https://www.rmef.org/elk-network/investing-in-the-future-of-elk/

(Photo credit: Sonia Stewart Photography)

Lasting Legacies

by Gentry Hale

Marvin and Carolyn Johnson joined RMEF’s Trails Society to help protect the wild country they love.

It was on the third day of a 2017 muzzleloader hunt near Silverton, Colorado, that Marvin Johnson got a shot at the biggest elk of his life. The weather was perfect—a cool and fresh morning. He’d spotted the 300-inch bull the evening before and rose early to get into position before daylight. Marvin’s single call brought the bull to within 60 yards, and he made a perfect shot.
While packing it out, he paused and took a photo of the breathtaking mountainous landscape that stretched for miles. He sent the photo to Randy Waterhouse, RMEF’s former southeast regional director, along with a photo of his elk, and wrote: “These are the two reasons I’m passionate about RMEF.”  Marvin, 70, and his wife Carolyn, 63, have been married 28 years and live with their cat Pete in Timnath, Colorado, on the outskirts of Fort Collins, with sweeping views of the foothills of the Front Range. The retired couple plays golf nine months of the year, heading to southern California for the winter to keep the balls rolling. But between swings, Marvin still finds time to get into the backcountry and hunt. 


Originally from northern Indiana, Marvin grew up hunting deer and fishing with friends in the Midwestern woods. He studied business and graduated from Purdue, then got a job working at a bank. After about eight years he went to work for an insurance holding company before spending the last two decades of his career in the insurance brokerage business.
Carolyn came from the West Coast—Los Angeles. She was a studious and musically talented child, but always had an adventurous side. She rode her motorcycle to high school and eventually to college at California State University, Los Angeles, where she earned a business degree, leading to her 40‑year career in the financial services industry.


The two met in Louisville, Kentucky, at a health club aerobics class in 1991. Staying active and healthy is an integral part of their lifestyles, so meeting in that way just made sense. Today, they still exercise six days per week, riding bikes, working with a personal trainer and going to the gym. And they make it a point to get up into “higher altitude and to enjoy the vast public lands of Colorado” a few times each year, says Marvin. 


Together they have traveled the globe, procuring a deep appreciation of various landscapes and cultures, but found nowhere quite as magnetizing as the American West. Jutting mountain ranges, abundant public land and ample hunting opportunities reeled them in, and in 2019 they purchased their Colorado home. “It’s a healthy lifestyle to be out in the wilderness—we moved to Colorado to be closer to more wilderness and the mountains, and of course because of Marvin’s love for hunting,” Carolyn says, adding that it is RMEF’s land conservation efforts that speak to her the most. 


Marvin became an RMEF member in November 2001 following his first elk hunt in Colorado earlier that same year. “Seeing firsthand exactly what the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation does, what it stands for and how efficient it is, and really just the enthusiasm that volunteers and its employees had for the mission—it just kind of permeated over into me as well,” says Marvin. He became a Life Member in 2013, then the couple joined the Habitat Council and later became members of the Trails Society to further their support for elk country.


The Trails Society is a group of donors who have chosen to include RMEF as a beneficiary in their estate planning through a will, life insurance policy, retirement account or other vehicle. Marvin and Carolyn completed the simple process of adding RMEF as a beneficiary of their IRA account. Recognition in the Trails Society includes a pin as a token of RMEF’s appreciation, the members’ names in the recognition kiosk at the Elk Country Visitor Center and invitations to exclusive activities. Members can remain anonymous if they choose. “They are both very passionate about our mission,” says Darren Delong, RMEF’s central development director, adding that Marvin and Carolyn have a “passion for life and they live life to the fullest.”


Marvin says they both appreciate the wildness of the West, and although they know RMEF’s footprint stretches far beyond, they wanted to do what they could to protect that wild country they love. They are continually impressed by all RMEF does for land conservation and public access. “That’s what’s important to us—that we are doing something that will make a difference forever,” he says.

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