A Tribute to a Special Colleague and Friend

Randy Blauvelt (April 8, 1954 – March 5, 2022)

Randy Blauvelt, Senior Communications Officer

“Randy started at First Nations and immediately he got it,” says First Nations President and CEO Michael Roberts. “We needed help, and he was very humble. He took his ego out of it, each and every time. And the consistency in his character, demeanor, and philosophy was exactly in line with what we were trying to do at First Nations.”

Randy served as the Senior Communications Officer at First Nations from 2012 until he retired in 2019.

“Randy knew the tools of communications that we weren’t using, and he brought that package to us,” Mike says. “With his help, we were able to form a larger strategy. Everything we do today from a communications perspective at First Nations is based on that relationship-building piece and the infrastructure he started. That is what we have strived to build on.”

Randy, the Professional

Randy poses at one of the many Native Food Sovereignty Conferences he attended as the Senior Communications Officer of First Nations.

Randy’s skills, personality, and ability to cast a big shadow for the organizations and companies he served stem from a lifetime of experience in communications and public relations. He began his career working for the campus newspaper at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and went on to be a full-time editor and writer for the Omaha World-Herald. He then transitioned into corporate communications and public relations, holding positions through the years in both the corporate and nonprofit sectors. In his many roles, Randy wrote and edited a variety of communications pieces, from speeches and news releases, to email blasts and advertising copy, and also implemented and led multiple publicity and media relations campaigns, often serving as the primary PR spokesperson. His career took him from Nebraska, to Texas, back to Nebraska, on to Iowa, and ultimately to Denver, where he worked in marketing and communications for three nonprofit organizations over the years, including the American Indian College Fund.

Still, through this extensive career and leadership positions as a communications professional, his favorite, he always said, was First Nations. He was quick to applaud the strength of the mission and work, but importantly, what he loved the most was the intelligence, kindness, and warmth of the people. It was the best job he’d ever had, he often said.

Randy, the Friend

Randy and Jackie Francke share a laugh.

The love for Randy was reciprocated. On any given day, Mike shares, there was always someone in Randy’s office or waiting to talk to him, drawn in by his humility and humor.

“Another virtue Randy brought to First Nations was a grandfatherly calmness. You couldn’t rile him,” Mike shares. “He wasn’t easy to shake. And he was just a good guy – a centralized, galvanizing force who brought people together.”

Indeed, during his time at First Nations Randy touched the lives and hearts of so many. In this tribute, we share thoughts and memories of some of his dearest connections.

“I was saddened to hear about Randy because the first thing that came to mind was how my cubicle was next to his office, and I would stop by his office to ask him some questions. I bet he was thinking, ‘Why is this new person asking me all these questions?’ but he actually took the time to sit down with me and explain the work we do and how we communicate to others. He had so much institutional knowledge about the organization and, as a new employee, I felt fortunate to learn from him.

“I’ll never forget how my first week at the Longmont office was during the holidays, and before I left the office, he gave everyone a tin can of M&Ms with a Christmas card, and I was so surprised that he included me because I had just started. The last time I spoke with him was right before he retired. I told him I liked Georgia O’Keefe, and I always wanted to paint some huge flowers like her. He said he had a book on Georgia O’Keefe and would like to give it to me. I thought that was cool and didn’t think much about it. When I returned back to Longmont for our staff meeting, he left that book on my desk with a kind message. Again, he made me feel special by remembering what I said and gifting me the book. I’m sad because when people leave they don’t say goodbye.

“That’s why I try to tell people right then and there what they mean to me and to appreciate every word or teaching they share. I feel like they are meant to be in your life for a reason and we are never given this moment again, so we should appreciate and listen to everyone we meet. My first Georgia O’Keefe painting will be dedicated to you, Randy. Journey well, my friend.”

Sarayl Shunkamolah, Grants Development Officer

“Randy was my favorite curmudgeon, but also just a solid team player and source of support. I remember he would always give me pep talks when I was feeling down or frustrated, and he really encouraged my personal growth at First Nations since I was one of the youngest team members when I joined. He had a lot of life experience and was so willing to share his knowledge.

“I can also never forget that crazy handlebar mustache he grew when he retired. He was so proud of it! We also had an ongoing joke about how he only seemed to take photos of staff activities whenever we had mouths full of food. After he retired, a few of us took photos of us eating as a joke and sent them to him.”

Kendall Tallmadge, Senior Program Officer

“I enjoyed my time working with Randy because of his humor, his great attitude, and his thorough knowledge of the organization. I learned a lot from Randy as I was trying to understand First Nations and how his job and mine intersected. I relied on his knowledge to stay current on how the organization presented itself to the public, which directly impacted how finance prepared our information. 

“I missed him when he retired and am saddened that he is gone. I know I am a better person for having known him. He was a good dude. I know he is dancing to the beat of his own drum.”

Tom Reed, Former Finance Officer

Randy and Catherine at one of First Nations’ L.E.A.D. Conferences.

“Before Randy retired, he was my work husband! He was one of those rare friends who loved you unconditionally (except when you insisted on using the Oxford comma). He fit right in with the crew at First Nations for a lot of reasons, including his 100% commitment to building and strengthening our efforts to tell the untold stories of our community partners in Indian Country.

“Randy had a gift for being present and his nonstop jokes, kindness, and generosity are dearly missed!” 

Catherine Bryan, Director of Programs, Strengthening Tribal & Community Institutions

“Randy was a joy to work with – a good and caring man with a great sense of humor. I especially enjoyed our discussions about topics of importance, such as the Oxford comma!”

Alice Botkin, Development Officer

“Randy was very special, a great listener and storyteller. He was very fun to spend time with outside of work. We spent a lot of time talking about life and he gave great advice. I had a very turbulent few years in my personal life during the time when I worked with Randy and he was very easy to talk to and provided a good shoulder to cry on.

“He usually brought me back a piece of artwork or something he found on his work trips because he knew I liked to collect art. I framed a postcard he thought to grab for me on one trip and displayed it in my office. He was very thoughtful like that.

“One fun memory I have is going to see a live band in Denver with Randy, Catherine, Jackie, and Rana. Randy liked to invite staff to fun things like that. It was a grassroots sort of band in a shared co-working office space, so not a legitimate music venue. We all had a great time together.

“He was meticulous about his work. When I started at First Nations as a consultant, I was working on a donor tour and had created a list of things to bring for the participants as part of their trip packet. I remember going back and forth with him over the use of “Band Aid.” Since this is a copyrighted brand name, he insisted we use the term “adhesive bandages” instead, which, of course, I thought was ridiculous and told him so. But he was adamant, so we went with that! This isn’t the greatest story but it speaks to how meticulous he was. The document was literally 20 pages long and that was one of the things he honed in on. He worked tirelessly. I’m still not sure how he was able to accomplish all the things he did.

“He was the worst staff photographer! He was always taking pictures of the staff eating with their mouths open. It’s like the minute we had an event with food he ran to get the camera to take the most awful pictures.

“I’m really going to miss him.”

Abi Whiteing, Lead Program Officer

“I will truly miss Randy. He was so passionate and dedicated, and he brought a great sense of humor and humility to his work. I am grateful to have gotten to know him professionally and personally.”

Raymond Foxworth, VP, Grantmaking, Development & Communications

“Randy was a wonderful friend and mentor during my time in First Nations Communications Department. Although he loved social media, he was also an ‘old-school’ editor and writer in the best possible sense: meticulous, organized, and calm under pressure. He was the first person to the office every morning, offered thoughtful advice on writing (and life), and was passionate about helping our grantees tell their stories. With his friendly demeanor, gentle chuckle, and endless candy bowl, Randy was an easy person to talk to and a pleasure to work with. He will be greatly missed.”

Sarah Hernandez, Assistant Professor of Native American Literature at the University of New Mexico and former First Nations Communications Officer

“As I remember back, I think Randy has been looking out for me for the last 14 years. We worked together at a previous employer, and I remember him back then, always checking in to see how I was doing. At First Nations, he continued to advise and mentor me, and he created opportunities that I simply wouldn’t have had without him. He was always so helpful, and I remember his long emails ensuring I had every possible detail in order to write a story. And I remember his only half-kidding comments about having to go in to each story and take out all my Oxford commas. He left big shoes to fill in my role at First Nations. I would always tell him, ‘I think of you every day.’ And I’d say, ‘No, seriously, every day.’ I will miss him greatly.”

Amy Jakober, Senior Communications Officer

“During the book exchange at the 2019 holiday party,  there was one book everybody wanted, ‘Killers of the Flower Moon.’ Randy wanted the book – he kept taking it from whoever got it last, and I kept taking it from him! He was getting so mad at me, you could read it on his face! And I just kept on taking the book from him and everybody would laugh. He ended up taking it back from me. I didn’t make it through the entire book exchange because I had to leave, but Raymond told me the next day that he, himself, had actually ended up with the book! I felt kind of bad for teasing Randy (but it was funny), so I went out and bought him the book and left it on his desk. He was happy and appreciative and, of course, he said I didn’t have to do that, but I insisted.

“I really liked Randy and miss our talks. He helped me with a lot and I appreciated all I could learn from him. He will be missed.”

Jona Charette, Development Officer

“I always looked forward to talking to Randy in the early morning before folks trickled in. We would discuss music and topics of the day. When he retired, I helped him move his 403b from First Nations. I thought it was completed and the next day I got an email from him with the subject, ‘What the hell?’ My heart sank thinking I had screwed up something. Even though it could be possible I hadn’t. Once we understood the process, it was fine. Catherine told him how badly I felt, so he sent me a nice birthday card.”

Anita Conner, Finance Assistant


“I had the privilege of working closely with Randy on a wide range of impactful projects and programs geared toward fostering financial security and wealth-building among Native people. He was immensely supportive of our work and offered a wealth of knowledge and experience, as well as keen insights on issues impacting Indian Country.

“Randy was a perfectionist and quick to pick up on details easily overlooked by others. He taught me the value of a quick-paced, cutting-edge communications team and he upped everyone’s game in this regard. I also welcomed his dry sense of humor and enjoyed listening to anecdotes of his exciting career at Enron and stories of motorcycle runs through the Colorado Rockies. 

“Randy was a tremendous asset to First Nations and a true champion for Native communities, but just as importantly, he was a good friend. Sadly, he will be missed but certainly never forgotten.”

Shawn Spruce, Financial Education Consultant

“When I began to support First Nations six, seven years ago, I called Randy about an article in one of the publications. After touching base a few more times over a couple of years, I met many First Nations staff at conferences, and that included Randy! With Randy, it was like meeting a younger brother, so when he retired he gave me his email address ‘so we could continue to keep in touch.’

“Of course those retirement year emails immediately included the love of his life, Heather,  and my heart ached for them both as they traveled through her journey with him by her side.

“Then the messages turned to his niece’s  wedding in South Dakota, drumming campouts, motorcycle rides with his neighbor Kevin, and he almost seemed to be drooling through the email when he talked of Kevin’s wife’s cooking. That man did like his food …especially his meals with members of the staff.

“It is hard to believe he won’t be here for his birthday on April 8th when he would have turned 68.  But in one of his emails last summer, he did pass on this quote, ‘Getting old isn’t for sissies.’ And now we know Randy will never get old nor risk being a sissy; in our hearts he will always be the sincere, joy-filled man who loved First Nations and what he called ‘that amazing staff.’

Gail Clauer, First Nations Development Institute supporter

“Randy was such a presence. In addition to bringing fun, humor, and love for music wherever he went, he was a wonderful teacher. When I first met him, I had no communications experience, but Randy patiently printed out my first draft of a write-up and took the time to explain what needed to change, what should be added, and how he interpreted certain phrasing. I was saddened to hear of his passing, but am comforted by the fact that he is reunited with Heather, whom he loved so dearly. I will miss Randy and all that he brought to the world — even that crazy mustache that he grew after retiring! I hope that he knows I’ll think of him whenever I have a Santiago’s breakfast burrito, even if I don’t get mine from the gas station at 5 am like he did.”

Rana LaPine, Former Program Officer 

All of us at First Nations will always grieve this loss, and we will continue to honor Randy’s legacy, both professionally and personally.