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A really wild collection

S. Utah couple donates trophies to new museum

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SANTA CLARA, Washington County — Often it isn't the animals that give Jimmy Rosenbruch a scare, it's the humans.

Take his trip to Tajikistan, back in the early 1990s.

There was profound turmoil as the Soviet Union was breaking up, and Rosenbruch, born and raised in Utah's Washington County, was trying to get from Moscow to the Tajikistan republic located to the southeast. But Soviet troops had surrounded the airport and terminated all flights anywhere. It took several days to arrange for a helicopter and to convince Muslim troops who had confiscated their belongings that the weapons and bullets the crew carried weren't for sinister purposes.

"We had to explain what we were doing," Rosenbruch said recently from his Santa Clara ranch.

"We were hunting. How are you supposed to go hunting without ammunition?"

Rosenbruch, 59, has spent much of his life hunting the world's prized game animals. He has gathered more than 300 species in a collection worth $6 million he now houses in a 3,000-square-foot warehouse-styled room outside of St. George. He has animals from nearly every nation in the world.

From Sudan: a bongo, a mile lechwe, the Harvey's red duiker and an East African suni.

From Kazakhstan: an animal faster even than the swift black-spotted cheetah — the odd-looking Russian saiga.

The collection includes a giraffe, grizzly bear, lion, water buffalo and nearly every large animal from North America, South America, Asia and Africa.

The collection will soon have the public's eye. In one of the premier donations ever made to Washington County, Rosenbruch has given his collection to a charitable foundation that is building the World Wildlife Heritage Foundation Museum at Dixie College.

Rosenbruch owns Glacier Guides Inc., based in Glacier Bay, Alaska, and ushers non-resident hunters on big game hunts during the winter and hosts sport fishing trips in the summer. The business has been good to him and he's done a lifetime of earning. Now, he says, "it's time for a little bit of payback."

About $10 million worth.

Rosenbruch has donated the collection and has personally guaranteed the $3.5 million bond to build the 20,000-square-foot addition to the Dixie Center.

"This should be a major tourism draw," Washington County Commissioner Alan Gardner said of the museum, which will open in February of 2001. "It's very unique. There's going to be a whole mountain in there. This is a whole new concept."

A 40-foot-tall mountain is at the center of the diorama-themed museum. Visitors will pass a 14-foot waterfall and follow 700 feet of trail through scenes that depict the flatlands of the African desert, the high mountain areas of Nepal and all the other areas Rosenbruch has traveled through the years.

There may be a few notes somewhere in the new museum about the controversial sport that has engaged Rosenbruch's energy through his life. He's going to "avoid the philosophy and stick with the facts, such as the history of hunting and the contributions the sport makes."

"The role of hunting is greatly misunderstood," Rosenbruch said. "All of the countries that allow hunting are the countries that have animals."

Decades of hunting trips have carried him around the world.

Hunting bahar, a species of "blue sheep," Rosenbruch took 47 Sherpas into the Anapurna region in the mountains about Katmandu, Nepal. The group started with chickens and a water buffalo that eventually became food as the group hunted tahr and Indian muntjac.

After regaining their supplies in Tajikistan, Rosenbruch and his crew collected an Asian yak, an Asian ibex and Marco Polo sheep.

He has been to the Kamir Mountains, where China, Afghanistan and Russia meet.

In 17 hunting trips to African countries, Rosenbruch has collected 147 species and faced a variety of dire political circumstances. But it's only at the border that you have political trouble, he explains. He has always been treated nicely by locals.

It was a thrilling upbringing for daughter Angie Hammer, 28, who manages much of her father's Utah business now.

Born in Alaska but raised in St. George, Hammer went on periodic international junkets with Dad while other teenagers slaved at their Dixie High School studies. "It was wonderful. We would always have a turn to go with him," she said. "I've been places, I've seen other countries and seen how people live and what they believe."

It didn't seem odd to her to have a father who was a hunter and adventurer. That's the only father she knew — the one who loved hunting and loved his job, which provided a childhood rich with experiences for the Rosenbruch kids.

At about age 12, Hammer went with her father to Spain, Greece and Turkey in search of the European red deer and the Pyrenean chamois, an agile goat-antelope from the high mountains of Europe. Two years later, Rosenbruch's search for kangaroo and banteng, which resembles a buffalo, led 14-year-old Hammer to Australia and New Zealand. She watched her father hang from a hoist a 300-pound black marlin captured in the waters off the Great Barrier Reef, the world's largest system of coral reefs stretching 1,250 miles along the northeastern Australia coast.

"It was incredible," she remembers. The game fish with a spearlike upper jaw now hangs over the family's fireplace in Santa Clara.

All the trips occurred during school, so Angie captured every detail of adventures in elaborate notes, photographs and journals. Her homework was to write presentations for her classes on the animals, culture and sentiments of the countries she visited. She still has these presentations. "It's a little more than you read about in the history books."

Grey Larkin, 63, has known Rosenbruch since childhood and has taken two boat trips with his company in Alaska's Glacier Bay. During the second trip, in the early 1990s, Larkin's son Darrin, then 18, caught a record 400-pound halibut. The fish was 7 feet tall and about 4 feet wide, and was memorialized in a book about Rosenbruch.

"He is an all-around great guy," Larkin said of Rosenbruch. "He is a person I admire because of his ethic — his work ethic, his personal ethic, his religious ethic and his family ethic . . . he is one of those people who made their own way."

Today, Rosenbruch doesn't sit still long. He returned from Argentina in March, and is in Alaska now, tending to business. He's off to China in October and then to Cameroon, a republic in West equatorial Africa, in June.

At home on his 100-acre ranch west of Santa Clara, his animal friends are more domesticated; they are horses and cows, a Jack Russell terrier, a border collie, a parakeet, cat, fish. He and his wife, MaryAnn, have been married for 36 years. His son, Jimmy L., is a Glacier guide, as is the youngest daughter, Alisha, who is also a taxidermist.

Hammer is now mother to two boys. The oldest is only 7, but she believes her youngsters may have some of the same rewards in store. "I'm sure it won't be long before Grandpa hauls them off somewhere."

E-MAIL: lucy@desnews.com