In the spring of 1984 at 5:30 a.m. I arrived at a Boise, Idaho, truck stop to meet with three men who would later join the Board of Directors of The Peregrine Fund—Ron Yanke, Tom Nicholson, and Jim Nelson. They got together there most every Tuesday morning to share news, laughs, and a life-long friendship among themselves and to see others who knew they would be there and had stopped by. As I learned over the following years it was a mixed lot of people at “breakfast,” from their trusted employees to the minister of Ron’s church, someone down on his luck, or maybe a would-be or sitting governor, congressman, or senator wanting their support. Or even someone like me from a nonprofit needing help in one form or another. You just never knew, but it was always enjoyable.
To build the World Center for Birds of Prey we needed access for heavy trucks across property owned by Ron, Tom, and their wives, Linda and Diana, respectively, as the bridge on the county road to our site was old and rickety and likely to collapse from the weight of a gravel or concrete truck. At my first “breakfast,” after a brief explanation of what we were doing and what we needed, they agreed with a handshake and laughingly suggested Jim should provide his earth-moving equipment as he had a construction company. During the following years we asked the three of them, along with their close friend, Harry Bettis, to join the Board and they all accepted. A hand to draw for, each an ace in his own right. None of them was a birds of prey enthusiast per se, but all liked what we do and our achievement of annual meaningful results. These men, along with a few other Boise residents, several more who also joined our Board, formed the heart and soul of the community.
A few weeks ago Ron Yanke unexpectedly died. The world was a better place because of him and it is certainly poorer by his absence. Ron was a lanky, over six-foot tall man with an easy smile, quirky laugh, ready handshake, and a helping hand. After boarding an airplane in Guatemala, he had spoken with most everyone on it by the time it landed, even though most spoke another language. He was always there to help The Peregrine Fund and most every other worthy charitable organization or needy friend in the community. Most of his contributions were unknown and uncelebrated as publicity was not his motive. Few people beyond the benefactor knew of his generosity. I doubt he ever even thought of it as being a philanthropist. He was just being a good neighbor. Even his major business successes are not well known, such as when he and Tom Nicholson financed the beginning of Micron Technology and then later talked Jack Simplot into adding more money at another critical stage in the company’s development. The multitude of business partnerships and ventures benefitting people and communities in Idaho and far beyond ranged from building white water rafts and knives to airplane charters, hotels, power plants, saw mills, and mines to ranches and farms.
Ron was in his third four-year term on our Board and had been its secretary for eight years. Despite his busy schedule he attended almost every Board meeting and seldom missed even an Executive Committee conference call. His fingerprints are all over the World Center from the front entry gate built and installed by Yanke Machine Shop (the business his family founded and Ron took over operation of at 18 when his father became ill) to the heating and air conditioning on many of the buildings placed and maintained by his company. He even hauled in large rocks to landscape the public interpretive center and placed them personally with his crane. There was the time he, Tom, and Jim organized and put on a barbeque during the Peregrine Victory Celebration for 1,000 people with Ron and Tom doing much of the cooking and serving themselves. Not to be forgotten are the 340 acres of land the two of them and their wives donated to “square up the boundary” of The Peregrine Fund property, creating a buffer around the birds and facilities from future potential development. Then there was the money they donated to help Jim Nelson pave the road and the modular home Ron donated that is our office and living quarters in Arizona for the condor releases, and the list goes on.
He was bigger than life and probably had more fun in his 68 years than most others might in several lifetimes. I doubt he ever missed a sunrise and probably seldom was in bed much before midnight. There was just too much to do that he enjoyed.We miss Ron and things will not be the same without him. Our deepest sympathy for those he has left behind, both family and close friends. He has a special place in our hearts and minds, now and always. His spirit soars with the falcons just beyond life’s horizon. Thanks, Ron.