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 The Road Less Traveled

J.J. Kelley and Richard N. Flint

“Two roads diverged in a wood
And I took the one less traveled by
And that has made all the difference.” --- Robert Frost

Richard (Dick) N. Flint (’57) J.J. (Jeremiah) Kelley (’07)

The Environmental Scholarship

Even though they graduated from UMD five decades apart, Richard (Dick) N. Flint (’57) and J.J. (Jeremiah) Kelley (’07) 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. Their paths joined when Kelley received the Richard and Carol Flint Environmental Scholarship in 2005.

Dick Flint and his wife Carol Flint previously had created a scholarship to help people just 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

Dick Flint graduated from Duluth East High School and received a James Wright Hunt Scholarship to attend UMD where he received a B.S. degree in social studies and history. He went on to Northwestern University law School in Chicago, thanks to a Hardy Scholarship awarded by that school.

Flint joined the law firm of Gray Plant Mooty in 1960 and a year or so 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 saw Martin Luther King give his “I Have a Dream” speech and he and Carol were at the steps of the U.S. Capitol when President John Kennedy’s body was brought back from Dallas. He didn’t know it then, but Dick was soon to join the Minnesota newsmakers of the 1960s and '70s.

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 and other leaders of the Friends of the BWCA 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.”

The sun was setting and the room was lit by firelight and 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 to the group not just about the importance of legislation, but how humans need to change their relationship with the wilderness. Olson said 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 mountain top experience.”

J.J. and Wilderness Adventures

Years later, UMD alumnus J.J. Kelley intuitively follows Sigurd Olson and Dick Flint’s philosophy. From his adventures 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, an environmental educator, and as of September 2007, he’s a production coordinator at National Geographic Television.

In between his extraordinary journeys, which often included rugged terrain and extreme conditions, Kelley took college classes at UMD. Consider Kelley’s adventures: a “thru-hike” of the Appalachian Trail and three summers kayaking around Alaskan glaciers in Kenai Fjords National Park. In addition, 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. See Pedal to the Midnight Sun

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 film making, make him an inspiration for others.”

Gilbertson recommended Kelley for the Richard and Carol Flint Environmental Scholarship, which was originally supposed to last for Kelley’s junior and senior years. He got the summer internship with National Geographic for his final class credits. “The Flints were delighted with Pedal to the Midnight Sun, said Gilbertson. “When J.J. realized how much it was going to cost to live in D.C., the Flints extended his scholarship.”

Kelley isn’t sure what each day at National Geographic will bring. While not everything is related to environmental education, much of it is. “The production coordinator does whatever it takes to make things go smoothly,” he said. That has included being filmed in the background of a cycling scene for a production called the Inside the Body Trade, to corralling dogs for a show about genius dogs. He’s now working on a special production called Six Degrees, which depicts the catastrophic consequences of global warming. “The show explains what could happen as the earth warms one degree, then two degrees, and up,” he said. “Scientists try to predict when droughts will appear, and what the planet will look like. My task on this project is to help them express those ideas visually. How can we show how much water will appear when Greenland icecaps melt? Will the image of five billion soda glasses do it, or can we use another way?”

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.” He’s committed to taking two months off from his job to make his own expedition film next summer, again with his friend, Josh Thomas. “We’re calling it Paddle to Seattle. They’ll start in Skagway, Alaska and kayak south, shooting footage the whole way.

Linked by a Scholarship

Without the Flints’ scholarship, opportunities such as Kelley’s wouldn’t be possible. Flint wanted to aid those who have similar passions as he does, 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. Dick 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 the “Road Less Traveled.” Many of Flint’s adventures took place in the wilderness, the halls of Congress, and the courtroom, while Kelley’s were 50 years later in the classroom and in the open air. Nevertheless, they share an inextricable bond that began at UMD and that is centered around their concern for the environment, nature and especially wilderness.

— written by Cheryl Reitan

Posted November 20, 2007

UMD home page editor, Cheryl Reitan,
NEW RELEASES, UMD media contact, Susan Latto,, 218-726-8830

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