Elk NetworkCelebrating 40 Years of Volunteers

40th Anniversary , General | April 26, 2024

Below is Kyle’s Weaver’s President’s Message as shared in the May-June 2024 issue of Bugle magazine.

In August of 1985, a mere 18 months since RMEF burst from an idea into a living being, gung-ho volunteers Lyle and Bob Button and others led the charge to hold the first ever RMEF fundraising banquet at Bob’s Little America Hotel in Flagstaff, Arizona.

In the September-October 2004 Bugle, RMEF co-founder Bob Munson mused about that successful night. “It proved to be an extraordinary seminar and banquet, with over 200 people in attendance. And I left the next morning with a check for over $4,400 payable to the RMEF.”

RMEF volunteers have driven and bankrolled this organization from the beginning. Those early volunteers set out and said, “I’m going to do it.” And they did. And that’s an attitude that is now a hallmark of the RMEF volunteer. They’ve been stalwart through every rough patch, and thanks to them the organization is still going strong as it turns 40 this year.

In the pages of this issue, we are giving some extra ink to celebrating our volunteers, the fundraisers they pour their blood, sweat and tears into along with the many on-the-ground projects they complete.

Most wildlife conservation organizations have adopted the membership banquet system since Ducks Unlimited pioneered the formula in the 1960s, and like every group, we’ve put our own spin on it. Banquets are one of the places RMEF volunteers shine the brightest. I’ve been to many, and I’m always amazed by our volunteers in action and the atmosphere of celebration they invest so many hours into creating. Like the committee in Mackay, Idaho, that rents out their local firehall for their event, moving the fire engines to fit in dozens of tables. It’s the only venue in town big enough to accommodate all their attendees. RMEF volunteers have proven time and again that they’re willing to do whatever it takes to support the mission of our organization.

RMEF held that first big game banquet in Flagstaff, our volunteers have since put on somewhere near 14,000. These events are simply a wonderful time, and the best part is that they are also putting money on the ground where it counts, in elk country. (To see a list of upcoming RMEF banquets or find the nearest one to you, click here.)

RMEF has conserved over 8.9 million acres, and we’ve opened or improved access on more than 1.59 million acres of prime elk country. We wouldn’t have been able to do that without our dedicated volunteers working year-round to put on smash hit banquets, all as a labor of love without any compensation beyond contributing to a cause they believe in. We also rely on them to be the positive public face of RMEF, because for many people who walk through the doors of a banquet, it’s their first impression of our organization. 

Not only do our volunteers shine on the banquet stage, they also excel during on-the-ground projects. They upgrade fences to wildlife-friendly specifications, build and repair water tanks for wildlife and much more. RMEF volunteers also invest their time to make sure our hunting heritage continues. They are helping connect young folks and older folks, too, with the outdoors. Many of our volunteers coach their local trap shooting team, 4-H shooting team, teach hunter education or help with their local outdoor skills day. Or like Dale Veneklasen, they help veterans. Vaneklasen is an RMEF volunteer and life member who co-founded a foundation that works to get veterans and their families connected through hunting and fishing adventures.

I realize not everyone can volunteer. Time is precious, we have busy lives, and we all have other valuable ways we chip in. But the next time you attend a banquet, I encourage you to find a committee member and thank them for how much they do to help the RMEF mission. They carry a torch handed down through the decades by great volunteers like Wallace Pate, Aaron Jones and so many other early RMEF leaders, a legacy they can be proud of.

When my hunting boots hit a piece of land open to access because of RMEF, or I touch the mane of an elk I just killed that will keep my family supplied with high-quality protein for the year, it reminds me how important our volunteers’ efforts are to us, to our kids, and especially to our kids’ kids. To every RMEF volunteer out there, thank you for the work you do for elk country. Here’s to 40 years of exceptional volunteers and to the next 40 years of working for wildlife.

(Photo credit: Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation)