Longtime native trout defender Jim Walker, of Scottsdale, has been awarded Trout Unlimited’s highest grassroots honor.
Walker was awarded the Ray Mortensen award, the coldwater conservation organization’s top volunteer honor, along with Marsha Benevengo of New Jersey at TU’s annual meeting July 20-24 in Portland, Maine, according to a press release.
Walker has been an active TU volunteer since 1989, and has held a series of high-level national leadership positions since 2009. A member of the Board of Trustees since 2013, Walker has most recently served as the chairman of TU’s National Leadership Council since 2018.
“In 2010 Jim co-founded and has since co-chaired the Arizona Native and Wild Trout Conference,” Trout Unlimited President and CEO Chris Wood said. “He has made more than 30 visits to Washington, D.C., to meet with Congressional offices and as many to meet with representatives in his home states to advocate for trout and cold, clean water.”
Walker, who was previously recognized as a TU National Stream Champion in 2012, has taken the Trout in the Classroom program in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area from three schools to more than 40.
“As we know, though, Jim’s greatest strengths lie in ensuring that he doesn’t do anything entirely by himself,” Wood said. “He perpetuates TU in his engagement of others. And he may just be one of the nicest people on earth.”
Walker said he was honored to receive the award.
“Like the past recipients, I have served whenever I could be of assistance and have encouraged others to do so as well,” he said. “I am thankful for the recognition, and when I view this award, I will remember the contributions to TU made by all volunteers.”
Ray Mortensen was a founding member of TU’s Chattooga River chapter in Clemson, S.C. He held numerous leadership positions with the chapter and the South Carolina State Council, including council chair. As a member of the TU National Resource Board, he helped shape TU’s National Conservation Agenda until his death in 1998.
The meeting in Portland drew more than 300 participants, including Trout Unlimited volunteer leaders from 37 states and leaders of partner organizations.
Corporate sponsors included L.L. Bean, Costa, Yeti, The Nature Conservancy, Allagash Brewing Company, EA Engineering and Orvis.
Benevengo was drawn to fly fishing after 9/11, finding solace on the water. A resident of Manalapan, N.J., she has been a longtime volunteer for Casting for Recovery, an organization that helps breast cancer survivors experience the healing power of fly fishing. A former director of diversity for her chapter, Benevengo was elected chair of the New Jersey Council in April of 2020, becoming the first woman of color to head a TU state council.
“As the daughter of a social worker and policeman, giving back is clearly a part of her DNA,” said Wood. “Of all the volunteer leader jobs at TU, it’s by far and away the most involved. It requires the management of all the chapters in the state, state level advocacy, communications, youth and veterans’ engagement, diversity and inclusion work, and so much more.
“Marsha took over at a time of need for her council. She’s brought rigor, direction, vision and good humor to each of these activities.”
Benevengo brings her leadership well beyond New Jersey, participating in TU’s national strategic planning process and for many years she’s contributing to the NLC’s Diversity and Inclusion workgroup.
“My role with TU and the work that I am involved in along with some amazing women conservationists and anglers defeats the foolish notion that women ‘cannot’ and people of color ‘don’t,’” she said. “We are making strides now and for future generations.”