Every conservation group needs friends like Verne and Marion Read – but few are fortunate enough to have such indispensable supporters. Verne Read's inspiration, expertise and generous donations were essential in founding BCI, in moving the organization from Wisconsin to Texas in 1985, and in achieving many of our greatest successes. It is hard to imagine BCI's 30 years without these extraordinary friends.
"They listened when no one else heard," says Founder Merlin Tuttle.
"We certainly feel that we've benefited from our relationship with BCI and with Merlin," Verne said recently. "Saving the bats of the world is one of the most important things you can do. BCI has helped people understand why bats are so important, and we are very happy to have played a part in it. And Marion has been a very essential part in all this. I couldn't have done it without her."
The Reads' commitment to bats began several years before BCI was launched, when the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, couple learned that a colony of bats was living inside the wall of their summer home. Verne discovered that the only person in the area who knew anything about bats was "a bright young man named Merlin Tuttle, who had just been made a curator at the Milwaukee Public Museum."
Merlin inspected the house, identified a maternity colony of some 2,000 little brown myotis and suggested the Reads were fortunate to be hosting them. "It didn't take long for him to convince us that bats are worthwhile," Verne says.
"That meeting led to our commitment to leave things as they were – and had been for many years – and to help Merlin work with bats in any way we could."
And help they did.
When Merlin decided to create Bat Conservation International, Verne and Marion provided the organization's first donation. Verne helped organize the fledgling nonprofit and became its founding board member. He served many years as Chairman of the Board and is now Chairman Emeritus. BCI is a family effort for the Reads: son Thomas served on the board and son Sandy is now a Trustee.
"We told Merlin we would fund some of his bat trips if we could go along," Verne says. Merlin recalls that the Reads weren't tourists: they worked tirelessly with him. These trips included a visit to Thailand in 1982 that led to protection for a critical cave-bat colony.
They joined Merlin and BCI Member Paul Cox on a trip to American Samoa, where flying foxes were declining rapidly. That led to a ban on commercial hunting. And at a meeting with the islands' governor, Verne says, he "suggested the possibility of creating an American national park on the islands, which are U.S. territory."
BCI and the Reads worked to convince the U.S. Congress that the park was vital. As Merlin recalls: "It was Verne Read's tenacity that led to (preliminary congressional hearings) being held in Samoa in January 1987." Verne, Merlin and Paul Cox testified for the park, which was eventually approved by Congress and signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1988.
For his crucial role in establishing this park, Verne received a 1989 national Chevron Conservation Award, which honors those who "represent an unbroken commitment to conservation and symbolize the very best in our society."
Over the decades, Verne and Marion have supported and actively worked on many of BCI's most important projects and programs, from efforts to protect countless bats in mines to the Student Research Scholarship Program. They're still at it: this past October, the Reads helped underwrite a Year of the Bat symposium that brought BCI leaders and others to the Field Museum in Chicago.
Verne and Marion Read's impact on BCI is beyond measure.
So what are they proudest of? "Oh, I think just everything," Verne said. "The experiences we had were wonderful, and we wouldn't have had them without BCI."
BCI showed them new wonders of nature. Marion recalls a visit years ago to an island off Central America. "There were both frogs and frog-eating bats on this island. Merlin said the frogs croaked to get a mate. But when they did, the bats would come and eat the frogs. So they learned to croak a little less loudly. Isn't that wonderful? I've always remembered that."