2023 Alumni Honors: Marilyn Vetter
A lifelong love of the outdoors has culminated in UND Arts & Sciences grad becoming the first woman to lead the nation’s leading upland habitat organization.
At the start of 2023, Marilyn (Koble) Vetter, ’88, was named President and CEO of
Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever. Founded 40 years ago in Minnesota, the organization
has an annual $100 million budget and a staff of nearly 500.
It’s a dream job for a hunter who grew up an outdoorsy farm kid outside the small town of Anamoose, North Dakota.
Vetter says she always had a curious streak, but it was at UND that she saw the world of possibilities available to her. She was originally determined to go to law school but discovered a love of journalism through her undergrad studies.
“What UND taught me was that it’s okay to have a path, but you can take the fork in the road,” said Vetter. “It allowed me to be a bit more spontaneous and not so predetermined.”
Vetter carried that lesson into her career where she started as a television news reporter and anchor in Bismarck before shifting to the pharmaceutical industry. She moved from sales to government affairs to executive roles as she rose to Group Vice President, U.S. Access Strategy with Horizon Therapeutics before being named to lead Pheasants Forever.
Vetter recently lived out her childhood dream of becoming an author. She collaborated in "Brave Women at Work: Stories of Confidence," telling of her personal conflict with confidence meant to empower others on the difficult journey of professional and personal growth.
What UND taught me was that it’s OK to have a path, but you can take the fork in the road.
In addition, Marilyn and her husband, Clyde, own Sharp Shooters Kennel, a German shorthaired pointer breeding and training business in Wisconsin.
Vetter had a Pheasants Forever membership for more than 20 years before becoming a member of the nonprofit’s national board of directors in 2015. Upon her selection as CEO, board chair Matt Kucharski said, “Her history as a dedicated volunteer, a lifelong bird dog lover, and a wingshooter who is passionate about our habitat mission and long-term success will resonate with members, donors, conservation partners and staff in pheasant and quail country.”
The state of the organization is strong with the recent completion of a $565 million fundraising campaign, but Vetter says there is one thing that keeps her awake at night – what she calls the existential crisis in volunteerism.
“I worry that people are eager to write a check and not get engaged,” said Vetter as the keynote speaker at the 2023 UNDAAF Women for Philanthropy Luncheon. “Treasure is super important but think about the times you’ve written a check; it’s because you are connected. If people don’t volunteer, they don’t build that connection. It’s short sighted if we think only about getting the check and don’t worry about them being engaged because some day, they won’t be engaged.”
For Vetter, the importance of volunteering was instilled early. Her parents, she says, didn’t always have money to donate, but they gave freely of their time and talent throughout their community.
“If you have time, talent, and treasure to give — and we all have different points in our life where we have more of one than the other — those create more than just rewarding experiences. The closest relationships I have in my life have come from those volunteering opportunities.”
Vetter says she is humbled to receive the Sioux Award for Distinguished Achievement & Leadership from her alma mater. She says it is outside her character to get too excited about recognition, but in this case, she was over the moon, calling her sister to say, “You won’t believe this!”