Joe and Fran Tonsmiere

Founders, 2006

Joe and Fran were longtime whitewater rafting outfitters and ranchers from Lemhi, Idaho. They founded River Discovery in October 2006, envisioning river-based programming where young participants can address the emotional and physical challenges faced by cancer survivors. Both Tonsmeires experienced cancer personally. Fran battled the disease 3 times. In the end, no amount of grit, strength, or perseverance was enough to overcome the terrible disease. Joe died in March of 2007 and Fran in November of 2014.

Joe lived life to the fullest. He loved the land and rivers deeply and was truly an adventurer. His days were spent outdoors running rivers, working the ranch, climbing mountains, riding the range or chasing elk. Before his death in 2007, he helped plan the first year of River Discovery adventures. This fulfilled his long-time dream of taking children with cancer down the river. Joe left his family and friends with countless treasured memories of the adventures they shared and how he always seemed to have the most fun of all.

Fran wore many hats – Joe’s wife, Amy & Seth’s mom, sister, sister-in-law, rancher, river enthusiast, land preservationist, River Discovery Founder and board member. She never grew tired of wearing all of them at the same time and always did so with an ear to ear smile. Fran fought a courageous fight with a third diagnosis of cancer in 2 years. She passed away in November 2014 with her family and friends by her side. She was our rock and River Discovery’s greatest cheerleader. She is and always will be in our hearts. We are privileged to keep her dream alive.

Our History

River Discovery is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and was founded in October 2006 by Joe and Fran Tonsmeire, longtime whitewater rafting outfitters and ranchers from Lemhi, Idaho.

The Steele-Reese Foundation awarded River Discovery a $50,000 start-up grant in 2007. The first programs offered that summer included ranch-based adventures where youth cancer and hemophilia survivors spent a week rafting, hiking, horseback riding, swimming and fishing.

In 2008, the Board and Executive Director of River Discovery reviewed its vision, mission and objectives and made the decision to focus exclusively on river adventures for cancer survivors. In 2009, a new youth program invited teen cancer survivors to attend without an accompanying parent. Taking teens on a wilderness river gave them a chance to grow and learn on their own and proved to be a very empowering experience. Since 2009, River Discovery has offered an annual 6-day Salmon River trip to adult survivors and included teen trips when possible.

In early 2012 River Discovery moved its administration office to Boise, Idaho. This move provided the opportunity for increased exposure and collaboration with Idaho’s largest hospitals and communities. Later that year, River Discovery introduced their first 1-day river adventure for youth cancer survivors and their families. While in the Treasure Valley, River Discovery has become entrenched in the community programs for cancer survivors and continues to grow relationships with local business and foundations. These new relationships have sponsored increased fundraising events and supported new and innovative adventure programs for survivors and their families that include a camp-based weekend retreat for survivors and co-survivors as well as stand up paddle board sessions throughout the summer.