The price of nature

It’s a common story. A family visits Crested Butte to ski, falls in love with the alpine wonderland, and returns again and again. Soon they discover the gifts that other seasons bring, like summer’s riotous explosion of wildflowers and fall’s golden blankets of aspens.

Before long, they’ve bought a home and claimed a piece of the West Elk Mountains as their own. Spending any time in the Crested Butte area means rubbing shoulders with RMBL researchers. That leads to questions about what goes on at Gothic, which leads to the discovery of one of science’s hidden gems, a place so valuable that it influences environmental policies and attracts a star-studded cast of scientists from around the world to mine its treasures.

In the 1990s, Anna Reilly and Matt Cullinan made an accidental trip to Crested Butte as it was the only available destination for a last-minute ski trip. That began a multi-decade love affair with Gunnison Valley.

The more they learned about RMBL, the greater their admiration grew. Their daughter Grace, already interested in environmental biology, enrolled in a summer session assisting a scientist researching aspen trees. In addition to being a fascinating learning experience for Grace, it got her name added to an academic paper on the research.

Both Anna and Matt have a long history in higher education, so RMBL’s commitment to research opportunities for students caught their attention. They were especially impressed with RMBL’s focus on providing opportunities for students from socio-economic backgrounds that limit the pursuit of scientific careers. “RMBL gives opportunities to students devoted to science who would ordinarily never have the chance,” said Anna.

For the last decade or so, Anna and Matt have been regular donors to RMBL, specifically to fund scholarships for underserved students. In Winston-Salem, where they live, Matt serves on the Board of Trustees of The Winston-Salem Foundation, whose areas of focus include advancing equity in education. Contributing to scholarships for deserving students is right up his alley.

The cause is just as dear to Anna, who has supported nonprofits focused on early education and economic opportunities for more than three decades.

As for Grace, it could be said that her upbringing with philanthropic parents and her love of the environment, reinforced by student research at RMBL, have brought her to the vocation she was made for. She and her husband co-chair the board of Gateway Nature Preserve in Winston- Salem.

In the Reilly-Cullinan family, people put their money where their passions are. To the benefit of RMBL science, and especially the students whose dreams are sparked by it, Anna and Matt are well aware of their reasons for supporting the lab. “It’s worth investing in to ensure that we know what we need to know as the climate in the mountains, in the water, and in everything else we love here comes under pressure.”

It’s one thing to admire the beauty of this extraordinary natural setting. But as Matt says, “We need RMBL to remind us that this is not a given.”


Anna Reilly

Anna has supported nonprofits focused on early education and economic opportunity for the past 30 years. She is a director for The Lamar Advertising Company and a past director of St. Joseph Capital Bank in South Bend, Indiana. Anna is chair of the Board of the Boston Thurmond Community Network and the Advisory Board of Face to Face of Wake Forest University. Her other board service includes the Board of Visitors for Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy and the board of Bethesda Center for the Homeless and other community-based organizations. She also chaired the grants committee of The Community Foundation of St. Joseph County. She received her Bachelor’s degree from Emory University and a Masters of Public Policy from Duke University. 

Matthew Cullinan

Matthew has spent nearly three decades in leadership positions in higher education at Wake Forest University, the University of Notre Dame, and the University of Denver. He is a member of the Board of Trustees of Winston-Salem State University and vice chair of Project Impact. Matt was previously chair of the Duke University Sanford School of Public Policy Board of Visitors, board chair at Summit School, trustee of Be The Change, and on the advisory council of the University of Notre Dame College of Arts and Letters.