The Big Rivers Initiative is the perfect program for someone like Johnny Belz to support. Just like the mighty rivers that course through the upper Midwest - the Missouri, Mississippi, and Platte - Johnny was a larger-than-life member of the Ducks Unlimited family. For more than 40 years, he served as a volunteer and a staff member, and his friendship and fondness for people and the ducks were a gift to DU's mission.
"I know of no other person whose support for DU was as relentless as Johnny's," said Jeff Churan, former DU board member, national secretary, and Missouri state chairman. "He led the fight for the Missouri duck stamp in the 1970s, the results of which have brought more than $5 million to DU. He grew up hunting ducks in the Mississippi River backwaters at his family's hunting grounds near St. Louis, so it is no surprise that he was a huge champion of the Big Rivers Initiative."
Born, raised, and educated in the "Gateway to the West," Johnny helped organize the St. Louis DU Sponsor Chapter in 1973 and served as its chair for an astounding 22 years. He also served in many other volunteer roles, including Missouri state chair, senior vice president of development, and national secretary. He was a highly successful member of DU's development staff for more than 16 years and readily mentored new team members.
The only thing Johnny loved more than working for conservation was his family. His adored wife, Libby; his three children, Christian, Elizabeth, and Henry IV; and his seven grandchildren were the greatest delights of Johnny's life.
As Benefactor Sponsors and Gold Feather Society members, Johnny and Libby didn't just support the organization - they expected anyone they met to do so as well. It was always clear that supporting wetlands conservation was more of a responsibility than a choice for Johnny and Libby. To reinforce that stance, Johnny's correspondence always carried this powerful message from Stirling Adams, DU's president in 1962: "Conservation without money is conversation."
One of Johnny's greatest gifts to DU was his strong support for Missouri's Wetlands for Kids Day, inspired by his love for his grandchildren. Through this wildly popular annual event, Johnny and his fellow volunteers were instrumental in introducing thousands of children to the wonders of wetlands and outdoor recreation. The 14th annual Wetlands for Kids Day event was held in Johnny's memory in spring 2013, just over a month after his passing.
Johnny's legacy lives on within Ducks Unlimited in a multitude of other ways as well. His heart and his sincere appreciation of his fellow volunteers can still be felt in Missouri, throughout the Confluence, and all across the country. At the family's request, gifts in Johnny's memory have been directed to the Big Rivers Initiative to support the waterfowl passing through his beloved home state each year - a fitting tribute to a man who gave so much of himself to DU.
Johnny's story was featured in the 2013 Ducks Unlimited Annual Report. If you would like to learn more about supporting DU's Big Rivers Initiative, please visit www.ducks.org/BigRivers or call DU at (734) 623-2000 to speak with fundraising staff in your area.
For more information on becoming a DU Major Sponsor, please visit our Leadership Giving homepage or contact Senior Manager of Development Operations Anita Tyler at (901) 758-3871 or firstname.lastname@example.org.