a leak and was retired to a box in my garage with the rest of the chapter history.
As a committee we have hunted elk together, bird hunted, shot skeet, attended life events and become friends. Those friends and committee members have included doctors, lawyers, computer scientists, financial advisors, business owners, a veterinarian, CPAs, many enlisted personnel -even a 4-star admiral- and people from all walks of life. I really learned my best lessons in managing people by leading a committee of volunteers!
In the politically-charged Washington, DC arena, our passion and commitment to the mission of the Elk Foundation was a rarity and motivated us through many adversities and naysayers. Staying true to the vision and mission, we persevered, and celebrated when elk were returned to the Commonwealth. We will always treasure the friendships we have made over these precious years, and can’t recall those days before we were a tight knit family.
Oh the memories and the friendships and all for a great cause. One I strongly believe in as noted on my license plates which reads RMEF. Here's to another 25 years!
Virginia now has more than 2,500 members in eight different chapters.
Kudos and a big “thank you” go out to our volunteers and members in the DC area and all across the nation who support RMEF’s conservation mission.
|Elk back on their native Virginia range|