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Interview With Mary Maurer and George Vandersluis

[This interview by Roger Rowlett appeared in the 2nd Quarter Issue of Apex to Zenith]

It’s hard to imagine what the Highpointers Club would be like without the efforts of Mary Maurer and George Vandersluis who have teamed up to some of the hardest, unsung jobs in the past 10 years.

They hosted back to back conventions in 1993 and 1994 in South Dakota and New Mexico (the only people to host more than one convention). They have been on the Board of Directors since the Club started having a board in 1998 (they’re the only married couple to do that – the bylaws permit married couples on the board as long as they have separate memberships).

George has been the club’s only treasurer since Jack Longacre turned over responsibilities for this in 1998. It’s a job that evolved from one simple account in one state to the national club we are now with several accounts in three states (Colorado, Oklahoma, and Tennessee). This past winter and fall George has spent countless hours organizing the accounts in preparation for filing the proper 501-c-7 application for IRS recognition of the club.

This past year Mary was secretary in addition to her duties collecting money for the Illinois 2003 Convention.

Mary and George, winners of a Vin Hoeman Award, have both said they would like to step down from their formal officer duties this year.

What was your first highpoint?
George:
Officially, Mt. Whitney in September 1968. The second was Mt. Elbert in August, 1969. It was downhill after that for everything else in the lower 48 after doing the two highest. Years earlier, I had walked over the top of Spruce Knob on a field trip, but returned years later to do it officially.

Mary:
Guadalupe Peak, Texas, during the 1990 convention

Why did you start highpointing?
George:
I really didn’t “start” highpointing. My love for the mountains started in 1952 and 1953 when I hiked in Glacier National Park, MT, with my father, Richard. In the 1960’s I lived in Farmington, NM, and began climbing the highest peaks of the ranges in the Four Corners area of the southwest. By 1978 I had completed the peaks in Colorado above 14,000 feet. That year, Barb Byron and I formed the “Peak a Week” club with the idea of averaging one peak for each week of the year. The first few years we hiked or climbed more than 80 peaks a year. By 1987 when Jack Longacre founded the Highpointers Club, I had been to the summit of several hundred peaks including the highest point in 36 states. It didn’t occur to me that doing all of the state highpoints was a big deal. I assumed that a few hundred people had accomplished that already. When I read the Associated Press article about Jack and Don Berens being only the 7th and 8th persons to reach all 50 state highpoints, my thinking changed. Mary called Jack in 1987, and we became Highpointers! I reached the summit of McKinley in 1988, and finished the remaining 13 by the summer of 1989 to become the 11th person to do all 50.

Mary:
Because George was highpointing and I wanted to be with him!

How did you find the highpoints before Don’s and Paul’s books?
George:
There was no problem finding the prominent peaks that I did first: California, Colorado, New Mexico, Washington, Hawaii, etc. Most highway maps get you close enough, and there were other guidebooks for the higher peaks. Frank Ashley published his “Highpoints of the States” in 1970. This was useful for the less prominent highpoints, but unfortunately became outdated. I had to return to Michigan in 1989 to do Mt. Arvon as my last state highpoint after climbing Mt. Curwood ten years earlier.

How did you meet?
George:
Through a mutual friend. I was very lucky to have Mary come into my life.

Mary:
George & I share a very dear friend who asked me if she could give George my phone number in 1985. I was not really in the mood to meet anyone, but she is a real nagger, so I finally said “You may give him my number, but just make sure he knows that all I’m interested in is going to movies or hiking with him!” So, she gave George my number, but he was a little slow about calling me. Our friend kept asking him if he had called. Finally, so that she would quit bugging him, he called. He began the conversation with “Anny told me to call and she keeps bugging me so I finally decided to call so that she will quit bugging me”….And, then, he realized what he was saying and felt embarrassed! I just laughed since I know how persistent she can be!

Our first date was a walk in Denver, where we discovered lots in common, including the fact that we have lived in many of the same places over time, sometimes at the same time. George graduated from my rival high school in Ohio, but we didn’t know each other then! I knew this was going to be a unique relationship when George’s first gift to me was a pair of gaiters! I truly feel that we were meant to be together.

I am one lucky person to have met this caring, wonderful man with whom I am spending my life!

What’s your background (birthplace, kids, education, job, etc.)?

George:
I lived in 5 states before graduating from high school. I was born in North Dakota, moved to the north edge of the Black Hills in South Dakota, then to Wisconsin, and on to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where I spent 10 years canoeing, camping, and returning in the summers to the western U.S. I completed high school in Lima, Ohio (where Mary was born and raised). Two degrees in geology were obtained from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

I have two wonderful daughters, Laurie Vandersluis Sullivan, and Suzan Vandersluis, by a previous marriage. Both have been Highpointers and accompanied me on several climbs. They have attended several conventions and helped with registration at the 1994 New Mexico Convention.

Work as a geologist has included assignments in 35 to 40 states, and at least 20 foreign countries. As Chief Geologist for Dravo International, I had work assignments on every continent except the Antarctic in one 18 month period. A lot of interesting and sometimes dangerous places: Pakistan, India, Thailand, Indonesia, Colombia, Rwanda, Bulgaria, Turkey, Australia, etc.

Mary:
I was born in Lima, Ohio. I have one son from a previous marriage who will be 40 (YIKES!!) next November! I have a masters degree in Social Work Gerontology from the University of Denver. My entire career was spent working with older adults, beginning with outreach work, looking for seniors to attend a meal program, delivering meals to their homes as needed, and ending with managing one of the best assisted living facilities in Colorado for 10 years. Now, I am semi-retired, but work a couple days a week in the wonderful Montrose United Methodist Church.

I had not intended to live in Colorado. I moved from Bakersfield, California to attend Graduate School at the University of Denver. I expected to attend DU, get my degree and return home to warm, sunny California; however, I fell in love with Colorado and stayed.

I had done a few back packs and some short hikes, but never anything like I have done with George.

How did you find out about the club?

George:
A 1987 Associate Press newspaper article was sent to us by a friend who knew I had done several state highpoints.

Mary:
A friend of ours gave us a notice from a newspaper about the Highpointers. I phoned our “Jakk”, had a wonderful long conversation, and three years later we went to the Highpoint Convention in Texas!!

How long have you been treasurer?
George:
Since 1998 (way too long)

What are some of the complications of handling club finances?
George:
In 1998 I was asked if I would be on the Board of Directors and, if so, would I assume the job of Treasurer. Being asked was an honor, and at the time it looked like a simple job. Jack Longacre had done everything for the club prior to 1998. He only had one account and tabulated all his financial dealings on a handwritten sheet of paper. I’m not a bookkeeper or accountant, but I have been a treasurer for other organizations. All that seemed to be required was keeping track of contributions and account totals. Things changed in a hurry: Craig Noland became Membership Chairman and received most of the dues and contributions: an account in Tennessee was required. John Mitchler and Dave Covill became editors of the Newsletter, and an account was needed for them in Colorado. Then separate accounts were set up for the Good Guys and Gals Fund, and the Zumwalt Fund. It became necessary to set up a General Fund for the Treasurer. A Prepaid Dues account was established to contain monies from people who had paid more than one-years dues at renewal time. Jean Trousdale opened the Club Mercantile and began selling club pins, T-shirts, etc. Consequently an account was necessary in Oklahoma. The Illinois 2003 Convention also needed an account which used the Club’s EIN.

With transfers going on between these accounts, and with contributions being deposited directly into accounts by people other than the Treasurer—the job rapidly became more than just keeping track on a simple piece of paper.

How much time a month do you spend doing this?
George:
Someone trained as an accountant or bookkeeper could probably do this task in a couple of hours each month. It takes me longer.

What was the rationale for the fiscal year ending in June (and then in calendar year)?
George:
Initially there wasn’t an official fiscal year. Jack kept track of dues which went for typing and mailing the newsletter. Dues started at $2 and then went to $5. Essentially all the money went for the newsletter. With less than 100 members it was easy to keep track of people and money. Then Don Holmes wrote the Bylaws and filed for corporate, non-profit status in Colorado. The Treasurers responsibilities included an annual report and it seemed reasonable to end the fiscal year on June 30th which was usually about a month before the convention and board of directors meeting. We just recently changed to the calendar year when the Club filed for Non-Profit Status as a 501-c-7 with the IRS.

What was involved in preparing the 501-c-7 application?
George:
The financial portion of the 501-c-7 was a real chore. It was necessary to go back through four years of dues, contributions, awards, back issues, compendiums, conventions, credits, debits, transfers, inventories, etc. for all the accounts in order to satisfy the requirements of the IRS. I initially did this for the July to June fiscal year. Jean Trousdale at the Club Mercantile had to go through sales and inventories for the past years. She did this on a calendar year basis. That and other circumstances made it advisable to re-do everything on a calendar-year schedule. The time for Jean and I to do this was measured in weeks.

What suggestions do you have for improving the handling of club finances?
George:
I’ll have some suggestions for the board of directors and the next treasurer, who hopefully will be more qualified than I.

What is involved with being secretary?
Mary:
This is probably one of the easiest jobs in the club! All that is involved is taking minutes at the annual meeting, drafting them, and sending them to the board for approval!

Do you have suggestions for the next secretary?
Mary:
Sure…set firm limits on how many nit picky changes you are willing to accept about the minutes! HA!

What other interests do you have?
George:
Mary and I travel quite a bit: visited more than 20 states last year. We lead 12 or more trips each year for the local Colorado Mountain Club Chapter, and participate in another local hiking group. We do a lot of cross country skiing, hiking, and climbing in Colorado.

Mary:
Currently, my passion is whatever I am doing at the moment! So, that means it changes from day-to-day & minute-to-minute! We have 3 grandchildren that I love to spend time with. Two of them are boys. Our granddaughter is the light of my life. Not only was she our first grandchild, but I feel a very special bond with her…and her name is Mikinly (a take off on Mt. McKinley in honor of her Grandfather’s climb). I have a Xeriscape garden that requires a little time in the warmer months, but I also enjoy reading, hiking, cooking, bicycling, cross country skiing, and watching movies.

Mary, do you think you will “complete”?
Mary:
HA! You must be kidding!! Me, on a glacier? Me, roped up! Do you think I am crazy? Actually, when the club chose Mt. Rainer for 2004, George’s daughter, Suzan and I discussed whether or not we would make the climb. We decided that we would train for it, even if we didn’t do the climb, because it would be a good training goal. However….I spent too much time reading about the mountain and decided it just wasn’t for me. I have completed 40 highpoints and will do a few more with George’s help, but the chances of me finishing are slim since I am not crazy about snow climbs!

What other climbing lists have you pursued?
George:
I’ve done the highest point in each of Colorado’s 64 counties; all the named peaks or mountains (90+) in Clear Creek County Colorado; also Gilpin County, and all but 4 private peaks in Jefferson County. The “purists” say that because I haven’t done every unnamed point with greater than 300’ of relief in these counties, none of them count as “official”. It doesn’t make much difference to me; the main purpose was just to get into the mountains and hike or climb. I’ve gone back to 40 state highpoints two or more times and plan to do a few more.

My unofficial goal each year is to do 50 ascents. If a peak is on a particular list somewhere, I’ll check it off after I’ve done it. But, I haven’t kept a total list of summit climbs for years and probably can’t tell you within 200 as to how many I’ve done. The essence of climbing to me is being out in the wonder of nature’s world, traveling to new places, and, on occasion, challenging your physical and mental abilities.

Is there anything about the club or board you would change?
George:
Yes. I could make suggestions.

Mary:
Sometimes, I feel that the Board gets bogged down in minutia, but there is really nothing I would change. My hope is that the club stays down-to-earth, in honor of Jack Longacre. He founded this club on the basis of common sense, friendship and a love of the outdoors. Let’s keep it that way.

What’s your favorite thing about highpointing?
George:
To answer this question it is necessary to separate the act of highpointing from the Highpointers Club. My favorite thing about highpointing was traveling to new areas, seeing new sites, and the feeling of accomplishment on most summits.

The best things about the Highpointers Club are the people. We attended our first convention in Texas in 1990, more than a year after I had completed the 50 states. The people we met there convinced me that I wanted to be an active participant of this group. People like Don Holmes, Jack and Joyce Parsell, and of course, Jack Longacre. Bob Failing was there, Freddie Carter, Don Berens, and others. Hosting back-to-back conventions in South Dakota and New Mexico gave us the opportunity to meet and know many others who became our friends. We look forward to renewing friendships with people like Ray and Jan Nelson, Charlie and Diane Winger, and so many others at each convention. It’s the people that make the Club worthwhile.

Mary:
The Highpointers Club is very special to me. In 1990, when we did my first highpoint (Guadalupe Peak), I was so nervous! As we hiked along the lower trail, Rudy Vedovell was at the head of a line of about 7-8 men hiking. Rudy hollered, “Let’s all say who we are, where we are from and how many highpoints we have completed.” Well, from reading the newsletter, I knew the names of the people who had already completed many of the highpoints, and they were in this lineup! Jack Longacre, Don Berens, Bob Failing, Jack Parsell and George (approximately half the completers alive at the time). My thought was: “Boy, am I in trouble!” But I have learned over the years that this wonderful group of people (for the most part) is not into “machoing” up the highpoint. They are into enjoying the hike/climb and sharing stories about other adventures! Where else on this wonderful planet is there a group of people who come together, once a year, from all over the US, & other countries too, for a get together based on their love of getting out and seeing the world!

My favorite thing?? The camaraderie that exists among all of us!