Elaine & Kendall McNabney

Leaving a Legacy for the Trails

This is the latest in a series focusing on donors who have chosen to make legacy gifts to the Oregon-California Trails Association. For information about making a legacy gift to OCTA, see the Trails Legacy Society page. 

smiling woman and man wearing a ball cap and sunglasses
Kendall and Elaine McNabney

Elaine McNabney, a co-founder of OCTA, who established the first headquarters office for the organization in Independence in 1986, passed away in 2005 – but her infectious energy and dedication lives on, through the Elaine McNabney Volunteer Award, presented annually at OCTA’s national convention.

Kendall McNabney – who happily became swept up in Elaine’s enthusiasm for trail history and joined her at many OCTA conventions and events – has remained a steadfast and substantial supporter of the organization and its causes over the years.
“It was a very important part of our lives, honoring those people who were willing to take that life-changing trip to settle the West,” Kendall comments. “We don’t have a problem in this country putting up monuments and recognizing other leaders, but what those people did was of more lasting importance. I’m awestruck by how tough those pioneers were. They chose to do it.  They were real heroes. They are our heritage.”
Kendall last attended the OCTA convention in Lake Tahoe, where he enjoyed getting together with Bill Watson, another of our organization’s heroes, who passed away in 2016.
Kendall is a retired surgeon and medical school instructor.   He was a significant supporter of the In Pursuit of a Dream film project a few years ago.
“I’m pleased to continue to support the important work OCTA does” he adds.  “Elaine contributed in so many ways. She knew everybody.  She got things done. It’s important that we continue that tradition and preserve our trail history as best we can.”

Submitted by John Krizek

Kelly Breen

Leaving a Legacy for the Trails

A traffic jam in Donner Pass 55 years ago led to a lifetime interest in trail history which last year culminated in a new member of the OCTA’s Trails Legacy Society.

a woman sits on a couch in a living room holding a long haired dog
Kelly Breen

Kelly Breen was 13 years old when her family was on a Greyhound bus that got stuck on Old Highway 40 (Interstate 80 was still under construction) and there wasn’t much to do but contemplate the Sierra scenery.

When the tour finally stopped overnight in Reno, there were post cards depicting the story of the Donner party and their tragedy in those very mountains. The experience so piqued the interest of young Kelly that when she got home to Illinois she looked up George Stewart’s book Ordeal by Hunger, the story of the Donner party—and that was it.

By the time Kelly discovered OCTA in 2009—by looking us up on Google—she was a retired teacher, with 25 years in the Shawnee Mission school district in Overland Park, Kansas. After experiencing various historical organizations over the years, in the Trails Head chapter she finally found a hospitable group of people who shared her lifetime interest in trail history.

“I finally found my home,” Kelly comments. She relished the experience of the 2011 convention in Rock Springs, and was a key host of the 2012 convention in Lawrence.

“In Europe they do such a great job of celebrating their history,” Kelly reports. “What are we doing in this country? I can’t imagine what those pioneers did and how they persevered. It’s very important that we do what we can to preserve that trails legacy.”

One hazard she keeps encountering is having to explain that she’s not related to the Breen family that was part of the Donner party.

As a single person with no heirs, she consulted with her financial adviser and decided to dedicate part of her estate to the cause “dearest to my heart” through the Trails Legacy Society, and thus help preserve that trail legacy in perpetuity.

Submitted by John Krizek

Cheryl & Gil Hoffman

Leaving a Legacy for the Trails

a smiling woman stands next to a smiling man wearing a suit and tie
Cheryl and Gil Hoffman

Cheryl and Gil Hoffman of Richland, Washington, are Life Members of OCTA, and partners in OCTA’s Trails Legacy Society through a Living Trust bequest they established to benefit OCTA in perpetuity.

“‘You’re a fifth-generation Californian. Your family came in 1843 and were working for Captain Sutter when gold was discovered. I grew up with those words ringing in my ears,” says Cheryl. “They launched my lifelong journey into tracing my family history. I discovered I had many ancestors who made that journey in the very early years. The earliest were James Williams (my 3rd great-grandfather) who came with the Chiles-Walker party of 1843, and Mary Patterson, who was with the 1844 Stephens-Townsend-Murphy party, and who would marry James the next year.”
Before moving to Washington, the Hoffmans were active members of the California/Nevada Chapter for 10 years, where Cheryl served as membership chair in the mid-1990s. They participated in many OCTA conventions and events over the years, including the Lake Tahoe convention in 2015.
“I attended my first OCTA convention in Sacramento in 1991,” adds Cheryl. “I met so many interesting people and returned home with a burning desire to learn more and eventually be on the same trail so many ancestors trod. “At the Rock Springs convention, what an experience it was to actually be out on the trail, find the markers, and on August 11, 1992, be standing on the bank of the Green River, 149 years to the day that my ancestors had crossed it!
“Last year we realized there had been many changes in life and it was past time to review and update our Living Trust. At the top of the list was to join the Trails Legacy Society and add a bequest to OCTA. OCTA has provided many opportunities to discover and experience some of the adventures and trials my pioneer families experienced. Through our Living Trust bequest, we hope to aid OCTA in providing similar discovery opportunities to the next generation of trail enthusiasts.”

Gil adds: “We are especially interested in OCTA’s core work of identifying and preserving the trails for all to enjoy and push to see that this part of our history is taught in schools.”


Shirley Evans

group of three men and four women wearing 19th century clothing

OCTA’s protection of the trails west safeguards an important era of our nation’s history. Several of my ancestors took part in deepening those trails during the 1800s, including my great great grandmother who was partially scalped at age three in New York when her family was massacred at the beginning of the War of 1812. She came west some thirty years later, in 1845.
Another relative carried Lansford Hastings’ letter of persuasion to the Donner Party in 1846. Some days later Indians robbed, stripped and set him afoot in the Rockies, forcing him to walk three days before being rescued by trappers led by Solomon Sublette. (I bear no prejudice, for native blood intermingles within my own veins.)

I have long valued my membership with OCTA, providing an opportunity to visit trail sites with others of like interest and dedication in our country’s past.

Thanks for your team’s dedication to OCTA and our past.

submitted by Shirley Evans