Left to right: Annie Denver, RMI's Marty Pickett, and the Aspenglow Fund's Karmen Dopslaff
From “Sunshine on My Shoulders” to “Rocky Mountain High,” John Denver’s songs are loved by millions. But another legacy remains: his passion for the environment and humanity.
In the late 1970s, John and his friend Tom Crum started an environmental and humanitarian organization called the Windstar Foundation in Old Snowmass near Aspen, Colorado. Its annual Choices for the Future Symposium was a summer highlight for years; experts gathered to inspire and conspire for a better world. In 1982, Amory Lovins cofounded his energy think-and-do tank, Rocky Mountain Institute, ten minutes’ walk away.
When RMI grew beyond the walls of the Lovins home/office, it leased additional space in the Windstar Foundation’s 1950s farmhouse. When those 957 mostly wild acres, owned by Windstar and the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), faced sale for development, RMI purchased NWF’s interest and, with the Windstar Foundation, created the Windstar Land Conservancy to hold and restore the property, including a conservation easement that forever preserves 927 acres from development.
With John’s untimely death in 1997, the Windstar Foundation struggled. By 2012, Windstar dissolved and RMI made plans to move. The property was sold and proceeds were shared equally between RMI and the John Denver Aspenglow Fund of the Aspen Community Foundation. The fund is led by former directors of Windstar with long-time friends Tom Crum, Joe Henry, and Annie Denver.
Karmen Dopslaff, former Windstar Foundation president and long-time friend of John and Annie, led this transition, wanting to make the best decisions for the future and John’s legacy. For example, the larger-than-life statue of John that fans long admired is now at the Colorado Music Hall of Fame at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Denver, one of John’s favorite performance venues, where it can delight far more visitors.
Karmen and her team have also made some extraordinary grants from the Aspenglow Fund that will allow many organizations to make a lasting impact in the world. Support ranges from helping less fortunate preschool children improve their cognitive and social skills, to environmental education, to providing support to families in John’s parents’ home state of Oklahoma affected by natural disasters.
This same generosity resulted in the lead foundation grant for RMI’s initiative Reinventing Fire: China. The generous $1 million gift was presented to RMI in August 2013 soon after the effort launched in Beijing. John would be pleased: he was especially beloved in China, where he’d often go to villages where nobody spoke English, only to find the kids singing his songs in English.
IT IS NOT TOO MUCH TO SAY THAT ALL THESE PROJECTS ARE EMBODIED IN THE LYRICS OF JOHN’S SONG “IT’S ABOUT TIME”:
IT’S ABOUT TIME WE BEGIN IT, TO TURN THE WORLD AROUND.
IT’S ABOUT TIME WE START TO MAKE IT, THE DREAM WE’VE ALWAYS KNOWN.
IT’S ABOUT TIME WE START TO LIVE IT, THE FAMILY OF MAN.
IT’S ABOUT TIME, IT’S ABOUT CHANGES AND IT’S ABOUT TIME.
Marty Pickett is a managing director at RMI.
Image courtesy of Aspenglow.