Conservation | Diversity | Featured | Featured | Women

We are TU: Marsha Benovengo

Photos courtesy of Marsha Benovengo

We care about clean water, healthy fisheries and vibrant communities. We roll up our sleeves to volunteer, we sit on our boards, and we strategize as members and leaders of staff. We want you to join us.  For a discounted first-time membership, click here: https://gifts.tu.org/we-are-tu 

The aim of this blog series is to highlight our friends, in hopes of making many new friends of broad stripes. In this series you’ll meet people of diverse communities – our good ideas, what we have in common, and where we differ. Know someone we should feature? Nominate them here

Since it’s not possible to sit down and have coffee or spend an afternoon on the river to show you what we’re up to, a blog post will have to do. As you read, we hope you’ll consider joining us. We need your ideas to help make a bigger impact.   

Together, we’ll help protect the special places we love.   

Marsha is the chair of the New Jersey State Council of TU and VP of Central Jersey TU, and gives much of her time to the fly fishing community within TU and beyond. Her nomination called her a “model volunteer.” We couldn’t agree more.

In keeping with our ongoing equity practice, the “We are TU” series is focusing more directly on the need to foster a more equitable, diverse and inclusive fishing and conservation community. We have updated the questions as such. Marsha was willing to give us her perspective on her history with fly fishing and conservation, as well as how the lack of diversity in those fields has impacted her. We are grateful for her willingness to share her perspectives on these topics, as well for as her time and talents. If we are to protect, conserve and restore our rivers and streams, we will need all voices at the table and all hands on deck.

Introducing Marsha Benovengo:

Big smiles in Montana. Image courtesy of Marsha Benovengo

Where are you from and where do you live?  Born in Queens, New York City. Reside in Manalapan (central), N.J. 

What is your history with conservation? Became more aware and involved after learning to fly fish in 2003 and when I became involved with TU. 

Because people of color and women are often left out or not invited into the sport we are doing a disservice to them and ourselves. The world is changing and we must change with it.

Marsha Benovengo, Chair, New Jersey State Council of Trout Unlimited

What is your history with fly fishing? Going to Fly Fishing school on the Upper Delaware with Lee Hartmann, with my Father, in June of 2002, was the last trip that we took together before he died in October 2002. It was five days filled with fun and his approval. He said, “You do that well,” when Lee had me casting endlessly. 

Lee introduced me to the women of Joan Wulff Fly Fishers (JWFF) of NJ, whom I met at the Somerset Fly Fishing Show. Because of their warmth, I become a member and eventually became the president. JWFF introduced me to East Jersey TU (EJTU), where I would take fly casting lessons and get to know so many good friends. I first traveled to Montana with a group of members of JWFF and EJTU in 2003. I have gone to Montana every year since and fished with the same amazing guide on the Madison. I am more at peace in Montana than anywhere in the world.   

JWFF was at the time supporting a Casting for Recovery Retreat in upstate New York and I became involved with Casting for Recovery as a River Helper and later took on more responsibly. In 2008, I was asked to take over leadership of the Casting for Recovery Eastern Pennsylvania Program as program coordinator, a position that I still hold. 

Kelly Buchta, followed me as President JWFF, and now as our New Jersey NLC rep invited me to join the Trout Unlimited NLC Diversity Workgroup. Flyfishing has provided a great connectivity in my fishing and community service life. 

Marsha’s “fish of a lifetime, caught on the Missouri River in Montana – 28-1/2 inches!”

How has the lack of diversity in conservation and fly fishing impacted you? The lack of diversity in fly fishing has impacted me as it has the whole community — it makes for a less realistic view of the world. Because people of color and women are often left out or not invited into the sport we are doing a disservice to them and ourselves. The world is changing and we must change with it. We become less viable when we don’t include others. It has given me the opportunity to speak out on the necessity for diversity and inclusion. I have been interviewed and videoed by Orvis, for whom I work, on the subject. This video is shown in the stores throughout the country. It shows possibilities and negates stereotypes.  

My role with TU and the work that I am involved in along with some amazing women conservationists and anglers defeats the foolish notion that women “cannot” and people of color “don’t.” We are making strides now and for future generations. 

What does ‘giving back’ mean to you?   As the daughter of a social worker and policeman, giving back is part of my upbringing and comes naturally. With maturity I’m able to live out my hopes and sense of duty.  It’s a way that I honor my parents! 

Describe a perfect day. A perfect day is one where I wake up able to be with my wonderful husband and make a difference in our world in any way.  

What’s your favorite movie?  “Laura,” with Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Vincent Price and Clifton Webb. 

What advice would you give to a younger version of yourself? I’d tell my younger self to be patient, kind and look for the good in others, even when challenged.

Optional: Are you willing to share ideas for ways your average TU member can show up as an ally? I never had a notion that I “couldn’t” fish or do anything else. My upbringing told me that I could. So my authentic self went blindly into a fly shop expecting that they would help me. Having said that, I think that folks have to find ways to build some basic knowledge, find resources, like TU, and not look back. Have expectations of fair treatment and except and expect nothing less. Connect with interesting people and be prepared to bring your gifts to conservation and fly fishing. Join in, do the work, plant trees, tie flies, find and be a mentor and recognize and support good work. 

I think that folks have to build some basic knowledge, find resources, like TU, and not look back. Have expectations of fair treatment and except and expect nothing less.

Marsha Benovengo, Chair, New Jersey State Council of Trout Unlimited

What is an example of something awesome you’ve seen that helps make conservation or fishing more inclusive to new groups of people?   The lack of assumptions. 

Name a person you admire. Why do you admire them?    Dr. Maya Angelou. She was so wise. I met her once and asked how did she get so wise. When I told her that I wanted to be like her when I grew up she looked at me and said, “No, baby, you’ll stand on my shoulders!” I want to be that for another young woman or man. 

Why Trout Unlimited?    Who doesn’t want to be attached to folks who are making a difference!? 

If you want to join Marsha and grow the community and work of Trout Unlimited, we encourage you to join us! For a discounted first-time membership, click here: https://gifts.tu.org/we-are-tu