John Denver’s green message lives on
ASPEN ” When John Denver died in a plane crash 10 years ago this week, the nonprofit he co-founded nearly died as well.
But somehow the Windstar Foundation, which the singer-songwriter launched with Tom Crum in 1976, continues to carry the message of environmentalism, despite the loss of its biggest name.
It hasn’t been easy. Windstar shut down for three years after Denver’s death on Oct. 12, 1997, near Monterey, Calif. Slowly, however, the Old Snowmass organization has rebounded, albeit on a shoestring budget.
“When John was alive, naturally people were more inclined to donate to Windstar. John and Tom were doing this when the term ‘environmentalist’ didn’t exist,” said Ron Deutschendorf, Denver’s brother, in a telephone interview. “When I say, ‘Hi, this is Ron Deutschendorf,’ it doesn’t have the same effect. It’s sort of hard, and when John’s accident happened, what happened is Windstar went into a dormant state for three years.”
Windstar’s shaky fiscal health is reflected in tax records as well.
According to Windstar’s Form 990 tax return filed with the IRS last October, it received $41,027 in direct public support for the fiscal year running from Dec. 1, 2004, through Nov. 30, 2005. While that amount bettered the previous year’s $30,142 in public support and $26,948 the year prior, it still wasn’t enough to keep Windstar from operating in a deficit.
The foundation generated $80,634 in total revenue and spent $140,996 in the 2005 tax year, resulting in a deficit of $60,362, and reducing its net assets to $46,489, records show. Windstar’s biggest expense was $112,763 for its New Choices for Your Future Symposium held at the Snowmass Conference Center, which included such speakers like Dr. Jane Goodall. Symposiums held before Denver’s death attracted the likes of Al Gore, Ted Turner and Olivia Newton John.
Another $34,796 was spent in contract labor (Windstar Foundation has no payroll), $2,251 went toward advertising, and $1,374 was spent on newsletters, among other expenses. The foundation also handed out a $1,000 scholarship to Yale University, and scholarships of $500 each to the University of Alaska and Humboldt State University.
Membership is the biggest source of revenue for Windstar, Deutschendorf said.
“Like any foundation we’re always looking for donations and greater membership,” he said. “We just haven’t had the kind of funding we used to have. And outside the valley, I’m not sure anyone knows we exist.”
Deutschendorf, who does not earn a salary and lives in San Diego, keeps plugging along with new ideas.
“Windstar has a lot of assets that we haven’t used to the best of our advantage,” he said. “We’ve been very tight.”
Among those assets Deutschendorf describes is the music of his brother. Thanks to an agreement with a record label, Windstar is releasing a 1985 performance by Denver in Russia on CD that will be available to its members Nov. 6, before it is widely distributed.
Deutschendorf would like to see the seminars of such Windstar speakers as Gore and Turner put on DVD and sold, with proceeds going to the foundation.
Deutschendorf also sits on the board of the Windstar Land Conservancy, a separate nonprofit entity. The conservancy’s most recent tax form states its mission is to “preserve critical open space within the Roaring Fork Valley” and do so by acquiring and managing land.
While the conservancy has not been active lately in land buys, its tax return filed in February states it had $3.2 million in net assets for the year beginning July 1, 2005, and ending June 30, 2006. The main chunk of those assets is the land it owns in Old Snowmass, which its tax form says is worth $2.7 million.