Legacy of the North Woods


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From Duluth to the Boundary Waters to Washington, D.C., the legacy being left by Dick and Carol Flint on behalf of the wilderness they love continues to grow. Through his pro bono legal practice, Dick has taken part in some of the most groundbreaking environmental legislation in Minnesota's history. And with their financial support of the University of Minnesota Duluth's outdoor education program, including sizeable donations directly from their individual retirement accounts, each year the Flints help future generations use their own talents and passions to preserve the environment as well.

When asked what inspired his zealous environmental advocacy, Richard "Dick" Flint knows the answer without thinking: growing up in Duluth surrounded by the North Woods. "I took my first canoe trip when I was about 15," Dick says. It struck an early spark to his love of the outdoors, and he has explored the Minnesota and Quetico Wilderness for more than 50 years since.

While attending UMD (he graduated cum laude with a B.A. in history and social studies in 1957), Dick worked as a guide at Sawbill Canoe Outfitters in the Superior National Forest where his enthusiasm earned him the nickname, "Tiger." Dick relates the story of one Sawbill customer who inquired what he planned to do next. Upon hearing that Dick was set to attend the Northwestern University Law School, near downtown Chicago, the man responded, "I know a great place to meet girls," and directed him to seek out a certain church youth group. This turned out to be fortuitous advice because at youth group the following year, Dick met Carol Crain of St. Louis, Mo.

Dick and Carol were married in 1961 and moved back to Minneapolis. Soon after, Dick volunteered for the Army Reserve and later served in the Army Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corp in Washington, D.C., putting the Flints in a position to witness historic events of the John F. Kennedy administration and to observe the Civil Rights March on Washington.

The Flints returned to Minneapolis in 1964, where Dick took up private practice at the law firm now known as Gray Plant Mooty. He also happily resumed his wilderness recreation and introduced Carol to it for the first time. An educator by training who grew up in St. Louis, Carol remembers, "I had never been in a canoe in my life," but she quickly learned to love the outdoor environment just as Dick did.

Recreation, however, was soon to turn to professional action. In 1970, Dick and a group of his colleagues began meeting to discuss how they might become more active to benefit the environment. One colleague, Chuck Dayton (who would later become head of the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group at the U of M), introduced the group to a Michigan state law called the Environmental Rights Act, something no other state had at the time. Dick's group worked together to draft a similar law, sought out legislative sponsorship and, in less than a year, they succeeded in passing the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act.

With Carol's constant support, Dick next participated in passing the Minnesota Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in 1973. Their success was inspiring. "To see these things happen built a fire under us to do more," Dick remembers. Among many other accomplishments, he went on to co-found the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, pursuing legislation at the federal level to protect the BWCA. He also co-founded Project Environment Foundation, which evolved into the highly successful Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.

For more than 10 years now, Dick and Carol have given of themselves to preserve the environment in another way: through the Richard and Carol Flint Scholarship, which supports eligible students in UMD's Health, Physical Education and Recreation (HPER) department.

Initially responding to an ad in an alumni magazine, the Flints contacted UMD about their desire to support an environmental scholarship. Based on their well-documented interests, they were put in touch with Professor Ken Gilbertson of the HPER department. 

With Professor Gilbertson's active leadership, Dick and Carol together guide the direction of their scholarship program. They meet with and get to know the recipients as much as possible, an important and enjoyable experience for the Flints as well as for the students. Having started out relatively small, they are gratified to have watched the program grow and bring increasing opportunities to students. 

"The impact of their scholarships has commonly left parents with tears in their eyes," observes Professor Gilbertson. "Students who've received [the awards] have gone on to be leaders in the environment." One recipient has since become an Emmy-nominated documentary producer with National Geographic, and another is the Director of the Audubon Center of the North Woods.

Dick and Carol continue to add even more to their donations by taking advantage of a 2012 tax law (in effect through the end of 2013) that allows individuals 70½ years or older to make tax-free donations of up to $100,000 from their IRA to qualified organizations. This has made it possible to award scholarships to students outside of the HPER department. The first and current recipient of this new scholarship plans to pursue wilderness protection through biological and water quality research.

Dick and Carol Flint's efforts helped write environmental protection into law at both the State and Federal levels. UMD gratefully acknowledges their generosity as well, and its immeasurable impact on the unique efforts of our students to carry on their work.