The Last Ball

If you attended a Foresters’ Ball in the last 45 years, you would have seen him. John Fidler – legendary alumnus, mentor and behind-the-scenes supporter of the W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation and its many student organizations.

He was there bright and early, helping students create a turn-of-the-century logging town inside Schreiber Gym. As each new cohort of students cycled through UM, John was the constant. His historical memory for how to source lumber, engineer an indoor slide and properly install the ball’s unique wooden dance floor ensured this complex project and hands-on student learning experience never faltered.

“John helped generations of students,” said Ron Wakimoto, emeritus professor of forest fire science, who met John in the early 1980s.

Assembling the saloon bar front for the Foresters' Ball.John’s love of the college and his devotion to its students was epic. In addition to being a fixture at every Foresters’ Ball since 1971, John cheered on the UM Woodsman’s Team at logging events and cooked breakfast for students and faculty at an annual Forestry Club event, the Fall Smoker.

As Ron remembers it, “My first year teaching at UM, I show up early, and John already had it under control. He’d had the sourdough starter for the pancakes going since the night before.”

It’s no surprise, then, that John was also a donor to his beloved college. Over a decade ago, he started establishing charitable gift annuities with the UM Foundation. The annuities provided him with lifetime payments and tax savings, with the remaining annuity funds designated to support UM.

Then, 18 months ago, John got sick. He was diagnosed with cancer.

“John was one who gave to others,” says Jill Kinyon, his longtime friend. Leaving his estate to benefit forestry students “was something he had always talked about, and he took the necessary steps to ensure it happened.”

Knowing that his illness might not give him much time, John and Jill contacted the UM Foundation to make sure that his gift would benefit what he cared about most: students, forestry and fire management.

John’s last Foresters’ Ball was February 2016. The students, faculty and alumni presented him with a plaque: “In honor of a lifetime of contribution.”

He died two months later, taken away too soon.

This year, UM held the 100th Forester’s Ball, the first in 46 years without John Fidler. But thanks to his foresight and generosity, John Fidler will always be part of the W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation.

The first John Fidler Scholarship, created with John’s estate gift, has already been awarded. This academic year, the recipient was Kate Page, “chief push” of the 2017 Foresters’ Ball.

The scholarship means more than just financial support to her.

“John Fidler was a mentor to me in my time here, and I know he was to many others along the way,” says Kate. “I need to thank him one more time for passing on 45 years of wisdom.”

Each year, in perpetuity, more forestry or fire management students will honor John’s memory by bearing a scholarship with his name.

“This was John’s passion,” says Jill. “Having known so many of the students as they’ve come through – that’s where he wanted to pay it forward.”