Director’s Letter February 2020

Gothic is for Families

Having met my wife and raised two boys in Gothic, the subject of families at RMBL is dear to my heart.   Jennie and I had a typical RMBL romance (and you can read another story of family and science in the adjoining article), wandering across years, states and universities, as we narrowed in on how we might create one life involving two scientific careers.

RMBL has always been central to us.  I started coming to Gothic in 1988 and Jennie started in 1993, but we didn’t really notice each other until 1995.  That summer we both arrived early and discovered a shared interest in literature when swapping physical books was still a thing.

We spent a winter in Gothic in 1996/97.  I was writing up my PhD thesis and she did most of the skiing of supplies in from Crested Butte.  The relationship stuck, despite how many books she carried in for me, including a rather thick history of Europe.

I moved to Crested Butte in 2001 to start working for RMBL and Jennie followed in 2002.  In May of that year we ran down to the CB Town Hall and signed marriage papers, grabbing lunch afterwards in a new restaurant called the Secret Stash.  In typical introverted scientist fashion we didn’t tell anybody about the marriage until the fall after most people had left.  We figured by the following summer it would be old news and we wouldn’t have to talk about it as much.

Our family is just one of hundreds for whom Gothic has been important, including couples that met on local peaks, hiking, or at dance parties.  Children have dodged porcupines in the willows, made money stocking toilet paper in outhouses, rode horses through the local valleys, and more recently learned to be comfortable without cell phone coverage.  Now a smoke free campus, one old-timer confessed that as a teen-ager she accidentally burned down one of the old mining buildings smoking cigarettes.

Dr. John C. Johnson, who founded RMBL in 1928, set the tone for the importance of families, raising four kids in Gothic.  His son Chris served as Director for 10 years and his granddaughter, Carol Johnson, served as a leader on RMBL’s Board.  Many Johnsons continue to return, including Carol’s daughters Vera and Avery and Carol’s brother Doug.  The Johnson family has established not only that families are welcome, but that they define our community; kids, partners, and parents are all part of the magical mix.

Being family friendly is a central part of what makes RMBL special scientifically.   We are known for our collection of long-term field studies, with projects extending decades and crossing generations.  Scientists can invest lifetimes in RMBL because they and their families are welcome in Gothic.

The Inouye family captures the importance of families to science.  Following his father, who visited Gothic as a student, David and Bonnie Inouye were Swarthmore students who found their way to Gothic, eventually marrying.  David started the phenology project, which has become world-renowned for tracking changes in plant flowering times.  His son, Dr. Brian Inouye, and his daughter-in-law, Dr. Nora Underwood, met in Gothic, and as prominent field scientists, have become actively involved in the phenology project as well as introducing the 4th generation of Inouyes to Gothic.  The history of the Inouye family is inextricably tied to fundamental insights into how the world is changing.

Without RMBL families, it is fair to say that ecologists around the world would know a great deal less!  In offering memories, friendships, and adventures to families, we have deepened our understanding of the world!

Ian Billick - Director RMBL

Ian Billick | PhD
Executive Director, RMBL