Photo courtesy of Rocky Mountain Nature Association
What They Gave
Curt Buchholtz, Executive Director of the Rocky Mountain Nature Association, knew John and Edith London included the association in their will. But he didn’t know how much was bequeathed until after Edith’s death in 2007 when he learned they left the Association their entire estate, valued at $3 million.
The bulk of the $3 million gift was placed in the Next Generation Fund, a $10 million endowment the Association is building to support a variety of youth-oriented education 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 donated to benefit Rocky Mountain National Park and is the first multi-million dollar gift for the newly-announced campaign to help build the Next Generation Fund.
In a surprise twist, an additional bequest was made in 2010, when Richard Whipple, executor of the Edith London estate, announced an unusual gift of $53,000 in the form of a payment from the Austrian “General Settlement Fund for Victims of National Socialism.” In May 2001 the Republic of Austria had established the General Settlement Fund for Victims of National Socialism. Nearly one hundred thousand claims were submitted by people who lost homes or other possessions as a result of the Nazi takeover in 1938. Among those victims were Edith London and her brother Marcel Prawy.
“We received notice of this possible donation last August,” Buchholtz added. “Our attorneys submitted the paperwork necessary to prove who we are, what we do, and our connections to the London estate.”
Behind the generosity of these gifts is the remarkable story of how the couple overcame adversity to create a new life in a new country and demonstrate an incredible act of stewardship for their favorite National Park.
Edith London was born Edith Frydmann von Prawy and raised in Austria. 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 Joachim Strassers, a Jew who had fled Germany for Palestine and returned to Europe. Strassers lost his entire family during the Nazi regime.
The two fell in love, married and left Switzerland in 1952 for the United States as Edith and John London. Before leaving, they decided not to have children. They didn’t want to bring children into the world they had experienced.
The Londons lived a modest life in Denver where John worked as an engineer for General Motors and Edith as 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. They were particularly fond of Rocky Mountains National Park where they spent many holidays and weekends.
Buchholtz became acquainted with Edith over the last six years of her life, beginning with her donation of John’s photographic equipment to the Nature Association immediately after his death in 2002. Edith continued giving gifts but nothing that hinted at the amount of money she and John would bequest.
“We feel fortunate that they felt so passionate about this place,” said Kyle Patterson, spokeswoman for Rocky Mountain National Park.
Why They Gave
Edith and John enjoyed travelling and the mountains. Buchholtz remembers how Edith fondly talked of her many trips to the Park with her husband. “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.”
The London’s passion for the mountains, the outdoors and the Park inspired them to bequest all of their estate to the park to help preserve something that meant so much to them for future generations.
Buchholtz announced, “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. The London Fund will lead the way in creating the next generation of Conservationists.”