WYOMING – You probably didn’t know Rita Poe. Hardly anybody did. The tall, thin woman with salt-and-pepper hair kept to herself. She lived simply out of a 27-foot Airstream travel trailer that she used to visit wildlife refuges and parks throughout the West.
Poe took her last breath parked in lot #412 at the SKP RV Park in Chimacum, Washington, where she lived for the summer of 2015. The manager there, Nancy Zingheim, probably knew her best, but that was only to collect the rent check for her lot space or wave hello when she saw Poe out walking her Italian greyhound/basenji mix named IG.
One day in September, Poe asked Zingheim to be the executor of her will. Zingheim agreed and Poe died of colon cancer a month later at the age of 66. Zingheim was fairly surprised to find the will left almost everything Poe had in her name—some $800,000—to eight National Wildlife Refuges and four parks (including Yellowstone) across the West.
The amount took Zingheim by surprise but not where the money was going. She had come to know Poe as a true lover of nature and wildlife. After Poe’s death, Zingheim made a special trip in April 2017 to visit the places Poe’s final act of generosity was going. “I had never heard of a (National Wildlife) Refuge,” Zingheim admitted. “I wanted the money to go to what Rita would have wanted.”
Zingheim carried out the will to completion. In addition to making sure Poe’s funds went to causes she would have wanted, the RV park manager and her husband now have a new dog, IG, and Poe’s ashes were spread somewhere wild and special.
Where the money is going
• Camas National Wildlife Refuge (Idaho) – $96,551.48
• Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge (Washington) – $48,275.74
• Malheur National Wildlife Refuge (Oregon) – $48,275.74
• San Luis National Wildlife Refuge (Calif) – $48,275.74
• Merced National Wildlife Refuge (Calif) – $96,551.48
• Tulelake National Wildlife Refuge (Calif) – $72,413.61
• Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge (Utah) – $48,275.74
• Laguna Atascosta National Wildlife Refuge (Texas) – $48,275.74
• Hueco Tanks State Park (Texas) – $72,413.61
• Choke Canyon State Park (Texas) – $48,275.74
• Mammoth Hot Springs Campground, Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming) – $120,689.35
• Wild Birding Center (Texas) – $48,275.74