BRIDGE The Magazine for UMD Alumni and Friends

UMD Home

UMD Alumni Association

Bridge Issues

Contact Alumni Office

Advertise in the Bridge Magazine

Bridge Staff

Search Bridge and UMD


The University of Minnesota Duluth

BRIDGE - Fall 2008, Volume 26, #1

J.J. Kelley, Richard Flint, and Ken Gilbertson
Even though they graduated from UMD five decades apart, Richard N. Flint and J.J. Kelley are driven by similar interests. The natural world has played a prominent part in their lives, and they both have taken their concern for the environment into their respective fields.

Alumni Profiles

The Road Less Traveled

The paths of Richard N. Flint (’57) and J.J. (Jeremiah) Kelley (’07) merged when Kelley received the Richard and Carol Flint Environmental Scholarship in 2007.

Richard Flint and his wife Carol created the scholarship to help people like Kelley. Carol said, “Education of young people is important to both of us. We wanted to create an environmental scholarship because our family lives and breathes concern for the natural world.”

Flint, the Boundary Waters, and UMD
Richard Flint graduated from Duluth East High School and received a James Wright Hunt Scholarship to attend UMD. After earning a B.S. degree in social studies and history, and thanks to a Hardy Scholarship, he went on to Northwestern University Law School in Chicago. Flint took his first canoe trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area at age 15. He guided at Sawbill Canoe Outfitters while at UMD and Northwestern, and continued his wilderness trips for more than 50 years.

Flint joined the law firm of Gray Plant Mooty in 1960 and months later his Army Reserve Unit was called to active duty. After a year of enlisted service, he became a First Lieutenant in the Army Judge Advocate General Corps, and he and Carol moved to Washington, D.C. during a momentous time in the nation’s history. Flint worked in the Pentagon during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He watched Martin Luther King deliver his “I Have a Dream” speech, and he and Carol were at the Capitol steps when President John Kennedy’s body was brought back from Dallas.

In 1964, Flint came back to his Minneapolis law firm and as a pro bono project, he worked with a group of young lawyers who drafted and successfully lobbied for passage of the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act. Two years later, he worked to pass the Minnesota Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and became active in the North Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. That’s when things really got exciting.

As chair of the North Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, he was one of the founders of the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness. In Ely in 1976, he joined national leaders of the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society, National Audubon Society, and Izaak Walton League at Sigurd Olson’s cabin, Listening Point. “It was very rustic and close to nature,” Flint said. “There was no electricity and to get there you had to walk the final distance; you couldn’t drive. Sigurd Olson had built the cabin by taking another primitive cabin apart, moving it and rebuilding it by hand.”

In that cabin, Olson and others talked into the night about the values of wilderness and how important it was to preserve Minnesota’s Boundary Waters as a non-motorized wilderness. Olson talked, not just about the importance of legislation, but how humans need to change their relationship with the wilderness... nature should be a friend and teacher, not something to be conquered.

Flint remembered Olson’s words, “This is the most beautiful lake country in the United States. It needs to be preserved for all those who come after us. Land like this gives us solace and perspective.” Flint said it was a moving moment, “It was a real mountaintop experience.”

J.J. and Wilderness Adventures
Years later, UMD alumnus J.J. Kelley intuitively follows Sigurd Olson’s and Richard Flint’s philosophy. From his experiences and life direction, one can tell that Kelley believes that nature can teach and wilderness can provide solace and perspective.

Kelley, a recreation and outdoor education major, was the third recipient of the Richard and Carol Flint Environmental Scholarship. J.J. Kelley is an endurance athlete and an environmental educator. Kelley has embarked on some extraordinary adventures, including a “thru-hike” of the Appalachian Trail and three summers kayaking around Alaskan glaciers in Kenai Fjords National Park.

“I use J.J.’s film in class to
teach about how we look at the wilderness.” — Tom Beery

In 2006, Kelley and his friend, Josh Thomas, documented their 1,200-mile bike trip across Alaska to the Arctic Ocean in a film, Pedal to the Midnight Sun. They shot 35 hours of footage on a digital camcorder and endured five mountain ranges, 460 miles on dirt roads, and 28 days in the remote Alaskan expanse.

With the film in his portfolio, Kelley landed a 2007 summer internship and, more recently, a full-time job at National Geographic Television.

Kelley credits UMD for helping him achieve his goals. “UMD has great people like Ken Gilbertson and Tom Beery, who gave me advice, not just about which classes to take, but on a deeper level about my personal life,” he said.

Kelley’s UMD mentors, faculty members Gilbertson and Beery, are proud of Kelley. “I use J.J.’s film in class to teach about how we look at the wilderness,” said Beery. “His enthusiasm about the natural world, his athletic ability, and his willingness to try anything, even filmmaking, makes him an inspiration for others.”

Gilbertson recommended Kelley for the Richard and Carol Flint Environmental Scholarship, which lasted through Kelley’s junior year, senior year, and through his summer internship with National Geographic for his final class credits. “The Flints were delighted with Pedal to the Midnight Sun,” said Gilbertson.

Kelley’s 2006 bike trip to the Arctic Ocean was “partly an independent study project and partly a personal goal,” he said. Using film to conduct environmental education is Kelley’s current passion, not only in his work at National Geographic. “I’m trained as an educator, but my past film training was largely self taught.”

This fall, Kelley and Thomas paddled homemade kayaks 1,300 miles from Alaska to Seattle. They filmed their three-month adventure, aptly called Paddle to Seattle. Currently the film is in postproduction and is scheduled to be available in February 2009.

Linked by a Scholarship
Without the Flints’ scholarship, opportunities such as Kelley’s wouldn’t be possible. Flint wanted to aid those who have passions similar to his, and Kelley fit the mold. That seems to be the aim that Flint had intended from the start: to give opportunity and inspiration to those who have the same concern for the natural world as he does. Flint said, “Where better to invest your money than in the young people who are going to lead this country.”

Both Kelley and Flint have taken a road less traveled. While their experiences have been separated by decades, nevertheless, they share an inextricable bond that began at UMD and that is centered around their concern for the environment, nature and especially wilderness.

In summer 2008, J.J. Kelley and Josh Thomas paddled homemade kayaks 1,300 miles from Alaska to Seattle.



Web site and contents © 2006 University of Minnesota Duluth
BRIDGE, the UMD Magazine, 1049 University Drive, Duluth, MN 55812

The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer.