by Gentry Hale
The late Stan Gilligan would spend entire days watching deer and other wildlife at his special hunting spot in northern New York. He observed how whitetails reacted to him getting in and out of a tree stand, how they alerted to his scent on a game trail when he wore rubber boots versus leather boots, how mature bucks would scare off smaller ones as they approached. Rich with oaks, hickories and a nearby apple orchard, the area was an all-you-can-eat buffet for whitetails—and Stan never ran into another hunter there. The parcel, which a close friend and fellow Vietnam War veteran allowed him to hunt, is sandwiched between the Canadian border and the roaring Chateaugay River, and is a place where he nurtured a deep love for wildlife.
Stan became fascinated in his later years with simply observing wildlife in their natural habitat. Knowing RMEF’s commitment to conserving those very things he so cherished, he and Dana decided to donate the entirety of their estate to RMEF upon their passing. Dana died in February of 2019, and Stan passed away two months later in April.
Stan was born in Malone, New York, in 1950. After high school he served in the U.S. Army artillery unit in Vietnam before spending over a decade as a tractor trailer driver. He then worked for U.S. Customs at the Canadian border for more than 20 years. He carried a deep love for his country, and proudly volunteered as a member of the Honor Guard for the American Legion Post in Chateauguay.
Dana was born in Dexter, New York, in 1950. She attended Franklin Academy in Malone, then spent 33 years as a social worker. In her freetime, she found the outdoors to be a perfect place to unwind, whether camping, canoeing, bowhunting or riding horses. That also made her a great match for Stan, whom she married in 2002.
The couple were proud golden retriever owners. From fetching the mail at Stan’s work to sitting next to him on a chair at the lunch counter and even occasionally sporting an RMEF hat, their dogs were their children.
Dana and Stan hunted together but would happily go their separate ways in the woods. “They were independent but very much enjoyed each other’s company,” says Dave Allen, a cousin and dear friend of Stan. Dave says Dana was the type of person to dive head-on into adventures, willing to try anything while Stan had a steady pace and was very observant, spotting deer that his entire hunting party had walked right by. Stan had a deep admiration for animals, joking that he chose to worship his dogs because dog was God spelled backward, Dave says.
Dave grew up a few miles away from Stan, and they became as close as brothers. Dave’s dad, Emery Allen, was a father-figure for Stan and the reason that he got into big game hunting.
That led him to take up bowhunting, and archery was a love he shared with Dana throughout their marriage. Stan made his own bows, quivers and arrows, fletched with feathers from turkeys his brother had hunted. Dana and Stan would take their dogs on long walks, bringing their bows along to shoot at stumps.
Stan was known for his humorous stories and uncanny delivery. “He could rattle off a joke off the top of his head at any time. Most of them were a little off-color,” says Dave with a chuckle. Stan’s 95-year-old mother, Fay, says she has a clear memory of him and Dana walking through her front door, always wearing a smile with a dog by their side.
In 1977, Stan, Dave and a close friend Wayne Louey took a trip to a lodge north of Meeker, Colorado, for Stan’s first archery elk hunt. There Stan killed his first and only elk, and his love and appreciation of Rocky Mountain elk country was born. Stan and Dana returned there several times through the years, horseback riding, sightseeing and in the process, fostering their desire to support conservation of wildlife and wild places.
Stan and Dana may have passed away, but their legacy is alive and well today. They left the entirety of their estate to RMEF, the proceeds of which are now being put to good use for elk, other wildlife and habitat. Both are members of RMEF’s Trails Society—donors who have chosen to include RMEF as a beneficiary in their estate planning through a will, life insurance policy, retirement account or other means.
“Stan loved going out west and just loved the outdoors. And I think somewhere along the line he just connected with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation because he believed in trying to preserve elk habitat and quiet places,” says Dave. “He wanted to make sure that it’s around for generations to come.”