ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It does not take long for Lynn Trojahn to mention the Holocaust and what happened to family members during that time. Those memories are part of her heritage just as much as a swath of pristine New Mexico ranchland that once was at least as big as Manhattan.
War-surviving relatives purchased it as a respite from the world’s hate, and like a flower growing courageously alongside barbed wire, the property helped turn a legacy pierced by oppression into one of beauty and inspiration.
“My grandfather was fighting in World War II … and he was going to get Hitler no matter what,” she explains of the Russian-Jewish immigrant who came to America in the ‘20s and volunteered for the U.S. Army in World War II. “So much of our family were in concentration camps or had already been killed.”
Trojahn’s aunt, Nunia Naomi Warren, a 91-year-old survivor of four of them, watched her mother die in the first and her husband succumb to tuberculosis in the second.
In part to shield his family from anti-Semitism that continued in both Europe and the U.S. after the war, Col. William Salman, who owned a shipping business in Houston, sought ranchland in New Mexico and bought sight unseen the Romero Land Grant property near Mora.
When the colonel finally did see it, Trojahn recounts, “My grandfather (whom she describes as a ‘gentleman rancher’) was like, ‘This is God’s country,’ because it was so beautiful, you know with the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the house that had been built in 1863 by the Romero family. … Part of living this American dream and being away from the country he grew up in was to own land.”
The property consisted of about 32,000 acres — “the size of Manhattan,” Trojahn says. The entirety stayed in the family until 12 years ago when they sold all but 3,000 acres. “We’ve kept the area that was so meaningful — the house and the store, the cafe and we have seven acres of raspberries” on what is now known as Salman Raspberry Ranch.
Even though the remaining land is “still huge,” Trojahn says, the sale of the rest took resolve, largely because of Trojahn’s memories of it as a child with her grandfather.
“I just adored my grandfather. I just hung on every word that he said. It was not only this love for land and New Mexico and what it meant to him to have a place for his children and his grandchildren to grow up and to have that legacy for themselves, but it was also he was so much about philanthropy. That was his way to give back also. To really be an American was to contribute back.”
Though Trojahn had natural fundraising instincts as a child and young adult, she says her grandfather was her first introduction to philanthropy.
Trojahn has been doing fundraising professionally for 27 years. She launched her career at the San Francisco-based Breakthrough Foundation, a nonprofit that helped at-risk youth and did international development work. There, she grew from being an intern at age 22 to director of development four years later.
“When we moved back here, I just wanted to make a difference in fund raising and philanthropy. I kept hearing as I was interviewing — University of New Mexico Libraries was my first job here — you can’t raise funds here, there’s no big companies, there’s no philanthropists. And I just knew … that that just wasn’t the case. There was so much potential and so much opportunity; it was just a matter of continuing to ask, continuing to invite people to contribute, that would create an amazing culture of philanthropy.”
Trojahn has been vice president of advancement for ACCION New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona since 2005. The nonprofit started in 1994 and has since issued 5,144 micro loans, totaling more than $33.4 million to support the start-up or growth of 3,269 small businesses in 264 communities in the three states it serves. That has helped to create or sustain more than 5,200 jobs.
Q: How did your grandfather give back and what did you learn from him?
A: He loved legacy contributions. (He gave a lot to) Highland University (in Las Vegas, N.M.) and Jewish organizations in Houston and educational organizations where he would name gifts after the family, and so our name would be a part of that. It might have had something to do with his name being changed at Ellis Island. All of the family … were the Solomons, and at Ellis Island his name was changed to Salman. So you know wanting to keep that permanence. That’s why I love capital campaigns — it’s all about naming and naming in honor of those that you love and really cherish. … My husband, Rachel and I — we always contribute significantly wherever I work because we know that really is what changes our molecules and has us be more invested, more passionate and more in love with the cause. So Grandpa taught me so much of that.
Q: What did you want to be when you grew up?
A: I wanted to be a kangaroo psychologist. … I knew I wanted to travel, and I loved animals. I was a big horseback rider, English, and did a lot of showing. So I just thought kangaroos were fascinating and Australia, and I wanted to do something to help and be a psychologist like my parents. … You don’t grow up thinking, ‘I want to raise money every day.’ But when I look back on it, I was always really good at it.
Q: How so?
A: I sold the most Girl Scout cookies when I was a Girl Scout. Always throughout high school I was in charge of organizing things, organizing school events and ski trips and just kind of one thing or another. I was always really good at throwing parties and loved the whole creative process and all the details.
Q: What was your first real fundraising job?
A: Kind of the first breakthrough where I knew this is my profession, this is what I love, was when I went to graduate school and I was a presenter for the Breakthrough Foundation, and there was a presentation happening in Los Angeles. And one of the programs that we did … was a youth-at risk-program … with hard core at risk gang kids. So Los Angeles wanted to bring a program to their city. And it was a group of 13 people that would be there looking at contributing money to their local program. … Two of us led the presentation. It went really well. … And then when we looked through the pledge forms. We had raised $100,000. And it was 1985. And my life has never been the same. … I can’t believe that people trusted me and this organization so much that they would contribute their hard-earned money to help us make a difference for at-risk teenagers. It blew me away that people were so generous.
Q: Is there something you’ve wanted to do for yourself that if you had the chance to do you would jump at?
A: I would go to architecture school.
Q: Who or what is your greatest inspiration?
A: My mom is my greatest inspiration. Nunia is just an amazing inspiration. And Rachel and my husband. When I think of what (Nunia) went through … you know she epitomizes courage for me. But what she always talks about is that she didn’t have a choice. She was gonna do whatever she could to survive, and she didn’t have a choice about being there. But I have a choice about what I do each and every day. And I feel that it’s kind of part of my legacy — you know luckily because of my grandfather and because of my parents, I was afforded good positive attributes in life and really given every opportunity. So kind of a way for me, since I’m not fighting in a war or doing some of the things that my grandparents and others went through, you know the way I feel I can make the biggest difference is kind of bucking up and doing something that other people feel is impossible.