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NWTF's Founder Tom Rodgers

1944 — 2008

NWTF Founder Tom Rodgers pictured with the last wild turkey he harvested. This photo was taken by the original Turkey Call Editor, Gene Smith, during the 2008 spring turkey hunting season.

From Humble Beginnings

The NWTF started small. In 1969, Tom Rodgers began his conservation career by writing a syndicated outdoor column about wild turkeys and smallmouth bass — his two favorite topics — for several Northern Virginia newspapers.

Rodgers began laying the groundwork for the NWTF in 1971. He founded and named the NWTF and Turkey Call magazine, the NWTF's first flagship publication, in his hometown of Fredericksburg, Va., in 1973. Later that year, Rodgers moved the NWTF's headquarters to its permanent home in Edgefield, S.C., and co-founded the first NWTF state chapter with his friend Sam Crouch, Sr. in Edgefield soon after.

Rodgers invested $10,000 in the NWTF, becoming the conservation organization's first donor and diamond life sponsor. Since then, the NWTF has helped raise and spend more than $412 million upholding hunting traditions and conserving 17.25 million acres of wildlife habitat.

One effort that helped lift the organization off the ground was the creation of the NWTF Stamp and Print program, a fund raising tool that's still being used by conservation organizations to this day. This program has raised millions of dollars for wildlife conservation.

After forming the NWTF and moving the organization to Edgefield, Rodgers served as the NWTF's first president and executive vice president until his retirement in 1981. He also is credited with helping create the NWTF's reward program for turning in poachers.

Rodgers helped develop the International Quail Foundation in 1982 after leaving the NWTF, and served as head of the modern Quail Conservation Movement until 1986. The next year, he introduced Smallmouth Magazine and Smallmouth, Inc. He later became the first host of "The Dodge Everyday Sportsman" television show.

From starting with a cigar box full of membership applications to having members in the United States, Canada, Mexico and 14 other countries, the NWTF has come a long way since then.

"My dream was to give the wild turkey a promising future, and I knew that trapping and transferring wild turkeys was the way to accomplish that mission," Rodgers said. "Now the Federation has become an organization that not only restores North America's grandest gamebird and their habitat, but also brings new hunters into the fold and fights to protect our hunting heritage. I couldn't be more proud."

Since the 1950s, state and provincial wildlife agencies have moved 200,000 wild turkeys to suitable habitat across North America. Throughout its history, the NWTF has helped accelerate those efforts through the purchase of trapping equipment, transfer boxes, funding and the help of its volunteers. NWTF honored Rodgers with a one-of-a-kind Founder's Award during a ceremony at NWTF headquarters in Edgefield, S.C., in 2008.

He passed away on Christmas day in 2008 after a long battle with cancer.

"Tom's influence on the conservation industry, on wildlife and hunters' rights was immeasurable," said George Thornton, NWTF CEO. "Without him, the NWTF wouldn't exist, and wild turkeys literally would not be where they are today. Knowing the man who created the NWTF and recognizing his contributions, which helped make NWTF one of the most dynamic and respected conservation organizations in North America, is truly an honor."

When Rodgers founded the NWTF in 1973, there were only 1.3 million wild turkeys throughout North America. Since then, the number of wild turkeys has increased to more than 7 million birds thanks to state, federal and provincial wildlife agencies, the NWTF, its members and partners. Much of the restoration was achieved through trapping and transferring wild turkeys to suitable habitat -- an idea conceived by Rodgers.

"Tom is the reason the NWTF is here, working daily to promote wildlife conservation and preserve North America's hunting heritage," said James Earl Kennamer, Ph.D., chief conservation officer. "As the organization reflects on its rich history, we honor the man who started it all. He was a great friend personally, a great asset for wildlife and he is greatly missed."

"All the NWTF has accomplished — from restoring wild turkeys and their habitat to defending our privileges to hunt — began with one great man's extraordinary vision," NWTF CEO George C. Thornton said. "His legacy will continue through the NWTF's conservation efforts, outreach programs, thousands of volunteers and members for many years to come."

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