Scholarship Established to Fund Children's Outdoor Activities

A local couple are honored for their leadership and lifelong stewardship of the natural environment.

 

The Friends of Mount Rogers, a group formed to extend public awareness of and support for the region's public lands, has announced the creation of the Rudolph and Louise Tilson Scholarship Fund.

The primary purpose of the fund will be to pave the way for children and teens to participate in activities and events offered by the Blue Ridge Discovery Center, including summer camps.

“We feel this is the perfect way to honor the memory of Mr. Tilson and to show our appreciation for Louise,” said Ed Hines, president of the Friends group. “With strong ties to both Smyth and Grayson counties, and with lives that have been true models of living in and stewardship of the natural environment, we are sure there could be no better namesakes than these two people for our efforts to preserve and promote our state and national parks, forests, and recreation area.”

After his mother's death when he was only two months old, Rudolph Tilson was raised in western Grayson County by his mother's family (Stephen and Cena Anderson) until moving to his father's (Charles N. Tilson) family farm in adjoining Smyth County. He served in the US Navy during World War II, and came home to marry a neighboring farm girl, Louise Hyler, in 1950. They had four children.

Rudolph, often described as “somebody who never met a stranger,” had a deep and abiding love for his Grayson County as well as his Smyth County families. He took great pleasure in the outdoors and horseback riding, and was known as a great storyteller; he often recounted stories about childhood time spent roaming the woods around Pine Mountain. He told about the times when “Uncle Bige,” a distant relative and Civil War veteran, took the young Rudolph “yarb huntin'” on mule back, and about the times when he would “wrap a blanket around a black iron skillet” and take to the woods for days at a time.

As a husband and father, Rudolph indoctrinated his children into the ways of the woods by piling the youngest on the family pony and leading them on long walks, by taking the whole family on weekend campouts, and by being a volunteer in local Boy Scouting activities. He enjoyed hunting and farming, and picnics were the order of the day, almost every summer weekend.

Louise Tilson, who at age 87 is still an active member of the Friends of Mount Rogers and who was a paid seasonal employee at the W. Pat Jennings Visitor Center until two years ago, also has encouraged young people to be part of the great outdoors. She grew up assisting her widowed father work their tobacco- and beef- farm in the Riverside community of Smyth County, and continues to be an avid vegetable and flower gardener. One of Mrs. Tilson's strong beliefs is that when times are tough or depression sets in, you should “go dig in the dirt,” a therapy that she says is free and available to everyone, and “gets you straightened out” for most people.

Mrs. Tilson, always a keen observer of nature, joined the ranks of official birdwatchers after her children were grown. She maintains a “life list” of hundreds of species of birds she has observed in the United States. She continues to enjoy this activity and to encourage others to become knowledgable and appreciative amateur ornithologists.

Hines explained that the Tilsons' lives and abiding interests are clear examples of what the Friends hope to make available to the widest possible audience. “The members of this group donate our time, talents, and funds to help make the therapy and pleasure of the wonderful natural resources of our area a part of many more people's lives.

“Because so much of modern living takes place in artificial environments, without the regular contact with nature that our parents and grandparents took for granted, we feel it's important to educate young people about what's all around them, right here. Once people are made aware, and have enjoyed what our public lands offer, they become better stewards and teachers, themselves.”

Hines continued, “That's why the idea of a scholarship is such a good fit, especially with these people [Rudolph and Louise Tilson] as models. Once children are introduced to the environment around them, they're usually connected for life.”

Donations to the fund can be made by contacting the Friends of Mount Rogers at their website, friendsofmountrogers.org. The Friends is a not-for-profit organization, and donations are tax-deductible.

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Friends of Mount Rogers
3714 Hwy 16
Marion, VA 24354 

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