Impact Giving | REI and The Mountaineers Doing More, Together

In this piece from Mountaineer magazine, we dive into REI's roots in The Mountaineers.
The Mountaineers
February 08, 2022
Impact Giving | REI and The Mountaineers Doing More, Together

For many of us, someone else introduced us to the outdoors for the first time. Perhaps your family took an annual camping trip to the Hoh Rain Forest, a friend convinced you to join a hike up Mt. Si, or a coworker inspired you to get out on the water.

For others, especially young people, it’s not always possible to lean on family and friends for an introduction to the outdoors. Many youth rely on community-focused organizations to experience our region’s wild places. This year, The Mountaineers is celebrating 10 years of partnership with REI Co-op following the launch of our innovative Mountain Workshops youth program. Since 2011, our two organizations have worked together to make adventures possible for over 10,000 youth who face barriers to outdoor education and recreation. Inspiring a lifetime of outdoor adventure has been part of our ethos from the very beginning. An ethos we share with REI.

Mountaineers Mary and Lloyd Anderson

In 1929, Seattle local Lloyd Anderson joined The Mountaineers to improve his climbing techniques. His wife Mary Anderson joined in 1932, and they soon became part of a new generation of Mountaineers: the self-appointed “Climbers’ Group,” of which Lloyd was elected president. The group launched our first climbing course in 1935, laying the foundation for what’s known today as Basic Alpine Climbing. Little did they know that this experience would change the outdoor community forever.

During their climbing courses, Lloyd and Mary were some of the first to learn new ice axe techniques, many of which are still used by Mountaineers today. But the country was just coming out of The Great Depression, and finding high-quality gear for affordable prices presented a significant challenge. The Andersons were determined to find a better way, and ultimately purchased ice axes directly from Austria, with Mary translating the German catalogs. They were purchased for $3.50 each (including postage), instead of the going rate of $20, equivalent to over $325 today.

The birth of REI

Friends and colleagues in The Mountaineers quickly caught word of the Anderson's operation and wanted to get involved. In 1938, Lloyd and Mary Anderson officially formed the Recreational Equipment Cooperative (REI), with over 100 members by the end of its inaugural year.

REI’s commitment to its members and community have yielded steady growth over the years. Presently, REI has over 20 million lifetime members with nearly 15,000 employees in 174 stores - all because of two adventurous Mountaineers and their quest for a better ice axe. When Mary Anderson passed away in April 2017, at 107 years old, she still had REI membership card #2.

Though Lloyd and Mary co-founded the company, it was Mary’s business savvy and tenacity that helped make REI what it is today. In her early years Mary overcame polio, enduring lost function of her legs and an iron lung at age six. Overcoming all odds, Mary became a spectacular climber and brought her passion for the outdoors to her students as a grade school teacher.

The Mary Anderson Legacy Grant

In 2010, Mary celebrated her 100th birthday. To commemorate the occasion, the REI Foundation created the Mary Anderson Legacy Grant to honor her dedication to youth and outdoor access. The foundation announced that the first $50,000 grant would support efforts that actively engage young people in learning about nature through hands-on engagement and exploration of the outdoors.

“Mary was like the Mick Jagger of REI. Employees were lining up at her birthday party for the opportunity to hold her hand or to have a conversation. The creation of the grant was a beautiful way to honor Mary and the purpose of REI: to live a lifetime of adventure.” - Sally Jewell, REI former President and CEO (2005-2013)

The timing of the grant was serendipitous, as The Mountaineers was considering undertaking a major organizational transition to become a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in order to better serve our community. On April 1, 2011, The Mountaineers achieved nonprofit status when 98.7% of voting Mountaineers members supported the change. That same year, The Mountaineers received our first Mary Anderson Legacy Grant.

“The Mary Anderson Legacy Grant was a great reconnection to The Mountaineers in 2011 after running on parallel tracks for so many years. It was a reconnection point that laid the track for future collaborations to support youth programming.” - Mike Collins, REI former Vice President of Public Affairs (1987-2014)

With the support of REI and the Mary Anderson Legacy Grant, we had the ability to expand on our mission by formalizing our new Mountain Workshops program. The program was designed to break down barriers to the outdoors by encouraging relationship-building with peers, fostering courage and vulnerability, and increasing knowledge and awareness of outdoor principles. By partnering with local youth-serving organizations, we began to offer opportunities for young people to hike, climb, snowshoe, and more - many for the first time in their lives.

“Mountain Workshops served as a way to create opportunities for youth facing barriers to outdoor recreation to experience our region’s wild places. In connecting youth to nature, we hoped to germinate a lifelong appreciation for the outdoors, foster healthy habits, and create future conservation advocates.” - Martinique Grigg, The Mountaineers former Executive Director (2009-2015)

REI Article_Mary Anderson.jpgMary Anderson at her 100th birthday party. Photo courtesy of REI.

Expanding Mountain Workshops

Over the past decade, Mountain Workshops has grown from supporting 500 youth per year to over 1,500. We’ve partnered with over 40 organizations, and recently introduced a no-cost Gear Library to provide youth with high-quality outdoor equipment. Since 2011, REI has donated more than $325,000 to support youth programming at The Mountaineers. In that time, more than 10,000 Mountain Workshop participants have had transformative experiences in areas like the North Cascades, Lake Easton, Mount Rainier, and beyond.

While our achievements are worth celebrating, we will always remember that the outdoors has been a historically exclusive environment. The goal of Mountain Workshops is not only to get more youth outside, but to remove barriers for youth who have been historically excluded from the outdoors.

With a shared mission of equity, inclusion, and serving youth in the outdoors, REI launched a new community-supported public charity to harness the collective power of its 20 million members to fight for an outdoor community where everyone can feel belonging. For the first time in the co-op’s 83-year history, the REI Cooperative Action Fund will allow co-op members, employees, and the public to provide financial support to a nationwide network of nonprofit organizations promoting justice, equity, and belonging in the outdoors.

“With the combined generational thinking and connective tissue REI has with The Mountaineers, we have so much opportunity to do more, and to ‘do more’ better.” Eric Artz, REI President and CEO (2019-present)

The Mountaineers and REI are cut from the same (waterproof) cloth. We look forward to growing our Mountain Workshops program and annual youth experiences thanks to continued support from this partnership, local organizations, and members like you. Our shared responsibility to the outdoor community relies on strong relationships to help us bring outdoor experiences to youth, and to share the wild places we love. Here’s to more adventures, more experiences, and more beginnings.

This article originally appeared in our Winter 2022 issue of Mountaineer Magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, visit our magazine archive.

Lead image of two boys enjoying a day snowshoeing at Gold Creek Pond. Photo by Satish Shanmugasundaram.