“This business really isn’t about elk or land but about people and people’s hearts.”
Those heartfelt words from Vicki Munson, wife of RMEF co-founder Bob Munson, resonated among a group of more than two dozen members and supporters during a recent two-day gathering in Atlanta, Georgia. They came together to share passionate feelings about elk, wild landscapes shared by elk and other wildlife, and an organization that struggled through its early days in the mid-1980s that took on the name of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
“It was really scary,” said Charlie Decker, RMEF co-founder. “How do you take somebody’s money and say we had a great idea and not follow through? We kept borrowing big and something positive would happen and we’d make it to another day.”
“When you have a commitment and you say you’re going to do something, you’d better do it. It says something about the spirit of the landscape we love and God’s creation of the critters we love,” said Bob Munson.
Munson, Decker and others dipped in to college savings funds, knocked on doors, took out loans, peddled newly-printed inaugural issues of Bugle magazine and did everything in their power to remain financially afloat—all for the sake of elk and elk habitat.
“It was humble beginnings and we talk about how much it’s grown, changed and is a force to be reckoned to be with in the conservation world. It’s all about the people. There are staff, volunteers and the donors. Without any one of those three groups of people, RMEF wouldn’t be what it is today. I think it’s important people recognize the value of those components and the gifts they are to each other,” said Vicki Munson, who worked alongside her husband in the RMEF office the first eight years.
The Atlanta Step Up to the Plate event included a tour of the sprawling 80-acre Chick-fil-A world headquarters. Hosted by Philip Barrett, vice president of corporate financial services and a RMEF board member and life member, RMEF members learned about the history of an American-made restaurant that broke the mold of the fast food industry.
Founded in Georgia in 1946, Chick-fil-A opened the nation’s first in-mall restaurant in 1967. It was the first outfit to introduce the chicken fillet sandwich, chicken nuggets and fruit cups. The company prides itself in never having had an employee layoff, donating ten percent of its profits to foundations, serving one million customers daily and yet continually growing in success and profits but remains closed on Sundays. Chick-fil-A also established a scholarship program for its employees dating back to 1973 to help them further their education.
Chick-fill-A has 1,700 free-standing restaurants in 42 states. Founder and Chairman Emeritus S. Truett Cathy always believed in supplying a free lunch to his 1,600 employees at headquarters which actually feeds up to 2,000 people daily since spouses and children are welcome. Chick-fil-A also provides on-site daycare for a mere $10 a day.
Another high-profile, Atlanta-area RMEF member, Atlanta Braves President of Development Mike Plant, hosted the group at Turner Field for an evening baseball game between the home-standing Braves and the St. Louis Cardinals. The trip to Turner Field included an up-close, on-field view of batting practice for both teams well before the game’s first pitch followed by a pre-game meal of hot dogs, brats, sliders, popcorn and other goodies in Plant’s suite located high above left field.
Decker and Munson presented Plant and his wife, Mary, with gifts to recognize and thank them for a RMEF conservation easement they placed on their New Mexico ranch to permanently protect its wildlife habitat.
“My relationship with RMEF is something I think about every day. I love the habitat, the wildlife, the outdoors. I read Bugle magazine cover to cover. I really admire your organization. I’m grateful we’ve been able to partner with you,” said Mike Plant.
Gratitude remained a common theme throughout the weekend as attendees got an update on RMEF’s 2015 accomplishments and its priorities for 2016.
“I fell in love with elk. It has impacted our relationship and our marriage. We hunt together. It has just been wonderful.”
“We found at RMEF the dollar goes a lot farther than any other organization out there. Our kids are involved with it. It’s a family experience where we live. And the chapter is a family experience. We’ve been going about 10 years now. We look forward to a long relationship with the RMEF.”
“Thanks Bob, Charlie, Yvonne and Vicki. I’m looking forward to doing more with the organization. I went on my first elk hunt 4 years ago. When you hear your first bull bugle you are just hooked. That’s where I am now. I want to give back.”
“The thing that impressed me with the Elk Foundation is it’s just such a family. You go to Elk Camp and see people from Washington and Tucson. It’s just so overwhelming to hear the success.”
“I was a state chair before I went on my first elk hunt. To me, it was the habitat. That’s how I’ve come to know and love this organization because of the work we’ve done.”
“A buddy said, ‘Go to a banquet with me.’ I had a blast. I stepped up and became a life member in the early ‘90s. We planned family vacations and we’d do an elk hunt or a pack trip. My son says when he gets out of the Army next year we’re going elk hunting. That’s what the Elk Foundation means to me—exposing my kids to hunting and how to be a good steward.”
As of April 1, 2016, the RMEF protected or enhanced more than 6.8 million acres of elk habitat from coast to coast. RMEF also opened or secured public access to more than 852,000 acres. In all, the cumulative value of those lifetime efforts total more than $1 billion.
“There is majesty in what’s happening today. We care for that landscape. Had it not been for RMEF, 6.8 million acres would’ve gone to development. When you invest in this outfit, think about your kids and your grandkids. That’s a legacy that is priceless.”
“We’ve always tried to be an organization that caters to the family, the average hunter—they’re the backbone of this organization. God, family and country is a common theme for RMEF wherever we go. It’s a culture that’s unique. We’re very proud of it. We just can’t thank you enough.”