The Sonoran Institute’s donors are a dedicated and inspiring group of people, foundations, and businesses who have made the decision to ensure our community-based work in Western cities and towns gets accomplished. Learn more about the people who help make our future work possible and share your story!
Share your Story
Share your inspiration to support conservation, and it could be featured on website to inspire others. You have already stepped forward to support our conservation efforts throughout the West, now share your inspiration to help inspire others to do the same.
We want to hear from you! Why do you donate to the Sonoran Institute? Why do you support conservation efforts throughout the West? Who inspired you to make your first gift, and how do you inspire others?
To share your story with us, please contact Emily Brott by email at
or by phone at (520) 290-0828 ext. 1144.
Meet our Donors
JOHN & PAT CASE
She moved seventeen times before graduating high school. He lived in his hometown until his thirties. She was painfully shy growing up. He proposed on their first date. A psychologist, she believes change is good. A historian, he likes things the way they were. Pat and John Case couldn’t be a happier couple.
Among the many shared qualities grounding their almost 30 years of marriage are a love of the outdoors, an inherent kindness, and a deep-rooted ethic of helping others. Enthusiastically supporting the Sonoran Institute is one of the ways they choose to give back.
“What I like about the Sonoran Institute is that it helps people as well as the environment,” Pat says. “The Sonoran Institute is the whole package.”
They arrived at it from different perspectives, but John and Pat share a strong sense of community. John comes from a venerable Marquette, Michigan, family whose roots and tradition of community service span generations. He and his sisters grew up donating a portion of their weekly allowance to organizations around their city. “We kept a journal of where we gave, and our parents would send ‘matching grants,’” John laughs. After a decade teaching history in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, John went into the family business, JM Longyear Heirs, eventually retiring as chairman. Founded by his great-grandfather, the company has owned hardwood timber and mining interests in the Great Lakes region since 1873.
Pat’s father was a Navy pilot, so her childhood was a constant parade of new schools in different states. As an adult, she found peace of mind and a lasting home in Scottsdale, Arizona. There, she worked her way through college and graduate school, earned her doctorate in psychology, and is now Faculty Chair for Social Sciences at Rio Salado College based in Tempe.
The couple now splits their time between their home bases, spending the school year in Scottsdale and summers in downtown Marquette or by the lake where they first met and were engaged seven years—and one dinner—later.
It was the Sonoran Institute’s community focus in particular that hit a chord with the Cases. “We really appreciate the Institute’s collaborative approach and the way it respects the people and traditions of the communities where it works,” John says. Back in Michigan, he knew what it was like to have organizations from “downstate” come to the Upper Peninsula with all the answers, telling the locals to step aside so they could do their work.
“The Sonoran Institute doesn’t come to a place and dictate to people,” John says.” Instead, it works with the local people and respects their local knowledge. It lends the expertise and guidance to enable people to maintain, build, and sustain what is special about their community. And then it moves on to help someplace else.”
Pat agrees. “The Sonoran Institute comes into a community and asks, ‘How can we help you?’ There aren’t many organizations like that.”
Tom McMurray cares deeply about protecting critical marine, coastal and river habitats. And, he puts his concerns into action as Chairman and Founder of Marine Ventures Foundation - and through generous support of the Sonoran Institute’s Colorado River Delta Legacy Program. His first visit to one of the Sonoran Institute’s restoration projects underway along the Colorado River south of Mexicali was in May 2010. What he saw was the future.
“I was struck by the beauty of the ecosystem, its history, its importance, its sense of place … and the potential for success in restoring this great ecosystem. I saw solid partnerships, groups of people working together on the ground, a long term commitment to doing the really hard work of education on every level. And, I wanted to help.”
His help came in the form of underwriting and producing a documentary highlighting the work of the Sonoran Institute and its partner, Pronatura Noroeste, to bring the Delta back to life. For weeks, camera crews followed members of the team in their efforts. They interviewed a leader of the Cucupa tribe, whose life and culture are based on a healthy ecosystem in the Delta. They talked with the Institute’s founder and executive director, Luther Propst, about the project’s goals, including the effort to purchase water and put it to use in the Delta region.
This water will support the environment and wildlife in the region, but also improve economic and recreational opportunities in the Delta. The resulting documentary is stunning. In addition to the video available on our website (link), a longer documentary will be completed in the next few months. This documentary is an important tool for helping people, including key leaders in the region learn about the challenges … and the possibilities … in the Colorado River Delta.
“The Sonoran Institute isn’t a special interest environmental group,” McMurray said. “It works to bring communities together to make decisions that solve problems for the improvement of the entire community. If we can work together to secure the necessary water and restore the natural habitat and then let nature do what it does so well, there is a great potential for success in bringing the Delta back to life.”
A GIFT TO HONOR A FATHER’S LIFE
Rowene Aguirre-Medina’s favorite memory of her father, Pedro Joab Aguirre, was of him scooping up the soil of the Mexicali/Imperial Valley in his hands, holding it, checking on it, connecting with it. “You could just see his love of the land,” she says. “It’s the only place he really wanted to be.”
Pedro “Pete” Aguirre was born in Tucson and was an American citizen. But his home was on both sides of the border, in the Mexicali Valley in Baja, California, Mexico and the Imperial Valley of California. As a successful grower of asparagus, cantaloupe, and onions, Aguirre nurtured the soil to produce not only crops but also jobs. “He wanted to provide work for people,” says Rowene.
Fed by the Colorado River, the valley that Aguirre loved sustained life on many levels. When Rowene heard about the Sonoran Institute’s work to restore the depleted Colorado River Delta, she decided to support the project with a gift in his name.
“My father had such respect and appreciation for the land,” she says. “To see that beautiful area coming back to life, and to see how the desert can flourish when treated properly—I just felt that this project was the right place to honor his life.”
As a child, Rowene remembers a Delta that thrived both ecologically and economically, with hunting and fishing industries that supported the local population as well as a vibrant tourism industry. While touring the Delta project areas with the Institute, Rowene saw her father’s spirit exemplified everywhere—through the jobs and training that the project is providing, through the cross-border cooperation of its partners, and through the enthusiasm and excitement of the people working on the restoration initiatives.
“By restoring the Delta, this project is also restoring the pride of the people living here, and bringing responsible commercial opportunities that will help them,” Rowene says. “These days, we are so busy building fences and walls along the border. With this project, we are building hope.”
“Beyond his purely human value, he was a major force in the development of the Mexicali Valley.”
COMMENTS ON PEDRO JOAB AGUIRRE, BY GASTON LUKEN | Businessman, Baja, California
KATHY BORGEN, Vail, Colorado
Both her parents were geologists, and her father was a charter member of the first chapter of the Nature Conservancy. It is no surprise that a deep love and respect for the Earth are woven into Kathy Borgen’s DNA. “I was born in the rocks,” she laughs. And in the Rockies, she found her calling. Passionate about environmental education and the intersection of religion and environmental philosophy, Kathy is devoted to championing causes that help protect, care for, and nurture a love of our planet.
Originally from New Jersey, Kathy graduated from Smith College and met her Norwegian-born husband, Bjorn Erik, on the ski slopes. After their marriage and his graduation from Harvard Business School, they followed their skis to Colorado in 1966, eventually settling in Vail. There they are still heavily involved in the ski world and live within driving distance of their three children and eight grandchildren.
Kathy is secretary treasurer of the Borgen Family Foundation and is active on the boards of several other conservation organizations. In the Sonoran Institute, she found an organization whose goals and mission align with her own. After completing nine years on the board, she continues to be an enthusiastic supporter.
“There is a deep, profound respect for the people and the land of the West that is embedded in the Institute,” she says. “I am attracted to institutions that are able to incorporate a middle ground into how they operate out in the world. With its consistent, place-based approach to land use issues—working on the ground with the people who have the most at stake—the Institute is able to build trust. It takes time, but they are able to find the place where people on different sides of an issue can agree and work together to move forward.”
Alan Nicholson, Helena, Montana
Alan Nicholson was practicing smart growth in the 1970s, and while he may not have known the term yet, he understood that what he was doing was progressive. He had seen the effects of sprawl living in Chicago as a graduate student at Northwestern. So when he later left a career in education to become a developer, he chose to build in the central business district of Helena, Montana, locating his housing development in an area that already had services and infrastructure and was within walking distance to downtown. His latest smart growth project is a mixed-use development just completed in downtown Helena that includes a hotel, bank, movie theater, retail and office space, restaurants, the ExplorationWorks museum and a hand-built carousel. Deeply concerned about the impact of humans on the environment, Alan worries that a prevailing “us versus them” attitude impedes thoughtful, necessary solutions—be it in national politics or among the ranchers, planners and developers in his home state. He donates to the Sonoran Institute because he sees the Institute bringing diverse groups together and helping them arrive at solutions that make sense for everybody. “I have five kids and two grandchildren,” he says, “and I’d like to leave behind a world that is workable for them. The Sonoran Institute doesn’t just deal with ideas. They get out in the field and deal with folks who have more in common than they might imagine, and they bring them together. Collaboration is hard to pull off, but the Sonoran Institute is good at it.”
Bill Mitchell, Vashon Island, Washington State
Bill Mitchell spent his childhood exploring the unspoiled outdoors of post World War II Denver. In that time of national optimism and growth, many in Colorado viewed a future of metropolitan expansion from Pueblo to Cheyenne, Wyoming, as progress and prosperity. Over the years, Bill has seen much of this development come true, at the expense of his childhood stomping grounds and so many other wild, open spaces.
What remains intact is his abiding interest in wildlife biology, conservation, and the West. Trained as a wildlife biologist, Bill is president of Flatcoat Consulting and has been an advisor to the Alki Fund (Tides Foundation) since its inception in 1991. He spends much of his time consulting with and finding funding for non-profit groups working to protect intact ecosystems and working ranchlands from the effects of energy and natural resource development.
It was the Sonoran Institute's work on water and biodiversity restoration in the Colorado Delta that drew Bill to the board. "I also appreciated the Institute's desire for collaboration and the way it works with many different parties," he says. "Throughout my professional career, I've seen the inherent value of networking with communities and getting organizations to work together to accomplish something that could not be done individually." Whenever he can, Bill returns to the woods to pursue his passion for bird hunting and bird watching, wandering with his dogs and hunting buddies around the backcountries of Montana, North Dakota, and Canada. He and his wife, Mia, live on Vashon Island in Puget Sound, Washington State.
Louise Glasser, Tucson, Arizona
For Louise Glasser, the best view of the world is on horseback. Up in the saddle she can fully enjoy the scope and beauty of a landscape, and also get a great perspective on the West that the Sonoran Institute is working to preserve. It was while involved with an organization that ran trail rides on ranches and public lands throughout Arizona that Louise decided to join the Institute’s board.
“If you appreciate the wonderful land we live in,” she says, “you appreciate how important the work is that the Sonoran Institute is doing to maintain these landscapes and our quality of life.”
Louise grew up in Illinois and has long been actively involved in charitable and cultural organizations in Chicago, such as the Field Museum of Natural History, the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, and the Art Institute of Chicago. She and her husband, Jim, still return often to Illinois, but their permanent residence now is the home they bought in Tucson in 1991.
There, they board their “aging herd” of four horses at a communal horse facility and share their home with three Bedlington terriers. But with two daughters, a son, and eight grandchildren living on both coasts and in Singapore, Louise and Jim aren’t in any one place for long.
What brings her back as a board member year after year is seeing the impact that the Institute makes in encouraging communities to preserve what they have and love: “We’re probably the most effective organization in the West for promoting conservation and smart growth on a community level.”
Gretchen Long, Wilson, Wyoming
Dividing her time between her home in Wilson, Wyoming, and her 1740 farm in the Berkshires of New England, Gretchen’s passion for the environment and big-picture thinking has caught the attention of nonprofits across the country—and national leaders.
In 2010, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar appointed Gretchen to the National Park System Advisory Board. The 12-member board, first authorized in 1935, advises the Interior Secretary and the Director of the National Park Service (NPS) on matters relating to the parks.
“We need to approach conservation at the ecosystem level, which means looking beyond the geographic boundaries of any park,” says Gretchen. “To be successful in the next 100 years, the NPS must adopt the collaborative conservation approach used by organizations like the Sonoran Institute to build local relationships and strong regional partnerships.”
Gretchen first knew of the Sonoran Institute in the early 1990s as a board member of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. “Luther made a very forceful presentation on the Institute’s ‘Successful Communities’ initiative, and I remembered being hugely impressed by his new and fresh approach to getting conservation results.” Gretchen has been a loyal fan—and supporter—ever since, even joining the Institute’s board for a four-year term. “The good news is that the Institute’s unique collaborative approach to conservation has gone mainstream,” says Gretchen. “The challenge is to be consistent in applying this community-based approach, and this is where the Institute has been very effective over the last 20 years.”
A graduate of the Harvard Business School, Gretchen spent her professional career as a partner of an executive search consulting firm in New York, where she and her husband raised three children—and spent every weekend on their farm in the Berkshires. In the early nineties, Gretchen decided to give all her attention to conservation and, in 1993, children grown, she moved to her inspirational West at the same time that she was chair of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. Since 1996, she has been a trustee and four-year chair of the National Parks Conservation Association, and trustee and chair of the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) and the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies. Her commitment to protecting nature’s special places continued as a founder and chair of the Murie Center in Moose, Wyoming.
An enthusiast of the outdoors, Gretchen enjoys skiing, hiking, and gardening. She spends as much time as possible with her family, while still doing “her work.” Currently, in addition to chairing the Planning Committee of the Park System board, Gretchen is an active board member with the Land Trust Alliance, NatureBridge, and Scenic Hudson.
Laurinda Oswald, Tubac, Arizona
Laurinda knows that nurturing an exotic bonsai plant to grow into a healthy and beautiful work of “living art” takes patience and planning. “Big-picture, long-term thinking” is how she describes it, and it’s what she’s used in her spare time to create hundreds of bonsai sculptures, some of them now 25 years old. Forward thinking has also kept her 2,000-acre ranch on the Santa Cruz River in Amado healthy and beautiful, and it’s what led her to become a Sonoran Institute board member.
“I’ve always liked the Institute’s big-picture thinking,” she says. “A lot of my thinking is out beyond the boundaries of my land, but also 30 years down the road, and that’s what the Institute does well. They understand that change doesn’t happen quickly. You need a long-term vision and to engage now to make good things happen in the future.” Born in Arizona, Laurinda spent her childhood in Italy, her father’s homeland. After a stop in New York, she returned to Arizona in 1982 and runs the ranch her family bought in the 1950s. Operating a 170-head, cow-calf operation, she sells calves and older cows, and raises steers for locally grown, grass-fed beef. Living on the Santa Cruz River for decades and weathering increasingly damaging floods (the last one swallowed 100 acres of her arable land), she understands the importance of caring for the watershed and uses the cattle to manage the land. By moving them like bison through an eight-pasture rotation grazing system, she keeps the grassland healthy, preserves the watershed and backs up the ranch’s water rights.
Joe Kalt, Tucson Arizona; Cambridge, Massachusetts
Joe Kalt believes in the Sonoran Institute’s work so much that he commits both time and money to it. He appreciates that Institute staff “care deeply about the West and strive to come up with solutions that are both real and realistic for people.” As a native of Tucson and a part-time resident of Montana, Joe sees both the challenges and the opportunities presented by growth in the West. “No where,” he says, “are these more obvious than the Sun Corridor.” The Sun Corridor mega-region stretches from north of Phoenix to south of Tucson and is one of the fastest-growing areas in the country. It faces tough challenges, including tremendous pressure on water resources, air quality, open space and wildlife. The opportunity this presents is, Joe believes, “the chance to get it right.”
An avid and frequent traveler, Joe sees similar challenges facing the developing world and feels strongly that the North American West – and in particular the Sun Corridor – can be a model for other fast-growing areas worldwide. He thinks the Sonoran Institute’s collaborative approach puts it in position to take a lead in this important work. In the Sun Corridor, the Sonoran Institute is working to create a world-class model for a sustainable desert community, an integrated regional rail and transit system, and conservation designations to protect wild lands and rivers. Importantly, the Institute’s Westwide presence promotes sharing lessons learned throughout Western North America.
The Sonoran Institute is immensely grateful for Joe Kalt’s interest, time and significant financial support of our work in the Sun Corridor and across the West.
Professor Joe Kalt, a native of the North American West, is a member of the Sonoran Institute’s Board of Directors. He is the Ford Foundation Professor of International Political Economy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. His publications include, “The Economics and Politics of Oil Price Regulation,” “Drawing the Line on Natural Gas Regulation” (with Frank C. Schuler), “Petroleum Price Regulation: Should We Decontrol?” (with Kenneth Arrow), and “The State of the Native Nations”. Prof. Kalt is a senior economist with Compass Lexecon, a consulting firm specializing in the economics of competition and regulation with offices in Tucson, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Cambridge, Mass. He is also widely recognized for his work in economic development on American Indian reservations and among First Nations in Canada.
Bryan Morgan, Boulder, Colorado
Bryan’s path to the Sonoran Institute began, appropriately enough, on a hiking trail. After working 40 years in trial law and criminal defense, he was phasing out of full-time practice and mentioned to his daughter he was hiking with, his interest in getting involved in conservation. She told her boss, who called Luther Propst. “I think Luther was scouting for Colorado members,” Bryan laughs. “So here I am.” After five years on the board, Bryan became Chairman in 2010.
While his focus on conservation may be recent, his love and interest in the outdoors go back to his childhood in Fort Collins, Colorado. In what was then a tiny farming town, he developed a lifelong passion for the outdoors and for “living in a state with wide horizons and wild country.” He became interested in environmental law at the University of Colorado at Boulder Law School, where he was a research assistant for Joseph Sax, considered to be one of the principal founders of the environmental defense legal movement. Bryan’s involvement with the Institute unites this early interest in “environmental defense” with his passion for the wild places of the Rocky Mountain West.
“What I find interesting about the Institute,” he says, “is that a lot of times it concentrates on matters that may not light people’s eyes up, like transportation planning and zoning and building codes. And yet, there’s an enormous conservation value in doing those things carefully. If we are to preserve the unique characteristics of this region that attracted many of us here and that we love, we have to find a way to strike a balance between the needs of people and the needs of the natural world. I believe the Sonoran Institute does this better than any other organization.”
New Belgium Brewing, Fort Collins, Colorado
New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins, Colorado, is owned by its employees, who believe in a triple bottom line: People, Profits, Planet. This conviction is evident in the preponderance of bicycles over cars in the parking lot. Founders Jeff Lebesch and Kim Jordan built the brewery near the town center to encourage alternate modes of commuting. Further encouragement comes in the form of the free bike employees receive on their one-year anniversary.
The state-of-the-art brewing facility is beautiful and “smart,” too, producing 15 percent of its own electricity through a process water treatment plant and methane gas capture. And, the business is exploring more ways to incorporate sustainability in its beer-making process. New Belgium’s Sustainability Coordinator Katie Wallace notes that “preserving natural resources is good for making good beer, too.”
In 2008 New Belgium became a supporter of the Sonoran Institute because, Katie says, “The Institute supports a new generation of environmental work—a multi-faceted approach involving policy reform, land use planning and social justice.” Environmental stewardship is one of New Belgium’s founding, core values. “We strive to honor the environment at every turn,” Katie says. This commitment attracts employees who share these values. With all the good stuff those employees are doing at New Belgium, they make some great beer as well.