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Londons' Gift to Rocky Mountain

Point of Contact: Curt Buchholtz, Executive Director, Rocky Mountain Nature Association

The Partners: The Rocky Mountain Nature Association and John and Edith London

The Project
John and Edith London loved to explore the Colorado Mountains, especially Rocky Mountain National Park where they spent many weekends and holidays. Given their passion for the outdoors, it was not surprising that the couple remembered the Rocky Mountain Nature Association in their will. But what surprised many was the generosity of their gift - the couple bequeathed their entire estate, valued at $3 million, to the Association which serves as the Park's nonprofit partner.

The bulk of the gift will be placed in the Next Generation Fund, a $10 million endowment the Association is building to support youth-oriented educational programs in and around Rocky Mountain National Park. The programs include: Junior Rangers, the American Conservation Corps, internships and research fellowships and the Park's Environmental Education program. The gift is the largest ever received to benefit the Park and the first multi-million dollar gift for the newly-announced Campaign for the Next Generation Fund.

"It is a tribute to the memory of John and Edith London that their love for Rocky Mountain National Park has been translated into a gift that will impact young people and the park in perpetuity," said Curt Buchholtz, Executive Director of the Rocky Mountain Nature Association, at the organization's annual picnic.

The extent of their gift came as a surprise to Buchholtz who was aware the Londons had included the Association in their will. He didn't know how much was bequeathed until after Edith's death in April 2007 when he learned the Londons left everything to the Association.

"John and Edith London demonstrated an incredible act of stewardship for our public lands," Buchholtz said. "The London Fund will lead the way in creating the next generation of conservationists."

"We are fortunate that they felt so passionate about this place," said Kyle Patterson, spokeswoman for Rocky Mountain National Park.

How They Did It
Edith London was born Edith Frydmann von Prawy and raised by a foster family in Austria after her mother committed suicide when Edith was seven. She was half Jewish, half Christian, and ordered to work in a factory in Vienna during World War II. While convalescing in a hospital in Switzerland after the war, she met Hans Strassers, a Jew who had fled Germany for Palestine and returned to Europe. Strassers lost his entire family during under the Nazi regime.

The two fell in love, married and in 1952 immigrated to the United States as Edith and John London. They decided not to have children - they didn't want to bring children into the cruel world they witnessed during the war.

The Londons lived a modest lifestyle in Denver where John worked as an engineer for General Motors and Edith was an accountant for a sugar beet factory. Over the years, they bought a small house, worked hard and fell in love with the Colorado mountains.

Buchholtz became acquainted with Edith over the last six years of her life, beginning with her donation of John's photographic equipment to the Rocky Mountain Nature Association after his death in 2002.

"What resulted from that first visit were more visits," Buchholtz said. "At first it was just to retrieve the cameras and all of the photographic equipment. Later it was to remove some of John's books. With each visit, I learned more about John, more about Edith, more about their affection for the mountains and Rocky Mountain National Park. Over the next five years I made a point to stop by for a visit whenever I was in Denver on business. We became friends."

"Considering the hardships both Edith and John suffered as a result of World War II, their life together in America must have given them great satisfaction," Buchholtz said. "Colorado's mountains helped remind them of the good times before the war, growing up in Austria and Switzerland."

She continued giving gifts but nothing hinted at the small fortune the couple had built or the generous gift they would leave behind.

"In many ways this is the classic American story," said Buchholtz. "It is a story of overcoming hardship, of hard work, of finally winning a degree of happiness and modest success. It ends with a lasting gesture of goodwill and public spirited philanthropy."

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