Tom Rodgers, founder of the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), passed away Dec. 25 at the Edgefield County Hospital after a long battle with cancer. Rodgers, 64, was survived by his mother, his son Mark and two sisters.

As the NWTF ends its 35th anniversary celebration, it also remembers the man who started it all in Fredericksburg, Va.

“Tom is the reason the Federation is here, working daily to promote wildlife conservation and preserve North America's hunting heritage,” said James Earl Kennamer, Ph.D., the NWTF's chief conservation officer. “The organization is reflecting on its rich history and honoring the man who started it all. He was a great friend personally, a great asset for wildlife and he'll be greatly missed.”

Recently, Rodgers was honored with a one-of-a-kind Founder's Award during a ceremony at NWTF headquarters in Edgefield.

“Tom's influence on the conservation industry, on wildlife and hunters' rights was immeasurable,” said George Thornton, NWTF CEO. “Without him, the NWTF wouldn't exist, and wild turkeys literally would not be where they are today. Knowing the man who created the NWTF and recognizing his contributions, which helped make NWTF one of the most dynamic and respected conservation organizations in North America, is truly an honor.”

When Rodgers founded the NWTF in 1973, there were only 1.3 million wild turkeys throughout North America. Since then, the number of wild turkeys has increased to more than 7 million birds thanks to state, federal and provincial wildlife agencies, the NWTF, its members and partners. Much of the restoration was achieved through trapping and transferring wild turkeys to suitable habitat – an idea conceived by Rodgers.