If a legacy is defined as the positive impact a life has had on other people – friends, family, colleagues, even strangers, then Eli Michel carved out a masterpiece in 34 short years. A beloved son and treasured brother, Eli had an adventurer’s soul and a zest for life that started in Columbia City. Following a remarkable wrestling career with state championship ranked finishes for Columbia City High School, Eli graduated in 2007 and was accepted into the United States Naval Academy where he earned his BS in 2011. His amazing list of accomplishments and skills included U.S. Navy Search & Rescue Swimmer, Anti-Terrorism Officer, and Mine Warfare Commander.

Eli retired from the Navy in 2019 and set his course by following his passion for embracing the wilderness. He joined NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) where he worked as a climbing instructor in the Rockies, backcountry skiing and winter camping instructor in Wyoming, mountaineering and backpacking instructor in Alaska, and a mountaineering instructor in Patagonia, Chili. His resume included his designation as a nationally registered EMT, a Wilderness First Responder and a High Angle and Avalanche Rescuer. On May 5, 2023, during a personal trek, Eli and climbing partner Nafiun Awal fell from the west ridge of Moose’s Tooth in Denali National Park, Alaska. It is assumed that they were ascending at a 60-degree slope when a slab avalanche knocked them off their feet, causing them to fall 3200 feet into the crevasses below, thus making their recovery impossible.

While Eli will never be forgotten by the people who knew and loved him, his parents, Rick & Dawn Michel, have turned their efforts to honoring the intangible gifts that are Eli’s legacy. To ensure that for generations to come his character, reputation, accomplishments, and memories will continue to inspire a quest for outdoor adventure in young people, they have created the Eli B. Michel neverlostneverlate Wilderness Scholarship.

Open to Whitley County residents ages 18-23, residents may apply at 17 years of age but must be 18 before participating if chosen. The scholarship will allow individuals to hone their leadership skills and build courage by attending a NOLS wilderness class. Offering powerful and authentic experiences, NOLS courses are immersive expeditions in remote, wild places with a tight-knit community of students and instructors. NOLS offers a robust number of courses throughout the year. The duration of the courses varies. Applications will provide information on which courses the scholarship is capable of funding that year. It is anticipated that the first applications for the annual award will be made available in the Spring of 2025. The Community Foundation of Whitley County, Inc. is honored to hold and administer the Eli B. Michel neverlostneverlate Wilderness Scholarship. The fund is open to receive tax-deductible gifts in Eli’s memory. Contributions can be made online by visiting the Community Foundation’s website at https://whitley.fcsuite.com/erp/donate/create/fund?funit_id=3509 or by mail to CFWC, 1171 E. W0ods Way, Columbia City, IN 46725.

 To learn more about Eli Michel’s remarkable life, visit https:/neverlostneverlate.com. For additional information about NOLS visit https://www.nols.edu.

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