Written by Melissa Murphy
For many of us Minnesotans, the fondest memories of our childhood consist of time spent outdoors with loved ones. The thrill of adrenaline reeling in your first-ever walleye. The first time spending a night in a tent. The first time gliding through the glass-like waters of the BWCA with the push of a paddle. This inexplicable connection to the outdoors captivates us from childhood well into our adult lives. Nature is the one thing that brings everyone together, despite our differences.
Long-time Wilderness Inquiry friend and supporter John Grady grew up loving the outdoors just as much as any other. While attending St. John’s University, John participated in trips to the wilderness with his friends, and WI co-founders, Greg Lais and Paul Schurke. John did not know at the time the impact that the budding Wilderness Inquiry would have on his family over the next few decades.
In 1986, John and his wife Sue welcomed their first daughter Shannon into the world. Despite being diagnosed with cerebral palsy, Shannon was full of life and captivated the hearts of those around her. As she got older, John wanted to show her all of the things he grew up loving — fishing, camping, hunting — but he admittedly didn’t know how to approach the outdoors with a child with cerebral palsy. Years later, John reconnected with Wilderness Inquiry and registered himself and Shannon for an expedition to the White Otter Wilderness.
“That trip was everything to me, and I think to both of us,” John noted. At 12 years old, Shannon was the only child on the trip, but that didn’t stop her. She jumped in with enthusiasm and eagerly helped around camp. Participants on that trip hailed from all walks of life, showing Shannon that there are adults out there that experience all kinds of barriers. As a parent of a child with cerebral palsy, John remembers “that trip was about as rewarding as anything I have ever done in my life. I wasn’t scared anymore, I was relieved. I can’t do this alone, and I realized that I don’t have to.”
Returning from the White Otter Wilderness expedition, John noticed a huge difference in his daughter. “She learned how to help people. She is a very compassionate person to her core and Wilderness Inquiry played a part in that.” John said. Each summer for the next few years, John and Shannon participated in a different Wilderness Inquiry trip. According to their trip leader Michael, “Shannon’s positive attitude added significantly to the group dynamics and John, well, John brings out the best in most everyone.”
Last spring, 40 years after John took his first trip with Greg and Paul and 20 years after Shannon’s first WI trip, he and his wife attended Wilderness Inquiry’s 40th Anniversary Gala. The “flannel formal” event was held at the Machine Shop in Minneapolis. Over 300 partners, friends, and supporters came together to commemorate 40 years of adventure and inclusion, and to celebrate the life-changing experiences that so many people like the Gradys have shared.
When asked what inspired him and his wife to donate $10,000 to name a Voyageur canoe, John said simply, “I honestly had no idea I was going to do that. I’ve been to hundreds of events, but that evening was different. I was completely overtaken by the ambiance of the gala and the atmosphere that surrounded that event.” As the bidding began, John lifted his paddle for a $10,000 bid to name one of Wilderness Inquiry’s iconic, 24-foot Voyageur canoes. Despite having not come to the event with the plan to do so, his wife didn’t even bat an eye. “Shannon was the reason we were ever there in the first place. We didn’t have a thought process… I just did it and Sue knew why I did it.” Fittingly, the boat was named the Shannon Rose.
Over the past year, the Shannon Rose has glided through a dozen bodies of water while providing opportunities for thousands of young people to experience the outdoors for the first time, as Shannon did so many years ago. The story of the Grady family embodies Wilderness Inquiry’s mission — that there is a place for people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities in the outdoors.
To learn more about how you can name a Voyageur canoe, contact Julie Edmiston at email@example.com or (612) 676-9424.